After Slump Cuts Rents, Rivals, Galleries Grab Chance to Expand

Lea Freid
Lea Freid, co-owner of the Lombard-Freid Projects gallery, poses in front of artwork by Dan Perjovschi in her gallery in New York. The gallery is expanding by moving into a 3,000-square-foot ground-floor space in Chelsea, on the same block as glamorous buildings by Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

With a garden out back, 3,000 square feet of ground-floor space, and glamorous Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel constructions nearby, the new home of art gallery Lombard-Freid Projects feels “like a rebirth,” says partner Lea Freid.

“No more elevators,” as she had with the gallery’s current modest second-story space, Freid says. “We can have more ambitious projects and larger installations. Our audience will be multiplied.”

Two years after New York art galleries began feeling the pinch of the recession, dealers see an opportune time to expand. New construction and closed businesses have combined to boost supply and force owners to cut rents. Ground-floor rates in Chelsea are down as much as 25 percent, said Brandon Maltzman, a real-estate broker with Conquest Advisors.

In recent months, about 30 galleries, large and small, have taken advantage of the weakened commercial-real-estate market by adding branches or project spaces, or moving into bigger quarters. Some move because their leases expire, others grab attractive opportunities.

“It’s the most movement since the migration of galleries from SoHo to Chelsea,” said Edward Winkleman, art dealer and author of “How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery.”

When Bellwether Gallery went out of business last summer, Andrew Edlin jumped on a chance to upgrade his operation from an unimpressive sixth-floor space in a building housing dozens of galleries to a highly visible ground floor on Tenth Avenue.

Foot Traffic

“It’s night and day,” he said. “People are flowing in and out of the gallery constantly. They actually walk in and buy work sometimes.”

Dealer Marianne Boesky, recently added a townhouse on the Upper East Side to her white box in Chelsea. She will use the new space to highlight artists who have influenced the younger generation in her stable.

While her Chelsea space focuses on emerging and mid-career artists such as William J. O’Brien and Donald Moffett, the uptown location opened with Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvases, priced from $1.2 million to $3.9 million.

“When things are difficult, it’s the best time to take a risk and carve out space to set yourself apart from the pack,” Boesky said.

West Village dealer Gavin Brown more than doubled his gallery space by taking over 10,000 square feet in an adjacent building when his landlord, butcher Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meat Purveyors, moved to New Jersey. The expanded space had its premiere with a show by conceptual artist Jonathan Horowitz titled “Go Vegan!”

Chelsea Empire

David Zwirner expanded his 38,000-square-foot Chelsea empire by adding a 27,000-square-foot building. The dealer paid $8 million for it in March; two years ago the space was on the market for $20 million, according to Maltzman.

The moves will likely continue as more gallery leases come up for renewal this year, dealers said. Zach Feuer and CRG Gallery will trade their current Chelsea digs for larger quarters on the ground floor of the former Dia Art Foundation building in the neighborhood.

On the Lower East Side, Joel Mesler, who represents emerging talents such as Henry Taylor and Brendan Fowler, is closing the door on his sixth-floor rental. He’ll be moving to a new building with 22-foot ceilings on Orchard Street, tripling in size.

London, Moscow

In London, Hauser & Wirth will add 15,000 square feet of space on Savile Row when it opens its third branch in the city in September.

In late April, Moscow-based Regina Gallery opened a London branch near Oxford Street. The inaugural show, “Les Miserables,” comprised a group of paintings by Semyon Faibisovich depicting Russian homeless and drunks.

“It’s an organic development,” said Vladimir Ovcharenko, owner of Regina. “London is becoming the center of Russian life in Europe and we are following after our clients.”

(Katya Kazakina is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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