The Cultural Rise of Chelsea & New York’s Place in the Art Market

History of Chelsea and the NY Scene

The first gallery district developed in lower Manhattan in the early 1880s, and consisted of a few galleries set around City Hall. These were all for wealthy clients and housed primarily European work. Work was always shipped over from Europe, with the exception of the Babcock Gallery, which was the first to solely exhibit American Artists.

The Galleries followed the movement of the rich upper classes to Greenwich Village, then upwards to Madison Square Park before moving on to the 50s, away from the increasing migrant populations. This pattern continued, with the Galleries following their clients.

At the turn of the century, wealthy families continued to move, this time to the Upper East Side, and the Galleries followed once again. The New Art Centre along 5th Avenue became a foundational base for the neighbourhood, and one that would develop into an area that contains some of the most respected Art Institutions and Museums in the World. The relationship between Galleries and Collectors began to change as the demographic altered to accommodate for the rising wealthy middle classes.

The Great Depression completely demoralised the Art scene, and around only 30 Galleries survived. Those that did were all characterised by the fact that they sold European Masters and famous and established American Artists. Post War New York saw huge upward movements from an influx of money and European Artists. In 1945 there were roughly 90 Galleries. This figure grew to 406 Galleries in 1960, then rose steeply to 761 by 1975.

Attention spread into the East Village, before moving to Lower East Side, West Chelsea and into the Neighbourhoods of Williamsburg and DUMBO. Chelsea grew into the creative and cultural hub that it is today, and was helped along by the fact that it still had many affordable spaces for Artists to work in and Galleries to exhibit. By the 2000s, Chelsea was home to more than 300 galleries. Today it flourishes as an inventive and innovative area for creativity.

Nancy Rubins sculpture called “Our Friend Fluid Metal”.

New York’s Place in the International Art World

The rise of Abstract Expresisonism was the crowning point on a huge shift of focus of cultural attention onto New York. Big hitting Artists such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Mark Rothko captured the international Artworld’s attention, and the type of Art that they created looked to break free from that of the past and open it up into new spaces and grand, expressive terrains. The second generation of these Artists, people such as Robert Raushenberg and Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, continued to generate significant waves of influence throughout the Art World that are still felt today.

Prior to this, Paris had held the position of artistic and cultural capital of the Western world for quite some time. The age of the Salon, Gustav Courbet, Paul Gauguin and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec had given way for Braque and Pablo Picasso. This time had also been hugely popular for writers and poets, and is exemplified in Ernest Hemingway’s book ‘A Moveable Feast’. James Joyce, F Scott Fitzgerald, T S Eliot, Gertrude Stein and many others mingled with these Artists to create an electrifying atmosphere of creativity that has been romanticised by historical nostalgia ever since.

New York represented a break from these European traditions. It was the New World, and even it’s architecture laid down a confident and unapologetic newer form of aesthetics and artistic interests. With the Atlantic Ocean separating these two cities, it became easier for the American Artists to step outside of the long and rich tradition of European Painting, which has run continuously since the work of Duccio and others in the Proto-Renaissance.

In Phaidon’s Interesting book ‘Art Cities of the Future’, it looks at the emerging Avant Garde scenes from around the world. Cities such as Beirut, Bogotá, Cluj, Delhi, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Lagos, San Juan, São Paulo, Seoul, Singapore and Vancouver are all explored in depth, by a curator from each respective city. There is no doubt that in an interconnected world, the activity of Artists from all across the globe are easier to report upon, and other places that have traditionally been seen as less influential on the Western Art Market are continuing to rise. However, this has done little to draw influence away from the importance of New York’s Power and cultural clout as an Art Scene, and it remains one of the most importance and relevant places in the world when it comes to understanding and interpreting the currents and ideas that shape the contemporary Art scene.

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