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Navigating New York’s Art Scene

Mike Dunphy - February 23, 2016

After 12 years teaching in countries all over the world, Mike earned his master’s degree in publishing and writing at Emerson College and moved to New York City. Today, he earns his living writing and editing for print and online publications, and teaching classes in article writing and creative non-fiction.

In the 20th century, New York took the art-capital crown thanks to world-shaking work by the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol, and Keith Haring. And while its connoisseurs and patrons are about the only ones who can afford a brownstone now, the city still beats with art in its veins.
If the hundreds of galleries and studios in Chelsea, the Lower East Side, and the ever-gentrifying Bushwick are buzzing year-round, it’s during major arts festivals such as Frieze New York and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) that the scene enters a new orbit. Chelsea is a particular hot spot for its sheer number of galleries alone, particularly between 10th and 11th Avenues and 23rd and 26th Streets. There you'll find both names on the tip of art scene’s tongue and those long on its palate: Jeff Koons and Zeng Fanzhi at the Gagosian Gallery, Jasper Johns and Nan Goldin at Matthew Marks Gallery, or Marianne Vitale and Johannes VanDerBeek at Zach Feuer Gallery.
Lower East Side
Across the island, the Lower East Side's old punk spirit may not be a rough as it once was, but there's still a bit of grit in its galleries, which have doubled in number in the last five years alone. Frieze's opening exhibitions at venues including 11 Rivington, Klaus von Nichtssagend and Lisa Cooley are as popular as after-parties at the chandelier-strewn craft cocktail hideaway Fig. 19. At Ghost art lounge, an extension of Woodward Gallery's Project Space, dealers get down to brass tacks over a lubricating blackberry margarita or two.

LES galleries cross genres as well: Whitebox Art Center staged an opera by Handel; readings, performances, and book presentations are part of the monthly lineup at Miguel Abreu. And since a major part of art in the Lower East Side is actually in the street, keep your eyes peeled while exploring or book a street-art tour with Saddleshoe Tours.

To meet the artists themselves, cross the Williamsburg Bridge and strike out east on the L train for Bushwick, which is the front line of gentrification in Brooklyn (still no Whole Foods). Of particular interest are the murals that have transformed entire streets and blocks (particularly the corners of Troutman St & Wyckoff Ave and the intersection of Bogart & Moore St) into an outdoor gallery that would give Berlin a run for its money.

The annual three-day public art festival Bushwick Open Studios allows for a peek behind the paintbrush—alongside an increasing number of recognizable faces—and chance to witness the germination of New York's future art movements. A stop into any of the neighborhood's 63 galleries, especially Clearing and Microscope Gallery, will also give an idea of what’s sprouting. Toast the artists at creative cauldrons like AP Café or Fair Weather Bushwick by day, or visit with them after nightfall at the divey comic-book themed Gotham City Lounge or wine-friendly Bodega by night. Buy a struggling artist a drink this year and who knows? They might just be the talk of Frieze by the next.