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Moyra Davey
Moyra Davey is one of the artists in “Three Cups of Fragrance”, on show at Lower East Side gem Bodegavia

The best artist-run spaces in New York

Independent, home-grown and packed to the rafters with art cred. We look at the ten most influential artist-led galleries proving that NY still holds the court on creativity

In true Seinfeldian fashion, a large chunk of New Yorkers are mostly ambivalent about their own city’s importance in the art world. Still, people usually have something to say about the NY art scene – negative or positive, defeatist or elitist. What sustains New York’s art cred is not the mega galleries or its iconic museums (though they don’t hurt) – it’s the groups of artists, or sometimes just one or two, that – true to the American spirit – build something up themselves. Rather than the age-old myth of the artist as solitary genius, what sustains New York is what made it in the first place – artist run collectives and spaces.

291, a gallery founded in 1908 by American photographer Alfred Stieglitz was the first space in the United States to show Europe’s leading avant-garde artists including Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso, and Duchamp. The tiny, artist-run space, (15sq feet in an apartment building on Fifth Avenue in Midtown), was initially set up to show his own and his friends’ photographic works, but soon gathered momentum and can arguably be credited for beginning the rise of New York as an art world capital. Later, in spaces like The Mudd Club, The Kitchen, and Gallery Nature Morte, you’ll find a similar impulse in New York’s scene, and you’ll see why it was, and has remained, a favourite art hub after so many years. Below we chart the Big Apple’s ten best artist-run spaces – not inclusive of NPO’s – right now.


In the basement of Essex Flowers – a flower shop on Grand Street on the Lower East Side – is a small gallery run by nine artists (Justin Berry, Phillip Birch, Patrick Brennan, Amanda Friedman, Heather Guertin, Tatiana Kronberg, Kendra Patrick, Joshua Smith, and Lizzie Wright). For the past two and a half years, Essex Flowers has been putting up some of the best exhibitions you didn’t know about in New York. From a poetry reading with Maria Acconci, and a Confidence Building Seminar with artist Jennifer Sullivan, to your standard five-week long exhibitions, Essex Flowers is aggressively non-conformist, exciting and refreshing. Clearly a labour of love, the artists behind the space – all of whom are ones to watch – show their own work, and the work of other artists. And in fact, regardless of whether they do or don’t, it’s still worth seeing. Currently on view, until 4 January, 2015 is work by LA-based artist Matt Connolly. After a flower arrangement or two? Talk to Bill, whose contact details are at the bottom of every press release.


In 1994, long before Williamsburg was, well, Williamsburg, Susan Swenson and Joe Amrhein, founded Pierogi as a place for themselves and other artists to meet, discuss and show works, at a time when the economy was as impossible as it is now for emerging artists. A veteran establishment, Pierogi and their Flat Files (an extensive wunderkammer of over 700 artists’ works, available to look at online and in person) are the much-loved pioneers of Brooklyn’s steadily rising scene. Keep an eye out for their second, and larger space The Boiler, founded in 2009, where they show larger exhibitions, installations and sculptures. Currently on view at Pierogi are works by artists Daniel Davidson and Brian Dewan.


In 2010, artist Margaret Lee and Oliver Newton opened 47 Canal after Lee shut down her first space at 179 Canal – a place where art shows turned raging parties and enticed the scene’s elite. Despite Margaret being a gallery-represented and working artist, Lee and Newton’s gallery space on the Lower East Side is incredibly studied and thought after. Their shows are almost like a continuous curated piece, and though they show solos exclusively, each visit begs a return to see what’s next. On view now until 21 December is collaborative artists Amy Lien’s and Enzo Camacho’s Leak Light Time Heat, their second solo at the gallery.


Since 2002, Canada, which is co-run by artists Sarah Braman, Wallace Whitney, Phil Grauer, and Suzanne Butler, has been a favourite amongst artists and curators for their undeniably killer exhibitions and their impeccable ability to find and foster New York’s best. With artists like Joe Bradley, Xylor Jane, and Katherine Bernhardt, they manage to be both risk-takers and trendsetters at once. On view until 14 December is work by artist Lily Ludlow.


While their first space bordered Queens and Brooklyn, far from the normal art stomping ground, Regina Rex’s program caught the attention of New York, and, as of this past September, they found a new home in the Lower East Side. An upgrade, despite it being in a basement. Since 2010, the artists behind the gallery (Yevgeniya Baras, Jeff DeGolier, Gabe Farrar, Elizabeth Ferry, Theresa Ganz, Alyssa Gorelick, Angelina Gualdoni, Stacie Johnson, Eli Ping, Lauren Portada, Anna Schachte, Siebren Versteeg, and Max Warsh) have shown over 300 artists, both emerging and established. Their program is as unpredictable as it is expansive, but quality and care always persist.


Located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, at least a 15-minute walk from either the G train or L train, two of New York’s most love-challenged subway lines, Real Fine Arts is worth the trip. Founded by artists Tyler Dobson and Ben Morgan-Cleveland in late 2008, the gallery has shown works by Georgia Sagri, and Jon Pestoni, to mention a few of the bigger names in the field right now. Currently on view until December 7 is Stefan Tcherepnin’s Hypocrisy Ladders.


The Donut District is a self-proclaimed arts district in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Three artist run spaces (247365, Know More Games, and Primetime) all sit within a two-block radius of each other, along with, of course, a Dunkin’ Donuts – hence, The Donut District. Each of these spaces deserves a separate mention on this list, but beyond their individual contributions to the art community, this spot goes out to what the creation of The Donut District represents: a community of artists run spaces, each supporting and prospering from their proximity.


Run by artists Mike Ursuta and Blaize Lehane, and opened in 2009, Ramiken Crucible’s gallery shows are a cryptically delicious and as fun as the gallery’s name. The gallery, on the Lower East Side, is known for its performances and for their unwillingness to conform. At Ramiken Crucible you should always expect to see work by up-and-comers worth seeing. Currently on view until 14 December is an installation and sculpture works by artist Kaari Upson.


Another Lower East Side gem, Bodega is run by artists Elyse Derosia and Eric Veit. Their first space, in Philadelphia, opened in 2010, and became a go-to and much loved spot in Philly’s Old City. In 2014 they up and moved to NY, where since spring, they’ve been quickly becoming a staple. Their recent exhibition, titled Keeping a Close Eye on the Wind, which featured works by Joshua Abelow and Gene Beery was a truly perfect pairing, and is no small indication of Bodega’s ability to curate shows. Currently on view until 21 December is Three Cups Fragrance with works by artists Elizabeth Atterbury, Moyra Davey, Lukas Geronimas, Oto Gillen, Tom Humphreys, and Kyle Thurman.


Storefront is now called Storefront Ten Eyck because of its new, bigger and better space (still in the heart of Bushwick). Founded by artists Deborah Brown, and Jason Andrew (founder of another much loved space, Norte Maar) Storefront is a Brooklyn staple – even in just four short years since its inception – and has been foundational for young emerging artists in the area, as well as for the re-emergence of mid-career artists. Brown and Andrew are the sort of patriarch and matriarch of Brooklyn’s avant-garde upstarts.