People can find visiting galleries intimidating, mysterious or irksome, but it needn’t be, even for beginners. There’s no time like our annual Spring Gallery Guide to discuss the basics (and pleasures) of this time-honored activity. My fellow critics and I have fanned out across the city to take the pulse of the scene, but before you get to our recommendations, let me offer some advice:
Galleries don’t charge admission. New York City has the largest concentration of art galleries anywhere; there’s a great deal of information and many experiences to be had, free of charge. These are welcoming places that don’t exist only to sell art. They’re also a public service, a way for artists and art students to see what other artists are up to, but also for the rest of us as well.
Be engaged. Wave or smile to the people at the front desk when you enter (and maybe say “Thank you” when you leave). Join the ritual of signing the sign-in book. (Most galleries have them.) It lets artists know you’ve been there and provides a little private moment before plunging in. You’ll also see news releases by the sign-in book. They give you the title of the show (if there is one), some whiff of the artist’s intention and a short biography. There’s a good chance there will also be checklists, almost always with photographs of the works. This provides the title, date, materials and dimensions of every artwork on view. It’s your map.
Take the process seriously. Give every show a chance. Art is never trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Walk around the sculptures; study the paintings — and their surfaces — from various distances. Examine the checklist, and think about how the art objects were made and of what. Can you identify the materials used on first sight?
Listen to yourself. Realize that you are having reactions and forming opinions even if you can’t quite articulate them. Tally up what you like or don’t like about a certain piece. Strike up a conversation with someone who seems to be looking as hard as you. Compare notes. Got questions? Ask them of whoever behind the desk looks the least busy. Keep in mind that many people in these positions at galleries are young artists or writers and usually quite smart. You never know when you’re talking to the next Huma Bhabha. ROBERTA SMITH
Below and Above Canal Street
“The art world should be understood as a complex ecology with many microclimates and some macro ones,” said the curator Okwui Enwezor, who died in March. He could have been describing the geography of New York City galleries. In the 1970s, the climates were macro and few (the Upper East Side, SoHo). In the 1980s, they were joined by the East Village; in the 1990s, by Chelsea; and in the 2000s, by the Lower East Side and Brooklyn. And there are spillovers everywhere. Today, it can be hard to tag a gallery by district, as I learned when visiting a handful that straddle either side of Canal Street, a cross-island axis that runs from SoHo to Chinatown, without claiming full allegiance to either. HOLLAND COTTER
The arc of the Lower East Side gallery scene bends toward youth. It is probably home to the greatest number of starting-out dealers showing the works of emerging artists in New York. This gives the art scene in this neighborhood and the ones developing around it — in NoHo, East Village South, Chinatown or Little Italy — a certain lightness of being. We’re often looking at first, not necessarily mature or final, artistic statements. It helps that the area lacks the dwarfing juggernaut of big-name, property-proud galleries and blue-chip artists that give Chelsea or the Upper East Side their weight. Most of the shows reviewed here emphasize youth in various forms. ROBERTA SMITH
Upper East Side
The cockamamie real estate market has turned the good old Upper East Side into the most stimulating gallery neighborhood in New York — and as downtown stultifies and Chelsea wilts in the shadow of Hudson Yards, the old blue-blood quarter has grown manifold. Up here the big-ticket dealers in grand townhouses exhibit alongside younger galleries in walk-ups and outposts of international dealers; the last few years have welcomed Nara Roesler and Mendes Wood of São Paulo, Almine Rech of Paris, Simon Lee of London and Kurimanzutto of Mexico City. That’s not to mention the dealers in antiquities, Asian art and rare books.
