The merchant Samuel Delaplaine built the Federal-style house on 134 Bowery, where curator and writer Alexander Shulan just opened his intriguing new gallery LOMEX, in 1798. Delaplaine, whose great-grandfather came to the New World from France in the early 1600s, outfitted the building at 134 Bowery with such accoutrement as “steeply pitched roofs” and “gabled dormers” and “Flemish-bond brickwork,” as Bowery Boogie states. After some years he left, and it became a commercial property in the 1830s. There was a bookstore and a millinery, then a gunsmith and a daguerreotype maker. By the turn of the century, there was a cigar rolling factory and a billiard table manufacturer, and in 1910 134 Bowery was the site of a grisly shooting that erupted from a card game tantrum. In 1963, with the neighborhood still a haven for flophouses and hoodlums, Eva Hesse took residence at the address, using the small hut-like apartment on the on the top of the structure, apartment 4S, as her studio.
Most recently the building’s been part of the Bowery’s lighting fixture district, and last year it was purchased along with the four addresses to its right. Three have been scheduled for demolition, with 134 spared for now. Regardless, the future of the lower stretch of the ancient downtown street that once cut through farmland is still uncertain.
Alexander Shulan understands this. He grew up in Soho, blocks away. He went to college and returned to the city as an artist. He began writing criticism for publications like The Brooklyn Rail and Kaleidoscope, while also beginning to put together shows with artists he felt simpatico with, at James Fuentes, Tomorrow Gallery, and Foxy Production. He helped launch Martos Gallery’s Eldridge Street offshoot Shoot the Lobster along with Taylor Trabulus. He formed a curatorial outfit with artist Jason Matthew Lee called Jason Alexander—their first names and, probably, an homage to the actor who played George Costanza on Seinfeld—that was first run out of a sewing machine repair shop at 91 Canal Street, then became more amorphous. He’s a reliably present and well-loved fixture at parties on the downtown art scene.
Last month, he secured a lease for a space in 134 Bowery to house his first brick-and-mortar spot, LOMEX, which opened with its first show, “A Wasteland,” last week. It runs through January 17. And it’s in apartment 4S, the same space that Hesse used as a studio from the early 1960s until her death in 1970.
“There are really famous photographs of her in the space,” said Shulan, standing in the gallery a few days before the opening. He scrambled from one side of the strangely shaped space to the other to retrieve a book on Hesse, and there she was, hanging one of her blooming silver rope sculptures from the very sloped roof that now encroached upon my head.
“I was in here, and it felt like an artist might have been here, and I looked up the address, and decided this was the space,” he said.
Shulan said the first show isn’t an overt reference to Hesse’s practice, but her presence is felt, if only because the space hasn’t been altered since she was there half a century ago—the hooks she screwed into the ceiling to hang her works still remain—allowing the same types of work to be showcased effectively.
“The people who lived here didn’t change this space at all,” he said. “When I found that out I was determined to get this space, because I thought it was kind of nice to return art to this space. I mean, it’s not a normal space for a gallery.”
It can seem a bit off-putting upon entering. It’s cramped in places. There’s nowhere to hang any kind of large-scale painting. In few ways does it resemble the pristine white boxes painstakingly carved out within other buildings nearby—former fish markets, former Judaica shops, former noodle hawkers, former cobbler stands. Shulan said that’s why he’s so exciting about it.
“When people do a show here, they have to configure it to the fact that there is no wall space,” he said. “Or there’s minimal wall space, so they have to build a wall. Or you have to hang paintings in a weird way.”
There’s no painting in the show, which is one of its strengths, along with the fact that it draws from Shulan’s deep roster of collaborators and friends, many of whom have already had star turns elsewhere in the neighborhood. Acrylic and stainless steel works from Valerie Keane, the young artist whose worked has appeared in group shows at Tomorrow Gallery and Bed Stuy Love Affair, hang from the centuries-old wooden beams that jut oblong across the space, while Robert Bittenbender’s Fiduciary Jungle, an assemblage of metal detritus that he found on the street, is installed in front of the three windows that reveal the coiling Bowery below. There is also an intriguing skirt made from leather and hair by Danica Barboza, and freestanding work from Bradley Kronz and Maggie Lee, choices of artists that further reinforce a connection to nearby spaces.
That unwieldy work is cut through by a thread of photographs by the late Mark Morrisroe, establishing a counter-story to the sculptural abstractions: a female nude, a cyanotype of Tina Turner, a polaroid self-portrait of the artist sitting on a desk shirtless with the same Tina Turner cyanotype beside him.
The name, LOMEX, references a highway proposed by Robert Moses, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which, thankfully, never came to fruition: it would have bulldozed the whole scene.
“It would have run down Broome Street, and all of Chinatown, and it would have run through SoHo—through my parents house,” Shulan said. “So I probably wouldn’t have been born.”
Though the configuration of such artists may be familiar to some (Lee, Kronz, and Keane all appeared in a show with Bittenbender, curated by Robert McKenzie, at Greene Naftali earlier this year, and all but Lee appeared in the first show at Shoot the Lobster last year), it’s the way in which Shulan weaves the work through the context of the space—the winding of Hesse’s rope works, the winding of the Lenape footpath now known as the Bowery, the winding of Robert Moses’s never-built highway—that clearly intimates a story upon seeing the show.
“I’m really interested in narrative as a gallerist, and as a curator that’s what I did,” Shulan said. “Ideally, I’d like exhibitions to cohere as a narrative totality that’s different from the way a lot of gallerists are working.”
For the third exhibition, a solo show by Keane, he’s redoing the entire back section of the gallery, which now sort of functions as an office. And the second show is a performance that Kronz is doing that Shulan wouldn’t really elaborate on. And he’s emphasized the fact that it’s been a collaborative effort, imbuing it with the feeling of an artist-run gallery.
Though Shulan admits that, as far as the origin story of LOMEX goes, the proximity to the holiday season may mean fewer people see the show, or see the stories written about it.
“I’m opening at a really inopportune time to open a gallery: right before everyone goes home for Christmas,” he said. “But that’s OK. Like, I want to do shows that are two weeks long. The programming will not be conventional.”