Maybe it's the increasing number of empty storefronts in New York that has stoked entrepreneurial fires. The Lower East Side, with its intimate spaces, relatively low rents and anti-Chelsea vibe, continues to atteract innovative upstarts—and reinventions.
Ramiken, at 389 Grand St., is a ground floor space but improbably tucked behind a liquor store, a stone's throw from LES landmarks Kossar's Bialys and the Doughnut Plant. Artist Mike Egan opened his obtusely named gallery in September 2009. Initially called Ramiken Crucible, the name was a pseudonym he came up with years ago to anonymously sign his artworks.
INSTALLATION AT RAMIKEN
At the time, Egan had been laid off from his gallery job, and struck off on his own for a space. "I looked for the shittiest one I could find and renovated it myself," he says. The recession provided an open feeling for Egan, whose "strategic plan to open at the height of the recession" proved to be too early. "Things got even worse." Originally located in a dingy basement on nearby East Broadway, the gallery opened in the new Grand Street space in January under the truncated name "Ramiken." Egan plans to use the old location, with the old name, as a project space once renovation is completed this spring.
Egan now runs the space with Blaize Lehane, who joined last year on the condition they find a different location.
He programs and uses "as little money as humanly possible," allowing him flexible and ambitious programming.
Coming up on Mar. 1 is a show by Borden Capalino of wall hangings and roughly hewn sculptural habitats with live snakes. (Ramiken's current group show, "Win Last Don't Care" is on view through Feb. 20.)
Ramiken Crucible's incorporation last year and its participation in the NADA Art Fair in Miami in December essentially bestows it with official gallery status. But Lehane, previously director for Caren Golden and Goff + Rosenthal, isn't giving up the arriviste temperament of his younger venture: "The business of art is uninteresting, and the cult of the dealers hurts art. One reason the gallery is named RAMIKEN is to deflect questions of gallery authorship and subvert the worthless conventions of professionalism that proliferate in the art world."
Another mysteriously named gallery, Klaus von Nichtssagend, moved to the LES from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in January. Founded on a shoestring in 2004 by artists Rob Hult, Ingrid Bromberg Kennedy, Sam Wilson and Matthew Chase; the latter left to pursue music.
Who is Klaus von Nichtssagend? In German it means "Klaus of Nothing Said," which the artists thought a clever appellation for their ad hoc enterprise.
"We began in a rough space, on the cheap and without a plan," recalls Kennedy, "but that changed quickly." The gallery participated in several NADA fairs, boosting its visibility. But, according to Kennedy, the reason for the relocation was a traffic issue. "It was a real struggle to get people to Brooklyn," she says. "They would usually just come out if it was for an artist they already knew about." It probably didn't help that Nichtssagend arrived on the scene as a number of the first wave of Williamsburg galleries were moving to Chelsea (Winkleman, Schroeder Romero) and/or closing (Roebling Hall, Bellwether).
Nichtssagend reopened at 54 Ludlow St. in the midst of January's snowstorms. Despite the move to Manhattan, which often means downsizing, Nichtssagend is in a cleaner space that is twice as big—and, says Kennedy, their rent has tripled. Despite being accessible only through a long corridor, says Kennedy, the strategy is to "get more traffic, which leads to more press and hopefully more sales, which in theory means we'll have an easier time paying the rent."
Paintings by Jonah Koppel are on view through Feb. 27. A show of sculpture by Joy Curtis opens Mar. 4.
ABOVE RIGHT: JONAH KOPPEL, SILK IS SOY, 2010. COURTESY KLAUS VON NICHTSAGGEND.