NYC’s Downtown Art Scene
From a gallery/club hybrid to a Wu Tang Clan exhibit, New York’s downtown scene has been injecting some much-needed fun back into the art world. Charlotte Steinway curates the best spots.
Any given Thursday, you’ll find flocks of twenty-somethings making the trek from big box gallery to big box gallery in New York’s tony Chelsea neighborhood, hoping in part for free-flowing Yellowtail, but also for access to the notoriously unattainable New York art world — a scene otherwise monopolized by top-tier gallery directors, dealers and deep-pocketed collectors.
But 25 blocks downtown in the Lower East Side, the art scene is subtly woven into the fabric of the neighborhood, in a way that feels more organic than the monied blocks of Chelsea. Its graffitied streets are populated with artists’ homes and pop-up Invader or Banksy installations, while heavy-hitting Chelsea offshoots share blocks with makeshift galleries fashioned out of the back of sneaker shops, the sides of buildings and hotel lobbies.
Neighboring NolLIta, a nabe flanked by European-inspired cafes and charming boutiques, is also having an artistic renaissance. In addition to the local galleries and iconic Houston Bowery Wall (pictured above), London-based Art:i:Curate launched Curated by Nolita at the Nolitan Hotel, a contemporary art exhibition curated by the people of the neighborhood who make downtown tick. The show runs through August 24th — making it the perfect excuse to kick off a summer gallery crawl. Here, we’ve rounded up a downtown gallery for everyone, plus a killer bar, restaurant or store nearby for those of us in need of some extra incentive:
Photo by April Ellis
**Lehmann Maupin Gallery** 201 Chrystie Street
FOR THE: Mature Hipster
WHAT: The Lower East Side outpost of Rachel Lehmann and David Maupin’s influential Rem Koolhaas-designed Chelsea gallery. The space has loftier ceilings than many of the other downtown galleries, making room for larger installations, and adding dimension to spotlight smaller pieces from big names like Juergen Teller.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: After all that culture, treat yourself to a burnt honey Madagascar vanilla ice cream cone at the nabe’s newest sweet spot: Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream.
**Culturefix** 9 Clinton Street
FOR THE: Thirsty Art Novice
WHAT: A bar-meets-gallery space. Hybrid concept shops are king in the LES (think Cakeshop, a bakery-meets-music venue), and Culturefix adds art to the equation. The four-year-old space has a killer beer list, $3 happy hour from 5-7 p.m. and rotating exhibition space showing everything from oil paintings of the New York skyline to short films.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Work up an appetite for Clinton Street Baking Company, located just across the street. Their notorious brunch lines calm down around four p.m., when the pancakes are just as good for dinner.
**Participant, Inc.** 253 East Houston St.
FOR THE: Creative Intellectual
WHAT: Billing itself as an “educational corporation and nonprofit alternative space,” Participant, Inc. has shown a multigenerational, multicultural collection of artists since its opening in 2001. And the gallery’s mediums have been just as varied as its roster, ranging from film and video screenings and literary readings to book launches and live performances.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Get another hit of culture around the corner at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, an artistic foundation and event venue housed in the one of the oldest remaining gothic-revival synagogues in New York.
**ABC No Rio** 156 Rivington Street
FOR THE: DIY Activist
WHAT: With a gallery, performance space, darkroom, silkscreening facility and ‘zine library, ABC No Rio has been a center for subculture, uniting artistry and activism since 1980. The space is a relic of the neighborhood’s punk and street art-covered past, with iconic graffiti signage and four stories of around-the-clock DIY happenings.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Stop by the Children’s Magical Garden around the corner on Stanton and Norfolk, a community garden dedicated to creating a safe urban space for young people.
**Woodward Gallery** 133 Eldridge Street
FOR THE: Name Dropper
WHAT: Works from modern masters like Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack and Keith Haring line the walls of this two-story, cherry red building on Eldridge. After perusing the 20-year-old gallery’s work, browse their selection of affordable prints from pop art icons and 1980’s-era East Village greats.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Look the part by popping into Procell, the expertly-edited vintage store one block away, which stocks 1980s brand tees, ‘90s rap apparel and a collection of rare printed sneakers.
**David Lewis Gallery** 88 Eldridge Street
FOR THE: In-the-know Millennial
WHAT: The newbie of our list, David Lewis Gallery represents a roster of young artists in a funky second-story space, which opened last year on Eldridge. The art is abstract and contemporary, and the openings quirky: Lucy Dodd’s 2013 “Cake4Catfish” opening was paired with homemade kombucha and grilled catfish.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Make like a starving artist and get your fill of pork and chive fried dumplings at Chinatown mecca Prosperity Dumpling (where you’ll get five for a dollar), located one block south of David Lewis.
**Wallplay** 118 Orchard Street
FOR THE: Streetwear Buzz-Seeker
WHAT: Housed in the former cult eyewear store Sol Moscot, Wallplay is a gallery turned inside-out, capitalizing on its prime LES real estate through billboard art. Inside, there’s a concept art space and small coffee counter doling out Intelligentsia cold brews; Outside, two 14-feet tall spaces house Instagram-friendly favorites like Baron von Fancy’s airbrushed “I can’t grow up” signage and a gilded, almost Deco-like mural devoted to the Wu Tang Clan.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Sneakerheads will love Extra Butter, the shoe store across the street specializing in exclusive releases, hard-to-find Jordans, plus a colorful selection of Asics, Reeboks and Vans.