On 57th Street you’ll find things to see in the gallery-rich Fuller Building, along with stalwarts like Pace and Marian Goodman (where Tino Sehgal, the Greta Garbo of philosophical performance art, opens a new show on May 3). Start there and work your way up Madison Avenue, where the galleries (like Gagosian and Lévy Gorvy) cluster from the mid-60s to 79th Street. If you haven’t had your fill yet, turn left and head for the Metropolitan Museum of Art; if you’re worn out, rejuvenation awaits in the hotel bars. JASON FARAGO
Art and real estate development met elsewhere in the city, but they got married in Chelsea. Tall, expensive buildings are rising around 10th Avenue, and gallery rents are rising along with them. Young art dealers arrive to try their hand in the official gallery neighborhood, and often fold-up shop quickly, as the promisingly offbeat American Medium, which started in Brooklyn, did recently. The juggernaut of mega-gallery showrooms continues, with behemoths like Hauser & Wirth mounting impressive historical shows (and starting their own bookstores, publishing houses, magazines and nonprofit foundations), and David Zwirner is planning a Renzo Piano-designed space to open in 2020. Meanwhile, the High Line looms ubiquitously overhead, like a people mover transporting tourists (mostly) from the new Hudson Yards on the north end to the gleaming Whitney Museum of American Art on the south. Contemporary art is everywhere though, including the High Line, where you’ll find a monumental sculpture by Simone Leigh, who just opened a show at the Guggenheim, along with other notable displays. Art has saturated the neighborhood, and you can see everything from work by emerging artists to the long deceased. Here are a few places to start. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Like so much else in Brooklyn these days, the art scene there seems to be in flux. Galleries that were familiar presences have closed; others have changed names and moved to Manhattan. Neighborhoods that previously served as linchpins now have fewer dedicated art spaces; rents are high, and other parts of the city promise greater foot traffic.
Yet in a way, transition has always been central to a geographically scattered scene that’s uneven in its offerings and anchored by a handful of larger nonprofits alongside a rotating cast of small spaces run as labors of love. Even commercial operations seem to work differently here: Jenkins Johnson Gallery’s outpost aims to build a relationship with the surrounding community (and its coming show “Free to Be,” featuring Rico Gatson and Baseera Khan, should be worth a visit). Part of the thrill of seeing art in Brooklyn is that you don’t quite know what you’re going to get.
This list is just a sample of what Brooklyn has to offer. It will take you from Bushwick down to Park Slope and focuses on exhibitions that are, quite loosely, about identity. These artists are exploring how cultural, national, social and other factors shape us, even as they take very different approaches. It’s a fitting theme for a borough that, despite becoming a brand, is still a haven for those looking to make a creative life in New York City. JILLIAN STEINHAUER
Top image grid, from top left: ChimPom and Art in General; Dario Lasagni; Dawn Mellor and TEAM Gallery; via Alexander and Bonin, New York; Joerg Lohse; American Artist; ANOHNI and The Kitchen; Arcmanoro Niles and Rachel Uffner Gallery; Aria Dean and Chapter NY; Dario Lasagni; Bruce Pearson and Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York; Austin Lee; Cameron Clayborn and Simone Subal Gallery; Dario Lasagni; Mark Mulroney and Mrs. Gallery; Vivian Suter and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels; David Regen; Claude Tolmer and L. Parker Stephenson Photographs; via apexart; Eduardo Kac and Henrique Faria, New York; Jessi Reaves and Bridget Donahue NYC; Greg Carideo; Sasha Bezzubov and Front Room Gallery; Sharon Horvath and Pierogi; Julia Rommel and Bureau, New York; Dario Lasagni; Mira Schor and Lyles & King; Walid Raad and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York; Peter Krashes and Theodore:Art, Brooklyn; Martin Kersels and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York; Silvia Bächli and Peter Freeman, Inc.; Moira Dryer and Van Doren Waxter, New York; Stefan Hagen; Ming Fay and Sapar Contemporary; via 56 Henry; Object Studies; Raqib Shaw, via Pace Gallery; Pierre Buraglio and Ceysson & Bénétière; Graciela Iturbide; Lili Jamail and TEAM; via Artist’s Institute at Hunter College; Paul Fagerskiold and Peter Blum Gallery, New York; Etienne Frossard; Paul Anthony Smith and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; Sara Mejia Kriendler and The Chimney; Reggie Shiobara.