The Real Deal New York

Art gallery inks five-year lease at Chelsea building

Demand for new alternative arts spaces on the rise, gallery co-founder says

February 13, 2012 06:00PM
By Katherine Clarke

From left: Art dealer Liz Garvey, the gallery space and the building at 547 West 27th Street

Suite 207, a dealer co-operative gallery space for exhibitions and private viewing, recently signed a five-year lease for 1,500 square feet at 547 West 27th Street, a 97,000-square-foot commercial building in the heart of Chelsea, gallery co-founder Elizabeth Garvey said today.

The gallery, which will open officially tomorrow, is a joint venture between Garvey’s own dealership Garvey Simon Art Access and that of Jacquie Littlejohn of Littlejohn Contemporary Art; the pair joined forces to rent the space for economic reasons, Garvey said, but also in order to create a space that was more collaborative than the traditional “white box” gallery space.

Asking rents at the building, which is named the Landmark Arts Building, average around $40 per square foot for an upstairs space and $80 per square foot for a ground floor space, said Jim Pastreich, president of PineTree Group, the landlord for the space.

The gallery will switch back and forth for the partners’ individual exhibitions, but will remain an integrated showing space for the rest of the time.

The idea of two or more dealers joining forces to open a galley is not new, even in the building — gallerists Sasha Wolf and Michael Foley jointly operate an exhibition space on the second floor of the property called the Exhibition Lab, but there has been a recent uptick in these kinds of leases, Garvey said, a sign that the demand for new alternative arts spaces is on the rise.

Garvey, a longtime art specialist and formerly the director of the Schmidt-Bingham Gallery in the Fuller building at 41 East 57th Street, also operates a gallery in Carmel, Ind. Littlejohn’s former gallery was also housed in the Fuller Building.

“A lot of art dealers are really starting to think outside the box,” she said. “Big white-box spaces are great but they can be intimidating. We wanted to create a comfortable space where people can sit down [and talk about the art.]”

Earl Bateman of Rice & Associates, who specializes in gallery leases, represented Garvey and Littlejohn in the deal with landlord, which was inked in December. Bateman said he was in the emergency room and could not immediately comment. PineTree brokered their side of the deal in house.

Edward Farbenblum, a vice president at PineTree, said the company was committed to keeping the building on 27th Street, which currently houses the firm’s offices and 30 separate gallery spaces, dedicated to its arts-oriented tenants.

The building is also home to the Aperture Foundation’s gallery, a 17,000-square-foot exhibition space for photography on the building’s third floor.

“James Pastreich, [the CEO of PineTree,] is a lover and patron of the arts,” he said. “When we originally bought the building [in 1999,] it was not an artsy building. It was through tremendous toil on our part that it became an artsy building.”

The building usually runs consistently at around 90 percent occupancy, Pastreich said.

Despite claims over the last few years that Chelsea might succumb to the all-too-familiar pattern of artists being ousted from developing neighborhoods due to condominium and rental developments taking over the area, Garvey and Pastreich said the arts community was still strong in Chelsea.

“There was a certain point in the market where it just got really silly,” Pastreich said, while Garvey added that the new [residential] developments “actually add to the district because there was nothing there [previously.] There wasn’t that feeling that there is now, where you can have dinner and go for a walk on the High Line. The Hudson River bike paths and parks have also added a lot to the neighborhood.”

One of the reasons that art organization may be able to remain in Chelsea, it was recently reported, is that they purchased their spaces rather than leased them.

“We bought the building to be sure the museum could stay,” said Dorothea Keeser, president of the Chelsea Art Museum, told the New York Times last year. “How would people find us if we move to another part of New York?.. It already took years for the visitors to be accustomed to us in Chelsea.”

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