Despite the fact that galleries have been relocating to TriBeCa for more than five years, it is only now that the movement has reached critical mass. As everyone from modest new project spaces to blue-chip behemoth David Zwirner comes into this cast-iron and cobblestone district in Manhattan — south of Canal, north of Vesey, and west of Broadway — this cast-iron and cobblestone neighbourhood is no longer simply one choice among many. TriBeCa is currently the most interesting venue to display modern art in the New York region, and it is the destination that must be considered by every gallery in the area that wants to relocate or that is building a new branch.
According to real estate broker Jonathan Travis — who personally placed 22 of those galleries — there are currently at least 41 galleries in TriBeCa, compared to less than 20 galleries only two years ago, and more are expected to open in the coming months. That it happened isn’t only due to the fact that a smart real estate broker discovered a trove of vacant retail locations. As an alternative, the neighborhood’s layout and architecture — an attractive combination of startling large vistas, quiet corners, and river views — provide the ideal balance between the art world’s idealistic 1960s notion of itself and its contemporary professionalised reality.
TriBeCa, which was formerly the site of New York’s principal wholesale food market, is filled with the same kinds of industrial warehouse buildings and creaking tongue-and-groove wooden flooring that give SoHo so much of its distinctive character. When the market was relocated to the Bronx in the early 1960s, the area was left with a bleak aspect that lasted long enough for the neighbourhood to be included in the film “Ghostbusters,” which was shot outside Hook & Ladder Company 8 on North Moore Street two decades later. Nonetheless, TriBeCa in the 1980s was a beautiful place, with air that often smelled of black pepper or roasted nuts, owing to a few obstinate wholesalers.
Next came the arrival of pop stars and hedge funds, and before long, condo skyscrapers began to spring up on almost every available plot of land. The once-sleepy neighbourhood has been overrun with pricey eateries, excessively loud mobile phone conversations, and an excessive number of little pets. However, the emergence of the art world on a grand scale provides the neighbourhood with its first uniting theme in 60 years.
With the exception of a limited window of inexpensive retail space, TriBeCa provides a mixed-use environment that places art in a more real-world setting that is seldom achieved by artists in Chelsea. A artwork just seems differently in a neighbourhood where people live and work than it does on a winding street lined with only art museums and galleries. Many of the individuals who have lived in TriBeCa for the longest periods of time are also artists, which results in an audience that is exceptionally dynamic and engaged as a result. “It’s genuine artists,” Pascal Spengemann, co-owner of the year-old Broadway Gallery, said of the collection (and an expat of Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea). “Art aficionados, individuals who have made an investment in the scene, curators,” says the author. It’s been a fantastic experience.”
Other recent additions include Chapter NY, a gallery that, after beginning its existence in a small Chinatown room and spending a few years modestly housed on the mezzanine floor of an East Houston Street building, has now established a large presence on Walker Street. It is wonderful, says Nicole Russo, Chapter’s creator. “It is incredible,” she adds. This is the busiest I’ve ever seen the Lower East Side,” says the author. The combination of having a storefront and being on such a desirable street with so many excellent galleries has proven to be quite profitable.”
Chelsea is still alive and well despite the change of emphasis downtown. Given the enormous number of art galleries that remain in the district, as well as the brand-new buildings constructed by the majority of the city’s megadealers and the reopening of Dia Chelsea, the notion that the neighbourhood is “over” would be difficult to comprehend. And, at a time when canons of all kinds are being toppled, and when prominent art galleries have moved up the Hudson River and from Miami to Los Angeles, it no longer makes sense to picture a singular focal point for the art world. Even a dispersed scene, however, has hotspots that must be avoided.
At least for the time being, a change in location does not indicate a shift in substantial content. Galleries’ programming has been more diverse in recent years, as has the composition of their curatorial staff. However, ownership in TriBeCa, like in Chelsea, continues to be dominated by white people. What we can hope for is that when more places become available for the very first time, we will begin to see a change.
We’ve arranged the best of the shows that are currently on perspective into three itineraries that are structured around the neighborhood’s most gallery-dense arteries: Walker Street, White Street, lower Broadway, and Cortlandt Alley. Walker Street, White Street, and lower Broadway are the most gallery-dense arteries in the neighbourhood. Graze on a couple of Boccini cookies from Grandaisy Bakery at 250 West Broadway, spend a few minutes in adjacent TriBeCa Park admiring the red brick majesty of the AT&T Building and the tide of oaken water towers receding north through SoHo, and use the following as a jumping-off point to discover more of the neighbourhood.