New York Gallery Week kicks off tomorrow, Friday, May 7. It's actually more of a long weekend: the inaugural NYGW features a series of events and solo show openings at participating galleries, from May 7 to May 10. Look for exhibitions and artist talks at about 50 galleries, including David Zwirner, Taxter & Spengemann, Bortolami and Nyehaus, as well as a handful of non-profits, like the Drawing Center. Events are free to the public and galleries will be open extended hours.

But does New York—a city where there are hundreds of art shows running at any given time—need a week dedicated to gallery exhibitions? Some in the art world think so.

MAMMA ANDERSSON, FILLY, 2010. COURTESY DAVID ZWIRNER

 

 

"It makes New York an art destination without making it an art fair," said Zach Feuer, whose Zach Feuer Gallery will host a book signing with painter Dana Schutz on Friday. Whereas the focus of an art fair is more on commerce, and on showing—and selling—individual works of art, a showcase of galleries makes it about the exhibitions.

"In an art gallery the shows really give the artist a possibility of giving it a narrative," said Stefania Bortolami, of Bortolami, who was just in Berlin for Berlin Gallery Week.

Art fair culture, Bortolami thinks, also makes buyers "a little bit lazy." Going from fair to fair, "You forget about the bigger picture, that all of those works of art was actually created for a show... and the show was a better showcase," she said.

New York Gallery Week is the brainchild of dealer Casey Kaplan, of Casey Kaplan Gallery. Feeling a lack in the New York gallery scene, Kaplan found it in Minneapolis, at the Walker Art Center exhibition The Quick and the Dead.

"At the opening there was just an amazing energy and excitement, in such stark contrast with what I was experiencing back in New York," Kaplan said. In New York, he mostly was seeing empty art spaces. "More or less, the gallery system in New York was broken, I thought... If the people had stopped coming (to the galleries) because of the financial slowdown, we had presented ourselves wrongly, or we had allowed ourselves to be presented wrongly."

The idea for NYGW was drummed up by Kaplan and a think tank of colleagues like Zwirner, Friedrich Petzel and Jane Hait.

"It was clear that the message needed to be changed," Kaplan said. "There needed to be a new way of thinking or communicating what we as galleries do."

The mission of New York Gallery Week, as Kaplan and his peers see it, is to return the focus to the artists and their work, and create a community among New York gallerists that hasn't really existed before.

Before, in the city, "not enough attention was being put on the artists and their work, and in the context of a gallery show. The focus had shifted to be all these other things like auction result, parties, dinners, lifestyle—and not enough real substance," Kaplan said. "The reality is that there's absolutely amazing work to be seen in New York."

Such work includes exhibitions of Thomas Struth at Marian Goodman Gallery, William Sasnal at Anton Kern Gallery, and Shirazeh Houshiary and Lee Bul at Lehmann Maupin. Events this weekend include book signings (the aforementioned Dana Schutz event at Zach Feuer on Friday); curator-led tours (a walk-through of the new Jockum Nordström and Mamma Andersson exhibitions at David Zwirner by Aspen Museum director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson); and a Sunday brunch and preview of the White Columns benefit auction.

Some galleries have shifted their exhibition schedules to accommodate New York Gallery Week. Feuer said he didn't revise his exhibition plans, and noted that many galleries plan for shows to open around this point of auction season. But Bortolami, for example, pushed back the opening of the Eric Wesley show a few weeks, to May 8, so the Los Angeles-based artist could be present for Gallery Week.