The city's restless heart of downtown rises up once again. By Naomi Nevitt
While the Lower East Side has savored its fair share of hype over the past few years—from the rebellious beginnings as a skate-punk mecca to its recent emergence as a blue chip design destination—the area south of Delancey has always been somewhat on the cusp of the real action. But with the recent opening of the New Museum, ie: the area's new beacon of the arts, the Lower East Side—and its bustling neighbor Chinatown—is undergoing yet another renaissance.
The quarter is now being steered by the emerging art scene and is frequently being touted the next Chelsea. Yet, never one to welcome homogeneity—especially the white cube variety—the neighborhood succeeds in preserving its rough-and tumble, under-the-radar persona that makes it a downtown stalwart. Here, sneaker shops thrive alongside old-school Orchard Street tailors and slow food cafes are shoulder-to-shoulder with frenetic Chinese kitchens. But with the recent opening of the New Museum—the area's new beacon of the arts—Chinatown and its surrounding environs are undergoing yet another renaissance and reviving the artistic roots downtown has been historically known for.
At just a year old, wunderkind gallery James Fuentes has pushed the limits of the Lower East Side art scene with his off-the-radar Lower Manhattan storefront and super-hip (and critically acclaimed) exhibitions by Chinatown-based talent. The neighborhood-focused roster of artists includes art rockers Gang Gang Dance's Lizzi Bougatos and Brian DeGraw, Agathe Snow, and William Stone.
Former Marianne Boesky employee Siobhan Lowe founded Never Work in October to exhibit up-and-coming local talent. With only three shows under her belt, the gallerist fills the shoebox-size Henry Street space with high-impact pieces from psychedelic oversized paintings by Ariel Dill to elaborate 2-D rope works by Christian Sampson.
Founded in June 2006 by Victoria Donner and Anne Maffei, V&A shows an inspired roster of emerging artists who, as Donner notes, "moved to New York to create something peculiarly New York." The exhibitions that, to date, focus on painting and works on paper, have featured local up-and-coming artists, including Ryan Hixenbaugh, Megan Pflug, Scott Taylor, and Selma Hafizovic.
Part art-project, part functioning not-for-profit-retail store, the Pawn Shop was founded in October by artists Julieta Aranda, Liz Linden and Anton Vidokle who took over e-flux's storefront on Ludlow Street to host a different kind of art exhibition—a literal pawnshop where artworks are submitted by artists for cash, and if not reclaimed after 30 days, placed for sale exclusively by the shop. Starting with a who's-who list of over 60 contributing artists, from Paul Chan and Rirkrit Tiravanija to Lawrence Weiner and Andrea Zittel, the shop opened itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s mission to the public in Novemer, allowing anyone who wanted to sell their art to stop by and receive fast cash.
Located just off the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge, Canada gallery exhibits an experimental group of artists as unexpected as their ambiguous name (neither the artists nor the space's founders have much to do with our neighbors to the north). From Joe Bradley's Tetris-like installations to Devendra Banhart's folk-infused ink on paper drawing, the works here are not to be missed.
Taking the moniker of a fictional gallery owner, Reena Spaulings Fine Art is an art gallery-cum-art piece by John Kelsey and Emily Sundblad. Now on its second Chinatown incarnation (above a Chinese restaurant, naturally), Reena Spaulings shows an international list of academic artists, including Merlin Carpenter and Claire Fontaine.
• Save Khaki, 254 Broome Street, 212-925-0134
The newest branch of basics brand Save Khaki, with its shop on the buzzing corner of Broome and Orchard opening last December, takes pleasure in providing the masses with nothing short of perfect super-soft shirting, and, of course, plenty of expertly tailored khakis for both men and women. Expanding upon the Lafayette Street location of the nearly 2-year-old label, owner and designer David Mullen will "officially" launch the store this month by welcoming his new USA-made label to the eco-conscious minimalist space.
For sneaker freaks in need of limited-edition Nike Dunks, Loteks, and Vans, consider Front Street your newest pusher. Opening last August, the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Orchard Street shoe shop is also filled with BMX accessories from Animal and Fit as well as the obligatory selection of Front Street logo T-shirts and sweats.
An avant-garde haven just south of Canal Street, Project No. 8 opened less than a year ago to plenty of deserved fanfare. In a smart, all-white storefront, proprietors Brian Janusiak and Elizabeth Beer serve up conceptual clothing and accessories to men and women who seek an impeccably edited selection from fashion-forward designers, including Sunshine and Shadow, Boudicca, Repetto, and Schisser, to name a few.
Planting its previously online-only shop on Ludlow Street last autumn, Leelush takes on the unique responsibility of bringing Canadian style stateside. Proprietors Zarie Muelle and Elinor Arzt pair Vancouver-based designers Dace and Chulo Pony with local pieces from jewelry designer Lo'key Makaj; a selection of vintage pieces are thrown into the bright blue space's mix of wares for good measure.
Practically single-handedly rallying a whole scene of artistic downtowners, aNYthing has become a defacto headquarters of the Lower East Side's art and fashion set. Founded by Aaron Bondaroff, the self-proclaimed Don of South of Delancey Downtown, aNYthing provides a place to become part of the action, providing skate kids and gallery goers alike access to hard-to-find photo 'zines, local fashion, aNYthing's in-house clothing line, which plays off commonplace New York typography, as well specially designed T-shirts by graffiti artists like Futura and Neckface.
With its start seven years ago as a biodynamic catering company, Green, Brown and Orange (an event company, Cafe and epicerie, respectfully), the Café has become something of a Hester Street institution. But despite the eco-conscious slow food the trio serves up, growing and commissioning nearly every item served, Green, Brown and Orange captures a perfect laidback sophistication of the new downtown, from the rustic yet elegant baked eggs and wild boar sausage to the minimalist plywood walls.
Taking its name from the barbershop-cum-brothel that once housed its Orchard Street storefront, Good World opened in 1999 as a Scandinavian-style bistro, where one could kick back with friends over Swedish meatballs and a glass of Aquavit. And while nearly a decade ago the south of Canal location seemed a risk to owners Annika Sundvik and John Lavelle, the duo has established firm roots in the neighborhood, and plan to open another Swedish mainstay—White Slab Palace—on the corner of Allen and Delancey in the coming months.
• Bacaro, 136 Division Street, 212-941-5060
Venetian for "pub," Barcaro opened in October with a whole lot of buzz over their decadent northern Italian dishes, cavernous subterranean location, and art-world following. Satisfying traditional bar snacks and 200-plus wine selection are added bonuses.
The city's restless heart of downtown rises up once again.