TO describe the retrospective of Richard Hambleton’s art that was recently held at the Phillips de Pury & Company galleries as a zoo doesn’t even take into account the woman who strapped a bug-eyed monkey puppet to her chest. About 2,000 partygoers were crowding two floors at the auction house on Park Avenue, including wealthy Upper East Siders and a parade of models from New York Fashion Week, many sipping from flutes of Champagne.
Theodora Richards, the daughter of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, shimmied around the room in a second skin of stretchy black lace, while the billionaire Stephen A. Schwarzman grazed past Alexa Chung and Karolina Kurkova. Around 9:20 p.m., Mr. Hambleton, the famously reclusive graffiti artist who descended into obscurity after the 1980s art gold rush went bust, arrived with a bandage on his nose, seemingly dazed by the crowd.
The real draw that night, though, was Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, 26, and his business partner, Andy Valmorbida, 31, the show’s young curators and art dealers, who are reviving interest in Mr. Hambleton’s paintings. Mr. Valmorbida, the Australian heir to a food and coffee fortune, bounced around the gallery, chatting with buyers. Mr. Restoin Roitfeld, the son of Carine Roitfeld, the former editor in chief of French Vogue, stayed mostly in place, his curious Kewpie-doll eyes scanning the crowd.
It was a different scene two evenings earlier on the Lower East Side, where art dealers were opening their galleries for the beginning of the fall art season. Young 20-somethings, not recognizably rich or famous, wandered past the small storefronts in fedoras and jeans. At the Rachel Uffner Gallery on Orchard Street, about 150 people packed into a space the size of a large one-bedroom apartment and drank from cans of Tsingtao beer. The artist Sara Greenberger Rafferty’s opening show included work made using photographs, Plexiglas and acetate. And she hugged well-wishers that night despite a faulty air-conditioner that left most sticky.
But Ms. Uffner, 33, has more in common with her uptown peers than appearances suggest. Though one gallery owner may show an artist whose work now sells for $25,000 or more and another may show unknown artists whose work still goes largely unnoticed by big-name collectors or established critics, both are part of a new generation of New York gallerists who are slowly transforming the city’s art scene.
“There are new galleries popping up all over,” Ms. Uffner said, taking a break from the evening’s festivities. “People are beginning to recognize we have legitimate places to show.”
When the stock market collapsed in fall 2008, many people feared the art market would be dragged down with it. But art auction houses, including Christie’s and Sotheby’s, are currently reporting healthy business. Individual prices are often strong: At Phillips de Pury in May, one of Warhol’s famous images of Elizabeth Taylor sold for $26.9 million: about $3 million more than a similar work at the height of the market at Christie’s in 2007. And while Larry Gagosian and other blue-chip dealers continue to dominate sales for the wealthiest collectors, gallery owners who have opened their doors in the past few years seem to be thriving despite the persistent recession.
The New Art Dealers Alliance, a national organization of art professionals or gallery owners in business less than 10 years, said that nearly one-third of its 300 members are based in New York City.
Choosing which up-and-coming gallerists to profile for this article involved considering art dealers who either opened New York galleries or began working together within the last three years. Then art critics, gallery owners and art collectors were interviewed to narrow the field of gallerists who represented promising artists or had an interesting take on contemporary art.
The final cut included Mr. Restoin Roitfeld, with that famous last name and the prized connections that come with it; two dealers positioning themselves as the angry young men of the art world; and a scrappy out-of-towner hoping to make it big in New York.
Despite their differences, all share the need to actually make a living at this. Owning an art gallery is an expensive proposition. That is why many new galleries are on the Lower East Side, where rent can range from $2,000 to $10,000 a month, compared with $25,000 or more for a gallery in Chelsea. (Ms. Uffner says she pays less than $4,000.) Many new gallerists, like Laurel Gitlen, find their art spaces after walking around the neighborhood. Some, like Mr. Valmorbida and Mr. Restoin Roitfeld, have forsaken the traditional gallery space, choosing instead to hold exhibitions when and where they choose. (Artists generally earn 50 percent of the sale price of their work at galleries, while the gallery owner might earn 30 percent to 50 percent of a sale, depending on discounts, or whether an art adviser of another dealer is involved.)
Michele Maccarone, whose West Village gallery is well respected among the junior set, is worried that, as larger galleries continue to become more brand-conscious or the economy continues to slide, emerging gallerists might lose their nerve. “I opened 10 years ago, and it was down and dirty,” she said. “But even I’m playing it safe myself. That punkness and rawness, it really doesn’t exist anymore.” But at least, for now, she said, “people are trying to keep it real.”
