I first met Cheryl McGinnis three years ago, not long after she’d opened her gallery way up Madison Avenue in Carnegie Hill. I was immediately intrigued: although Lesley Heller was just around the corner on 92nd Street in those days, and they were both within a block of Museum Mile, this seemed like the least likely locale for a renaissance of contemporary art dealers. I soon realized that Ms McGinnis was never one for doing the predictable thing, and over the years I have been delighted to see her prosper. Now she’s done it again. When a lot of other dealers are battening down the hatches, she’s decided to move house. And again, she’s turned up in a less than expected part of town. She’s at 555 Eighth Avenue, on that stretch just south of Port Authority where the garment district shades into Hell’s Kitchen. Lots of porn stores, but not many galleries. But talk to her and you soon succumb to her enthusiasm, and then to her logic. So here, counted off on the fingers of one hand, are the points she made about her latest move:
When I opened in Carnegie Hill, I had one dealer say to me, “You’re really brave not going to Chelsea!” But I thought not going to Chelsea was more cowardly. There’s a lot to compete with there. All those ground floor spaces, and all the major dealers who really know what they’re doing. Not to suggest that I didn’t, but I wanted the time and space to cut my teeth, so to speak. And to make mistakes. I wasn’t ready to go to Chelsea. I didn’t want to be on a high floor and just be one of the masses. I wanted to do something different.
The first show in this new space is by Stephanie Hightower and it’s called “More Questions”. Stephanie wanted to name it that because, much as she’s hoping to find the answers – “What is it all about? What is the truth? In the work? In painting?” – at the end of the day there are always more questions than answers. That’s where the world is now. We have so many questions. And I think that’s a great place to be. I remember my art history teacher asking me a question once and I said, “I don’t know.” And she said, “That is a great answer!” That is the first place to begin. There is so much possibility with “I don’t know.” I wanted to feel that again. I felt that I was becoming too defined by my own taste. I had my one place. But I really think that this gallery and the artists it shows are so much bigger than any one space or any one area. It was time to move. As a curator, I wanted more things to be stimulated by than the Hermès bags of Madison Avenue. I had all the answers, but I wanted more questions.
This neighborhood is wild! I remember coming to this neighborhood 30 years ago – when I first came to New York and I was living in a very scary walkup on 42nd Street – and hoping I’d never have to come back to this neighborhood. So I thought coming here from Carnegie Hill would be a huge adjustment for me, but it just feels so much more alive and real. I feel much more connected. I love being around the corner from the Elizabeth Foundation and the other artists’ studios because a lot of my artists are there. I can take a client right to the studio, which is really the center of it all. I didn’t come here to attach myself to other galleries, but when I got here I had a walk around and thought, “Wow! There are some really great spaces around here.” The Lower East Side Printshop has always been one of my favorite spaces. They’ve been very successful here. Also Dieu Donné are doing some very interesting things. There’s H P Garcia across the street, and there’s Exit Art over on Tenth.
With this economic downturn and everything else there are the winds of change out there. We’re ready for a change. I feel that a lot of galleries popped up during the boom-time for reasons that maybe weren’t about art. Maybe they were about being part of the scene. And they priced work based on their rent. Now they’re going out of business, and their artists have been overpriced and unfortunately they won’t find a new market. For a while it felt like the whole art world was crashing. But in dark days I can pull something out, and come out bigger and stronger. That’s me. I don’t necessarily welcome it, but when it happens I will go with it.
I have never overpriced my artists. Slow and steady wins the race, and being smart in business. Even in the boom times. I said to my husband the other day, “You know, the party’s over and we didn’t even have that much fun!” That is just not us. We price things consistently, and very affordably. I never thought, “This is the greatest thing and it’ll go on forever!” I thought, “This was a great month, but next month maybe nothing will happen.” I show works by major artists who fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at Sotheby’s. I still have works of theirs for under $5,000. I don’t need an “Affordable Art Fair”! My clients who have put things into the secondary market have done extremely well. I really love my artists. I care about them deeply as people and friends. I feel that our lives are intertwined. I put everything I can into this. It’s what I am. It’s not just a business. Being unsuccessful is not an option.
The reception for Stepanie Hightower’s show, “More Questions” is tomorrow, Friday, April 3, at 5-8 p.m. All readers of A Sky filled with Shooting Stars are invited.
On the fingers of one hand is based on an original idea by Jacquelyn Lewis.