New In Town: The Lower East Side by Blair Murphy

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A recent Washingtonian turned new New Yorker explores a small slice of the Lower East Side gallery scene.

Coming to New York as a visitor, I always felt rushed. Showing up with a long list of not-to-be-missed museum exhibitions or maybe a few big-name gallery shows, I rarely took the time to explore new or unfamiliar galleries or artists. One of my new New Yorker resolutions is to resist the inertia of the familiar and explore new galleries, new artists, and new parts of town. This week: the Lower East Side! Well, a very small part of it. Most of the LES galleries are open on Sunday, so you’ve got all weekend to explore. And you’ll need it.

Stay in Love, a group exhibition co-presented by Laurel Gitlen  and Lisa Cooley and spanning both Norfolk Street galleries, explores fixation and repetition. The show interprets these practices broadly, encompassing both the reiteration of physical marks in a Yayoi Kusama painting and the repeated act undertaken by Mierle Laderman Ukeles for Touch Sanitation, a multi-year project that involved shaking hands with every sanitation worker in New York City.

Given the overwhelming topic at hand, the exhibition is inevitably marked by absence. One of my favorite discoveries from the show is Peter Dreher, a German artist who has painted the same water glass every day since 1974. The series, Tag um Tag guter Tag (Day by Day is a Good Day), is represented in the show by a single painting, Tag um Tag gutter Tag, N. 2130 (Night). Similarly, Stay in Love features a single image by Bernd and Hilla Becher, known for their extensive photographic typologies of water towers and other industrial structures. In both cases, the viewer has to imagine the other works in the series and appreciate that what they’re viewing is one small component of an extensive, even lifelong, effort.

new in town

The impossibility of depicting the very repetition inherent to so much of the work in the exhibition creates a curatorial challenge not unlike the difficulties of representing performances or site-specific installation outside of their original context. What is on view is a single small portion of a much larger effort. By showing us these snapshots, from so many artists, across genres and decades, Stay in Love presents a thought-provoking, if necessarily limited, group portrait of artistic fascination, obsession, and commitment.


Right around the corner from Laurel Gitlen and Lisa Cooley, is Cuchifritos, a small project space located inside Essex Market. Run by Artists Alliance, it features work by emerging and underrepresented artists. (In fact, they have a Curatorial Open Call for the space that closes February 1). The Nineteenth Hole by Jenny Santos, the current installation, is a small putting green, complete with a golf club and ball, just waiting for an eager golfer to practice their swing. The only thing missing is the hole. This lack transforms what would be a space for relaxation into a landscape of inevitable failure. While the project’s punch line is a bit simplistic, it is ideally suited for this small corner of the market, where unsuspecting market visitors will be drawn in by the bright green astroturf and enjoy an unexpected (and possibly frustrating) encounter with contemporary art.

Back on Norfolk Street, Thierry Goldberg hosts an exhibition with abstract painting and mixed media work by Jeffrey Kessel and John Bianchi. Kessel’s large paintings feature dark, black circles and lines over light washes of color. Evocative of graffiti, run-down buildings, and other urban decay, the paintings quickly become monotonous. More intriguing are Bianchi’s mixed media works, created with unconventional materials, including EPS foam, spray paint, and aqua resin.

Find it:

Stay in Love. Curated by Chris Sharp
up through February 2, 2014
Lisa Cooley @ 107 Norfolk Street
Laurel Gitlen @ 122 Norfolk Street

Jenny Santos: The Nineteenth Hole
Curated by Ana Barajas
through January 26, 2014
Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space
Inside Essex Street Market
(enter at the entrance just north of the intersection of Essex and Delancey)
120 Essex Street

John Bianchi & Jeffrey Kessel
through February 2, 2014
Thierry Goldberg Gallery
103 Norfolk Street

Other recommended stops:

Sasha Wolf Gallery 
70 Orchard Street

190 Orchard Street

Klaus Von Nichtssagend Gallery
54 Ludlow Street

Sperone Westwater
257 Bowery

James Fuentes 
55 Delancey Street

Pocket Utopia
191 Henry Street

And so many more…


Installation view: Stay in Love, curated by Chris Sharp, Lisa Cooley, New York, Presented in collaboration with Laurel Gitlen, New York, 2014. Photo: Cary Whittier

Peter Dreher Tag um Tag guter Tag, N. 2130 (Night) 1974, Oil on canvas, 9.8 x 7.8 inches (25 x 20 cm). Courtesy of the artist; P420, Bologna; Lisa Cooley and Laurel Gitlen, New York. Photo: Cary Whittier

Bernd and Hilla Becher Water Towers: New York City: 155 Wooster St., 1978 2010. Black and white photograph, Framed: 36 x 29 inches. Courtesy of Sonnabend Gallery, New York; Lisa Cooley and Laurel Gitlen, New York. Photo: Cary Whittier

Jenny Santos‘ The Nineteenth Hole at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space, curated by Ana Barajas.


Author Blair Murphy is a writer, curator, and arts administrator who recently relocated to New York City from Washington, DC. During 8 years in DC, she worked for a number of local arts organizations, including Washington Project for the Arts, DC Arts Center, and Provisions Library. Read more at and follow her @blair_e_murphy.

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