Will The High Line be The End Line for Midsize Chelsea Galleries?

Earlier this week, Katya Kazakina reported for Bloomberg that Magdalena Sawon is leaving Chelsea fifteen years after moving Postmasters Gallery from SoHo to the Chelsea space.

“This is my last season here. I am unwilling to pay $30,000 a month,” said Sawon, whose 3,800-square-foot gallery occupies a ground-floor space on West 19th Street.

The midsize art galleries that helped transform western Chelsea from a dead area adjoining the West Side Highway into New York’s major art hub are being squeezed out of the neighborhood by booming real-estate development and rising rents.

A familiar story, one may say, that could be gaining momentum once again. The migration of art galleries through New York is a tale that could once again be in its opening chapter. From West 57th Street in the 1950s and 1960s to SoHo from the mid-1970s, progressing to the current contemporary art hub in Chelsea. András Szántó (2003) has pointed out (in his detailed description of the emergence of Chelsea as the center of the New York art market) that while neighborhoods such as West 57th Street and SoHo have gentrified ever since, neither area was home to the retail or hospitality businesses that appeared since galleries opened their doors in the area. Sound familiar?

“Every developer in the city wants to be in West Chelsea,” said Stuart Siegel, senior vice president at CBRE”

“The mid-range galleries are going to just vanish from Chelsea,” said Sawon, who expects that “anything radical or experimental” will become rarer as dealers seek to cover expenses by staging more-predictable shows that do well commercially.

“You won’t find much experimentation if the rents continue to escalate, because those kinds of galleries won’t be here,” said Chelsea gallerist Casey Kaplan. “They’ll be priced out.”

With emerging galleries dispersed all over the Lower East Side, which is poised to become home to experimental French art fair CUTLOG this May during the Frieze Art Fair, it will be interesting to see if any Chelsea based galleries join galleries such as Lehmann Maupin and set their sights on spaces in the vibrant neighborhood.


Desperate Art Galleries Give Up as Chelsea Rents Double (Bloomberg)

Szántó, András (2003) “Hot and Cool. Some Contrasts between the Visual Art Worlds of New York and Los Angeles.” In New York and Los Angeles: Politics, Society, Culture, edited by David Halle. Chicago: University of Chicago Press