The Spread of Gallery Hopping

It’s snowing outside in Manhattan, which makes one want to curl up with a hot cup of tea rather than trudge outside to galleries. Sure, all I have to do is take the subway, but sometimes that seems like a lot of effort. Nowadays, I don’t have to go far though. Galleries have been mushrooming outside my apartment almost as much as trendy boutiques. The explosion of galleries has been pleasant to watch as a sign of a strong market, yet counter-intuitively it doesn’t mesh with a favorite activity of mine: gallery hopping.

I don’t live in Chelsea, already saturated with galleries, or even some hipster corner of Brooklyn. I live below the Lower East Side and its crazy nightlife, surrounded by Chinese immigrant on one side and Hasidic Jews on the other. I haven’t been able to understand what the Chinese are saying about the galleries popping up with their big installations taking up the entire tiny storefront and the crowds they draw on random nights. I find it…odd.

You’d think I’d be delighted, and I am, but who goes to see these out of the way galleries? The far west 20s of Chelsea still packs galleries like sardines in a can, but the scene has been decentralizing for so long that gallery-hopping in Chelsea is no longer so cool as it once was. Even so, for gallery hopping, Chelsea can’t be beat. I suppose serious art collectors or people who are already fans of the artist would travel to a different area of town, but personally I need some incentive.

Let me explain the premise of gallery hopping: you hook up with a friend or two, you hop from gallery to gallery (thus the necessity of a centralized location), you look at art while drinking free wine and looking at the people. A good time is had by all, even if you don’t see works that you care for. Chelsea still holds major galleries like the Gagosians and Zwirner, but they are more established. For cutting edge galleries, you’ll likely tempted out to Brooklyn. Of course, the quality of art is uneven, but the scene is much better. So Chelsea and Brooklyn for gallery hopping, but my neighborhood? Only recently has it joined the ranks.

The recent proliferation of galleries strikes me as very much a by-product of a inflated art market, a market that is not around to support the tiny art spaces in 2009. On an individual level, this is unfortunate, but on a larger scale seems like a long overdue correction. For my gallery hopping purposes, Chelsea and Brooklyn aren’t going anywhere.

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