If Marcel Duchamp had a mischievous little brother today, he would probably be a lot like Mike Egan. Last year, this art-handler-turned-dealer helped organize the Art Handling Olympics, a competition among Mr. Egan’s brawny peers, roughly 50 in all, who bubble-wrapped paintings and hung 60-pound blocks of lead in front of 200 spectators at his gallery. And in September, the same night other galleries around the Lower East Side celebrated the opening of the art season, showing work that included photographs of people dressed in tutus and a sculpture comprising trophies, Mr. Egan hosted a screening of the disturbing cult film “Trash Humpers.” (No metaphor there.)
Fed up with New York’s commercial gallery ethos, Mr. Egan, 29, and Blaize Lehane, 32, who both worked at the now closed Goff + Rosenthal in the mid-2000s, partnered in January in Ramiken Crucible, a gallery originally founded in 2009 by Mr. Egan in an illegal Lower East Side basement. Liv Tyler and the artist Terence Koh showed up once to hear the funereal songs of Salem, a Michigan band with a devoted downtown following. Now aboveground and next door to a liquor store on Chinatown’s fringe, Mr. Egan and Mr. Lehane seem to delight in thumbing their noses at the so-called art intelligentsia.
“As an art dealer, you should spit on history, wipe it away and find something new,” Mr. Egan said.
The duo’s taste tends toward the comically subversive. Ramiken Crucible’s new show, “Stud,” featuring the artist Gavin Kenyon, is composed of a large-scale cast-iron axe with a bulbous handle that resembles a fleshy limb. And this summer, they exhibited “Vandal Lust” by Andra Ursuta, a 10-foot catapult made of wood and cardboard flanked by a replica of the artist’s lifeless body after being hurled into a wall.
Mr. Egan began representing Ms. Ursuta, whom he is now dating, after she sent him an unsolicited e-mail asking him to check out her Web site. “Every artist is scraping by, trying to get some attention for their work,” he said.
Mr. Egan studied at New York’s School of Visual Arts; Mr. Lehane has a computer science degree from Boston University. Together, they project a kind of us-against-the-world image. “There is almost an energy, anger even, between us,” Mr. Lehane said.
Kate Werble Gallery
When Kate Werble opened a space to show art in West SoHo two weeks before the financial collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, she was given a sage piece of advice: “People said you have to put at least one artist up on your Web site,” she said. So she listed John Lehr, a photographer whose work has shown at the Museum of Modern Art, and whom she had met years earlier while organizing a group show for a friend. Months later, she got a second piece of advice: “People said you can’t really represent just one artist.”
Those were tough days. But Ms. Werble, 31, took her time picking artists and now represents a stable of nine, including Mr. Lehr, a move that seems to have paid off. In December, she was awarded a top prize for curatorial presentation at the New Art Dealers Alliance show in Miami.
“Werble’s display stood out for the caliber of its assortment of artwork playing on the tradition of Minimalist art,” the art Web site Artinfo said then.
Unlike some gallerists who demand that only represented artists be promoted in-house, Ms. Werble had a more relaxed approach. “I wanted to use the space in a way that artists came together,” she said. During the lean early years, she invited two artists each month to show their work, a savvy business move, as some of them, like the conceptual artist Luke Stettner, stayed on. He has a solo exhibition at Ms. Werble’s gallery this month.
Last February, Ms. Werble held a solo show for Anna Betbeze, who teaches at Yale and applies dye and watercolor to wool rugs that are ripped, burned or cut until they resemble psychedelic animal hides. In May, one of Ms. Betbeze’s pieces was included alongside works by Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg in a show organized by the Palazzo Grassi, the Venice museum run by the foundation of the French billionaire François Pinault.
Ms. Werble lives with Christopher Chiappa, another artist she represents. But she is quick to point out that she shows no favoritism. “I love all my artists,” she said with a giggle. “I’d sleep with them all.”
Andy Valmorbida and
Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld
In a starry field, Mr. Valmorbida and Mr. Restoin Roitfeld are perhaps the most luminous. Mr. Restoin Roitfeld, who grew up in Paris, has a fan blog (I Want to Be a Roitfeld) that chronicles the goings-on of his high-profile family, including his sister, Julia. And Mr. Valmorbida has reportedly dated Lindsay Lohan and the supermodel Rachel Hunter.
After dabbling and dropping out of the movie business (Mr. Restoin Roitfeld) and finance (Mr. Valmorbida), each began consulting on and dealing in art. They joined forces in 2009 after the art dealer Rick Librizzi introduced them to the all-but-forgotten Mr. Hambleton, a contemporary, if not exactly a peer, of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Artists from the 1980s, the two surmised, were due for a comeback.
