In the past decade, more than 250 galleries have moved onto the blocks spanning 20th to 29th streets between Tenth and Eleventh avenues in West Chelsea, further cementing the Big Apple as the planet's premier marketplace for contemporary art. Gallery after gallery has taken over the former warehouse and industrial spaces of this dusty old 'hood, creating an eminently walkable new arts district.
Although you can have a perfectly lovely time simply getting lost in the area and wandering blindly from one space to the next, you could hit a lot of clunker exhibitions (just as with any collection of new art, some are better than others). If you want to take this course of action, start on 24th Street, which has the largest assortment of "name" galleries. A better tack might be to catch a tour of the area (see below) or to concentrate on the following galleries, which have made their reputations with consistently thought-provoking shows.
(Note: The standard schedule for all Chelsea galleries is Sept.-May Tues-Sat 10am-6pm and June-Aug. Mon-Fri 10am-6pm. Your best subway option is to take either the C or E to 23rd St.)
303 Gallery (525 W. 22nd St.; tel. 212/255-1121; www.303gallery.com). The Whitney biennial has come calling recently, picking up the works of the young to mid-career, cutting-edge photographers and painters who present shows here. For a good look at the artists the gallery represents, visit the website first.
Paula Cooper (534 W. 21st St. and 521 W. 21st St.; tel. 212/255-1105; www.paulacoopergallery.com). Cooper used to be one of the biggest names in art, the dealer that everyone wanted. Though she's slipped in the last 5 years or so and lost some of her big-name clients, she still has the exquisite taste she's always had, and exhibits a number of prominent artists, including: Jennifer Bartlett, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, and Andres Serrano.
Gagosian (555 W. 24th St.; tel. 212/741-1111; www.gagosian.com). A massive, important family of galleries (one uptown, one in Los Angeles, another in London), it presents blockbuster shows of works from such major 20th- and 21st-century figures as Roy Lichtenstein, Francis Bacon, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, and Cy Twombly.
Barbara Gladstone Gallery (515 W. 24th St.; tel. 212/206-9300; www.gladstonegallery.com). Come here to see the artists who have emerged as big honchos in the last 5 years or so, such as Ilya Kabakov, and Richard Prince. Gladstone tends to feature conceptual, often highly political art -- most prominently photography and videos, but also sculpture and paintings.
Yossi Milo (525 W. 25th St.; tel. 212/404-0370; www.yossimilogallery.com). One of my personal favorites, Milo works almost exclusively with photographers and has a terrific eye for the next big thing. He also runs a very friendly gallery, and he and his staff are always happy to talk with interested patrons. Because he represents photographers, some of them selling multiple editions of their work, you just may be able to afford to buy something here.
Pace Wildenstein (534 and 545 W. 25th St.; tel. 212/929-7000; www.pacewildenstein.com). Another "Blue Chip" gallery, with two outposts in Chelsea (see above) and one in Midtown (32 E. 57th St.), Pace Wildenstein has been a powerhouse since the 1960s. Recent show featured the works of such biggies as Chuck Close, Robert Rauschenberg, Claus Oldenberg, and Jim Dine.
Andrea Rosen (525 W. 24th St.; tel. 212/627-6000; www.andrearosengallery.com). The Rosen gallery is a terrific place to see emerging artists, especially those who are "installation happy" and like to create entire environments for their viewers. It seems that each time I come here I'm stepping into some new type of utopia (or dystopia); the experience can be chilling and exciting.
Sonnabend Gallery (536 W. 22nd St.; tel. 212/627-1018; www.artnet.com/sonnabend.html). Maybe I've just hit it right, but I find that the Sonnabend has something that's missing from so many galleries: a sense of humor. Most of the work I've seen here has been purposefully funny-odd Star Wars sculptures, videos of Germans singing along to Madonna songs-and after all of the "serious art" at other places, coming into this playful atmosphere is a delight. Sonnebend is one of the more established galleries, founded by the former wife of famed dealer Leo Castelli.
A gallery tour: Allowing an expert to lead you through this ever-shifting maze of art is a good idea. And New York's foremost expert in the Chelsea Gallery scene-he visits 50 to 70 shows a week just to keep current-is Raphael Risemburg of NY Gallery Tours (www.nygallerytours.com). Risemburg, a former professor, has a droll, friendly manner and leads his tours in Socratic fashion: He'll tell you what he thinks of the art at the 10 to 20 galleries you cover on your tour, and then ask your opinion on the unanswered questions it poses. His open tours are offered one Saturday per month (the cost is $15, but you can get $3 off by going to the website first), and he also leads private tours for $200 (though you can bring along up to 15 people on those).
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers in our New York City Forum today.This article is an excerpt from Pauline Frommer's New York City, 2nd Edition, available in our online bookstore now.
Find out more about the Pauline Frommer Travel Guide series, read articles by Pauline, and listen to Podcasts at Pauline's page on Frommers.com.