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Norman Foster Gallery Bets Millions on Scruffy N.Y. Art Scene

Sperone Westwater
An architectural rendering of the new home of the Sperone Westwater gallery, in New York. The 20,000-square-foot building was designed by Sir Norman Foster. Source: Blue Medium, Inc. via Bloomberg

When the new home of Sperone Westwater gallery opens on Manhattan’s Lower East Side next month, it will stand out in every way.

To an area where emerging-art galleries occupy storefronts and cramped walk-up spaces, Sperone Westwater will bring an eight-story sliver designed by Sir Norman Foster with laminated-glass facade, three floors of gallery space and a display room that moves from floor to floor. The price tag could be north of $20 million.

The 20,000-square-foot building, which showcases a blue-chip program led by Lucio Fontana and Bruce Nauman, will add some serious commercial bling to the scruffy emerging-art galleries clustered around the New Museum.

“There’s no gallery of that caliber in the area,” said Laura Solomon, New York art adviser. “Rather than being one of many strong galleries in West Chelsea, they want to be a big fish in a small pond.”

Most Lower East Side dealers rent modest spaces at prices ranging from $50 a square foot on Delancey Street to $200 a square foot on Bowery.

Excluding Foster’s fee and the $8.5 million Sperone Westwater paid for its narrow lot in May 2008, the building cost about $580 a square foot, or $11.6 million, according to Vincent Vetrano, president of construction consulting firm Wolf & Co. Around the same time, a 27,000-square-foot building in Chelsea was listed for $20 million (it sold in March for $8 million).

The gallery declined to comment on how much it paid for the new building. Foster’s numerous designs include the Hearst Tower in Manhattan and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank headquarters in Hong Kong.

‘Like Sardines’

As construction entered the final stage, Sperone Westwater employees relocated to the Lehmann Maupin gallery’s branch on Chrystie Street.

“We are packed like sardines in here,” said founding partner Angela Westwater, standing in a low-ceilinged basement area. “But it’s a block away from the site.”

She was drawn to the neighborhood by its creative energy and history, Westwater said in a follow-up e-mail.

“I first visited the Bowery in 1970, specifically the studio of Roy Lichtenstein at the corner of Spring Street and Bowery with John Coplans, for whom I worked at Artforum magazine,” she said.

Her partner, Gian Enzo Sperone, spotted the 257 Bowery site in the fall of 2007, she said. Foster + Partners got on board the following year.


Sperone Westwater’s financing for the project includes an outstanding loan for $8.7 million loan from HSBC Bank USA NA, according to filings with New York City’s Finance Department. In 2009, Quikstart Inc., a New York corporation that lists Westwater as its vice president, sold Sperone Westwater’s 14,000-square-foot space in the Meatpacking district to Canali USA Inc., a showroom of Italian men’s fashion brand Canali, for $10.6 million, city records show.

The new space will have public galleries on the first three floors, private viewing rooms on the fourth and fifth, offices on the sixth and seventh and a library on the eighth. The mobile exhibition room, with its 13-foot ceilings, can be moved from floor to floor to serve as extra gallery space. During the inaugural show by Guillermo Kuitca, the mobile room will display 54 of the Argentine artist’s painted mattresses.

Younger galleries hope the new heavyweight will boost the number of wealthy patrons strolling around the neighborhood, with its hip bars, boutiques and restaurants.

“Their program has strong ties in Europe and big European collectors will be forced to come down here,” said Augusto Arbizo, director of nearby Eleven Rivington gallery.

Whether these buyers will acquire art outside the blue-chip emporium is another matter.

“Maybe for fun they’ll go to smaller galleries,” said Solomon. “I don’t see that for purchasing the clientele would overlap that much.”

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