Mr. Hambleton “had refused to work with any dealer,” Mr. Restoin Roitfeld said, “so no one had done anything for him.”
They spent three months scouring galleries for his paintings, buying them at low prices that they hoped would rise once they began promoting Mr. Hambleton’s work.
Instead of starting their own gallery, though, the two decided to market the artist’s work with a series of glamorous global art parties in Milan, Moscow, London and Cannes, paid for by corporate sponsors and attended by many of their famous friends. Their two-year effort with Mr. Hambleton culminated in a Fashion Week soiree, sponsored by Giorgio Armani, and where they showed 55 of Mr. Hambleton’s paintings.
“Andy, come on, you have to go!” Mr. Restoin Roitfeld exclaimed impatiently that night to Mr. Valmorbida, as he dragged his colleague by the arm across the crowded gallery. A buyer was interested in “Horse & Rider, 2006,” which Mr. Valmorbida owned. For 10 minutes, the affable Mr. Valmorbida regaled the man with stories of the artist, waving his hands in the air, his body rocking with restless energy. Mr. Restoin Roitfeld watched with keen interest.
That night, collectors bought all 12 paintings that were for sale, with an average price of $75,000. “When we started, people laughed, saying, you need to start a gallery,” Mr. Valmorbida said. “But we never saw ourselves as part of the traditional art world.”
In 2005, Ms. Gitlen founded a contemporary art space in Portland, Ore., called Small A Projects, which had a loyal following. So when she moved to Manhattan three years later with her husband, Samuel Richardson, the head brewer at Greenpoint Beer Works in Brooklyn, many of the artists she had worked with in Portland agreed to join her at a new Broome Street gallery.
One of this ready group was Jessica Jackson Hutchins, who uses ceramic, old furniture and papier-mâché to create large-scale pieces, including “Couch for a Long Time,” which was included in the 2010 biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The two met when Ms. Hutchins called Ms. Gitlen and asked how to ship some sculpture. “Connections were easy to make in Portland,” Ms. Gitlen, 35, said. Later, she secured a studio visit after she ran into the artist at the grocery store. Ms. Hutchins’s work now sells for $7,000 to $50,000 and is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Another artist, the Richmond, Va.-based sculptor and performer Corin Hewitt, recently had a solo exhibition at the Whitney. Ms. Gitlen worked with him in 2007 when she exhibited his piece “Weavings,” for which he built an enclosed space that viewers could look inside and see the artist making sculpture and taking pictures. Ms. Gitlen introduced him to curators at the Seattle Art Museum, which in 2009 displayed the artist’s photographs from the performance.
A student of art history, Ms. Gitlen seeks strong relationships with museum curators. “I come from a curatorial background, so I am looking for artists who will have a place in the historical conversation,” she said.
But she prefers to remain mostly quiet, unlike in the 1980s when art dealers like Mary Boone were often more controversial than the artists they represented. “These days, I don’t know if you want to have a personality or you want the gallery to have it,” Ms. Gitlen said.
Rachel Uffner Gallery
Rachel Uffner, 33, has hit most of the art world’s marks. After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in art history and painting, she earned a coveted job at Christie’s. After that she worked for a private collector and, in 2003, joined the D’Amelio Terras gallery in Chelsea, where she tended the front-desk phones. By the mid-2000s, she had worked her way up to become gallery director. Ms. Uffner even wanted to be an artist at one point. “But I never had the rigor of spending the day in the studio by myself,” she said. “I liked being out with other people.”
So she started her own gallery, with pieces that cost mostly $3,000 to $10,000. “I do like being the conduit between two worlds,” she said.
In 2007, she saw the plaster and paper works of the little-known Hilary Harnischfeger in a contemporary art journal and tracked her down. Ms. Uffner courted her after leaving D’Amelio Terras and signed her the summer before she started her gallery, where Ms. Harnischfeger has already had two solo shows. Ms. Uffner’s first exhibition, in 2008, featured Roger White, the painter, writer and co-founder of the journal Paper Monument, and was scheduled within days of the Lehman Brothers collapse. “People were comfortable spending in the hundreds of dollars, not thousands,” she said. “I thought I would go back to school and become a dentist.”
She scheduled a second show for Mr. White last year, and his works sold out. Ms. Uffner also represents the conceptual artist Sara Greenberger Rafferty, whose work is now in the permanent collections of MoMA and the Whitney.
“Artists and their art dealers are a lot like kids and parents who have weird dynamics,” Ms. Greenberger Rafferty said at the September opening of her new show. “But we are the same generation. I never feel sheepish about saying what I think. At a more established gallery, you are lower on the totem pole.”Twitter, Facebook