The fine art scene in New York City is one of the best in the world. With the birth of modernism and the influx of European artists after World War II, New York City became an art hotspot. The art galleries of NYC are still representing the world’s most promising artists. Here are the top six art galleries in New York City!
1. David Zwirner Art Galleries
With three Manhattan locations and multiple worldwide, David Zwirner is one of the most well-known art galleries in NYC.
The son of a German art dealer, David Zwirner was born in Cologne in 1963. He opened his first art gallery in New York City in 1993. Since then, Zwirner opened three New York locations and one in London, Hong Kong, and Paris. Unlike other galleries, Zwirner has an online channel where buyers can buy or reserve online. As an art dealer, David Zwirner is a pioneer in the future of art sales and the top dealer of our contemporary times.
David Zwirner represents many artists, both well-known and new on the scene. One of the gallery’s most famous contemporary artists is Yayoi Kusama.
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Yayoi Kusama was born in Nagano, Japan in 1929. She refers to herself as “an obsessional artist” and “a heretic of the art world.” Her work is easy to recognize. Specializing in sculpture, painting, and light installation, her art is cluttered with brightly colored polka dots and soft gelatinous shapes. Kusama suffers from hallucinations, which are portrayed in her work. She can physically see the polka dots and forms in the space around her and had no choice but to show these visions in her art. To Kusama, “artwork is an expression of my life, particularly of my mental disease.”
Kusama moved to New York in 1958, where she felt free to create as she wished. She moved back to Japan in 1973, where she checked herself into a facility to help her visions. She still works and lives there today.
2. The Kitchen
The Kitchen is a non-profit performance space dedicated to exhibiting groundbreaking work in many different mediums—dance and music performances to film installations. The Kitchen also holds lectures by artists from around the world.
The Kitchen was founded in 1971 by Woody and Seina Vasulka. Their goal was to create an art gallery in New York City for experimental artists and a safe space for them to create. To this day, The Kitchen is one of the leading spaces for performance art.
Many famous artists have graced The Kitchen like Robert Mapplethorpe and Kiki Smith. What’s impressive about The Kitchen is the opportunity for emerging artists to share their work. Cindy Sherman, before becoming famous, started at The Kitchen.
Cindy Sherman was born in 1954 and one of the most influential photographers in the contemporary art world. Using herself as her own model, Sherman comments on how women are portrayed throughout pop culture. Dressing up as different personas and stereotypes, Cindy’s photographs have been exhibited at some of the world’s best museums and galleries. When she showed her work at The Kitchen, she was only emerging onto the scene.
Cindy Sherman showcased a set of black and white photographs in 1980 at The Kitchen. Sherman started taking these photographs in 1977, and the gallery exhibited three years’ worth of images. In the photographs, Sherman explores the different ways women are portrayed in the 1950s film noir scene. These images are vague, and that’s on purpose. Sherman wanted to capture the moments between movement, showing reality in the fictional world she is creating in front of the camera.
3. Gagosian Gallery
Without Larry Gagosian, there would be no David Zwirner or any bustling art galleries in NYC. The Gagosian Gallery opened its first location in Los Angeles in 1980. Currently, there are 18 locations scattered around the U.S, Europe, and Asia. Gagosian was the first gallery to operate a publishing house, creating books and zines of their artist’s work. They even have a Gagosian shop in New York selling rare art editions, books, cameras, and jewelry. Their large gallery spaces make it easy to install large-scale works like any sculpture created by Richard Serra or even large murals like Roy Lichtenstein’s Greene Street Mural.
Even though Cy Twombly passed away nine years ago, his work is still widely exhibited and sold in art galleries in NYC and worldwide. Twombly started drawing in the 1950s after traveling in Europe and Africa. Inspired by myths, poetry, and language, Twombly allowed these factors to affect the canvas. Cy Twombly’s estate allows his work to show at Gagosian and other major art galleries; however, most of his work is exhibited at his own gallery in Houston, Texas. Opened in 1995, Twombly opened the Cy Twombly Gallery with help from the Menil and the Dia Foundation.
4. The Drawing Center
Like The Kitchen, The Drawing Center is an exhibition space dedicated to living artists specializing in the drawing medium. Martha Beck, who was a curator at MoMA, opened the Drawing Center in 1977. To Beck, drawing needed a place amongst the great painters, photographers, and sculptors on the walls and floors of art galleries across NYC.
Many artists have graced the Drawing Center, including Kara Walker, Carroll Dunham, and Terry Winters. Their current exhibition features the drawings of Edie Fake.
Chicago based artist Edie Fake’s installation Labyrinth at the Drawing Center mixes drawing and architecture. Labyrinth is an homage to the Labyrinth Foundation, an organization dedicated to trans men during the 1960s. As the viewer walks into space, the drawing consumes them. The corkscrew columns and elements of the piece symbolize the path a trans man has to take in their life. It is a powerful and beautiful piece.
5. Paula Cooper Gallery
A leading woman in the art world, Paula Cooper opened the first art gallery in SoHo in 1968. Art galleries in NYC, mostly in the 1960s, is a man’s world. Paula Cooper stands above everyone with a legendary gallery she still runs, that’s been open for over 50 years.
Over the art gallery’s long history in NYC, many famous artists’ works have been exhibited. The first exhibition in 1968 was a benefit for the Student Mobilization Committee dedicated to ending the war in Vietnam. The show exhibited work created by Carl Andre and Dan Flavin.
Paula Cooper Gallery also represents well-known women artists like Sophie Calle. Calle is a French artist specializing in a mixture of photography and writing. Calle is interested in the human condition. In one work, she records strangers sleeping in her bed. In another piece, she follows strangers and ponders on who they are. Calle’s goal is to allow the outside world to consume the viewer and to force them to expose their true selves on paper.
6. Pace Gallery
The oldest art gallery on our list, Pace Gallery, was opened in 1960 by Arne Glimcher in Boston. Pace has set the bar for how an art gallery succeeds – an art gallery doesn’t stay open for 60 years without some significant skills. Pace currently has 9 locations worldwide, including New York, California, London, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Paris.
Pace exhibits some fantastic artworks, but Pace Gallery stands out from the rest because of its Pace Art + Technology program, launched in 2016. This program explores the relationship between art and technology and how new media is the art world’s future. A lot of galleries are stuck with paintings, sculptures, and photography. Those mediums will never die (hopefully not); however, Pace Gallery recognizes a new medium and understands that the art world is expanding. Not bad for the oldest gallery on the list.
If the name Yoshitomo Nara doesn’t look familiar, his work will definitely ring a bell. Born in Hirosaki, Japan, in 1959, Nara paints children in his signature style, capturing the younger generation’s bitterness and rebellious nature. Mostly sticking with painting, Nara has also created sculptures and drawings. He doesn’t always stick to paper or canvas; some work is produced on discarded cardboard boxes. Nara’s works prove that art can be made anywhere, and his works sell for thousands on the art market.
Regarding the creative process, Nara believes that pain creates art: “I don’t paint when I am happy. I only paint when I am angry, lonely, sad, when I am able to talk to the work.” In art history, art was a method to let out all emotions on a canvas, like a diary entry. A way to share with the world personal hardship, hoping people relate. Nara’s dissatisfaction with the world and its people are displayed in the faces of the children he paints; they are always angry about something.
Spend A Day At New York Art Galleries
Perusing art galleries in NYC is a perfect way to spend a day. New York has so many galleries, one will never see them all in one day! Yes, museums are great, but to experience emerging artists’ work or never before seen works by famous artists, NYC art galleries are the way to go. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.