I’m frequently asked that question, and the short answer is… not likely, for a bunch of reasons. While the LES is the fastest growing gallery district in Manhattan, it is not the fastest growing gallery district in greater New York City. That title goes to Brooklyn, which became the largest district last year, you can read about it here.
But to answer the question, I predict that the LES will pass West Chelsea sometime between Q2 2017 and Q3 2018, and heres why:
The following graph (Figure 1.) shows the total number of galleries that opened (blue line), the total number of galleries that closed (red line), and the net gain or loss of galleries (green line) for each of the past five years. You can go here to see who those galleries were.
Some of those that closed were open during that year, had their lease end and moved to a new space, which counts as two physical galley spaces open that year even though it is a single dealer. Some dealers, like Joel Mesler of “Untitled”, partnered with another dealer in 2015, Zach Feuer, and rebranded as “Mesler|Feuer” in the same physical space, which counts as two separate galleries open that year (the following year will count this as one gallery), as did “Rox”, which rebranded as “D’Agostino & Fiore” (new program, new gallery, same space). The green line – Net Gain/Loss – indicates the rate of increase, which has been trending down, even though more galleries have been opening than closing during these five years. This dataset cancels out galleries that rebranded or moved, showing only unique galleries.
This next graph (Figure 2.) shows the effect all that activity has had on the total gallery count in the LES for the past five years. The dark blue line shows the total number of galleries open during a given year, the light blue line shows the total number of physical spaces occupied by galleries during that year, with the green net gain/loss line at the bottom. It shows that the LES has been adding galleries at an average rate of about 22 per year, some years more, some less, since 2011, but that the rate of increase is slowing.
Figure 3. below shows the same thing for West Chelsea as Figure 1., you can go here to see which galleries opened and closed. What’s worth noting is that the trend, the rate of change (whether decreasing or increasing) is heading in virtually the same direction for both districts, down, which is one indication that the convergence in size should occur later than sooner.
Figure 4. shows for West Chelsea what Figure 2. above does for the LES: total galleries open (dark red) and total physical spaces per year (light red), against net gain or loss (green). Since 2011, West Chelsea has indeed been shedding galleries, at an average rate of about 6 per year, which despite all the fluttering from the art press about West Chelsea’s imminent demise, is not so many. You can read more about West Chelsea 2011 to 2015 here.
Now, put all that together to prophesy the future.
If those mean rates of gain and loss are graphed together and projected forward, then they will intersect sometime in the middle of 2017.
If we use the median rate, then that intersection doesn’t occur until mid-2018.
For The LES to pass West Chelsea in 2016, it would need a net gain of 60 galleries in one year, an annual rate of increase the city has experienced only twice in 200 years: 1984 and 2006 (see below, click to enlarge), and that was for the entire New York Metro Area, not one district.
So, not likely.
There are other factors at play that may slow the growth of the Lower East Side in the near future:
1 – While the LES is geographically the largest gallery district in Manhattan at 77 blocks, second only to Brooklyn, it is an established, long-term, residential neighborhood with mainly working- and middle-class families and singles. This is unlike West Chelsea; traditionally warehouses and garages, and now seasoned with super-luxury fraction-of-a-percenters. Pressure from small to mid-size amenity retailers for the few affordable, small, retail spaces in the LES may limit inventory available to galleries. Larger spaces around Bowery may prove to be too expensive as well. This is much like what happened to SoHo in the 80s and 90s, except that, in this case, the retailers aren’t international brands. In short, it’s not clear that the LES can support 300 galleries.
2 – As we all know, galleries cluster. At this writing, they are gathered primarily on Orchard Street south of Delancey, Grand Street around Eldridge, and along Bowery north of Delancey. The “East of Essex” neighborhood was always a very difficult outlier for galleries, until Laurel Glitlin, Lisa Cooley, Theiry Goldberg and, especially, Marianne Boesky, opened the area up. Until 2012, the only galleries with any longevity were ABC No Rio (a stalwart), Gallery 128 (CoLab) and Alex Sloan’s eponymous gallery at Norfolk. As prime areas are filled, more galleries will be forced to search farther afield, something they are generally less willing to risk, even if the spaces are larger and cheaper. In other words, available inventory will become “gallery saturated”, unless galleries get bold, in which case I know of a few terrific larger and cheaper off-market spaces in areas that could easily work well. Contact me.
3 -There is considerable development in progress that is changing the traditional face of the LES, and raising prices. This is the same old story that we know from SoHo and the East Village, and the LES is more susceptible to this scenario than is West Chelsea, since the galleries moved there in the first place for the lower monthly rents. Wait. What? West Chelsea is not being threatened by rising rents? Well, yes, but not for the same reasons and the conditions are different, which you can read about here.