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Small Business: Ellie Rines On Her New Tiny Gallery, 56 Henry

View of 56 Henry from the street.GOOGLE STREET VIEW

View of 56 Henry from the street.


Ellie Rines, whose walk-in-closet-size gallery 55 Gansevoort closed abruptly last summer, is opening a new space, this time in Chinatown, at 56 Henry Street. Gansevoort, which opened in a pre-Whitney Museum Meatpacking District in the fall of 2013, had about 60 square feet of space, often filled by one work at a time, which meant that openings mostly took place on the street outside. The Henry Street gallery, by comparison, is tucked into an apartment—the exhibition space is in the front and takes up more like 64 square feet, and now Rines has a back room for inventory and a small living area with a kitchen, bathroom, and bed. (The bed is lofted, which prompted Rines to refer to the apartment as “my duplex in Chinatown.”)

“You know those Chinatown stores that have, like, iPhone cases in the front, and then they open up and they sell counterfeit bags in the back?” Rines said on a visit to the gallery this week. We were sitting in the kitchen in the back, and there was incense burning. “I wanted to do something like that,” she continued. “I wanted to still do what I did at Gansevoort, but that wasn’t the most salable model.” She let out a loud laugh. “Doesn’t that shock you?”

Rines said part of the idea behind the new gallery is to “give artists the opportunity to really focus on a specific idea.” 55 Gansevoort was place for artists to, as Rines said, “hash something out, or show something less commercial,” in a setting that was mostly on constant public view and in the shadow of several nightclubs. (The irony is that the space closed so soon after the opening of the Whitney.) Artists that showed there ranged from photographer Todd Eberle, to pioneering feminist painter Betty Tompkins, to younger artists like Jeanette Hayes.

The first show at 56 Henry opens December 11 and will feature work by Polly Apfelbaum, who will hang her ceramic bead sculptures in the window. Since Gansevoort’s closing was so sudden—the building was purchased by Restoration Hardware, and Rines was given two weeks notice to move out in August—the gallery had a full year of programming planned without any home, a lot of which will carry over to 56 Henry. Other artists showing at the space include Sadie Laska, Hanna Liden, Ryan Wallace, and Wade Oates, whose exhibition will last only five days. (Because the work on view is an ice sculpture of a hermaphrodite, Rines said. It will melt over the course of the show into a water cooler.)

A micro gallery has certain drawbacks. At Gansevoort, which was certainly lacking in amenities, “People would pee in the stairway all the time like a bunch of barbarians,” Rines said. But she said that she likes having a space that has “direct contact” with the public. “Sometimes at Gansevoort,” she said, “someone would walk by and say, ‘Oh I see this place all the time on my way to work,’ or ask me, ‘Can I come inside or do I have to pay?’ I loved that idea, that people who had never gone into galleries were having this really direct interaction with an artwork. They can keep their headphones on, and they don’t have to be intimidated by a bitchy girl in a Prada dress. So I wanted to keep that going.”

For now, 56 Henry is the first gallery on the block in a neighborhood that is becoming increasingly full of commercial art dealers.

“This space,” Rines said, “I was really insecure about it. I was really concerned that it wasn’t as funky and weird as Gansevoort. It seems less renegade—it’s a little too functional, a little to clear. People have come by, though, and said, No Ellie, this is sufficiently strange.”

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