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In Open Letter, Director of New York’s Tramps Gallery Hits Back at Claims of Gentrification of Chinatown

Installation view of “Kai Althoff: Häuptling Klapperndes Geschirr,” 2018, at Tramps, New York.

COURTESY THE ARTIST AND TRAMPS

In an open letter circulated on Friday, Parinaz Mogadassi, the director of New York’s Tramps gallery, responded to a review published in 4Columns that accuses the space of gentrifying Chinatown, where Tramps has held exhibitions since 2017. (Mogadassi is employed by Michael Werner, though Tramps, which also stages shows in London, is a separate entity from that gallery.)

That review, written by Jamie Chan and Leah Pires, argues that the gallery and its current Kai Althoff exhibition, which is set in a series of retail spaces in a functioning mall, are pernicious presences in a neighborhood undergoing major changes. “Lured by authenticity,” Chan and Pires wrote, “Mogadassi and Werner have inserted themselves into a preexisting ecosystem in order to offer an urban safari for art world voyeurs en route from Tribeca to Cologne.”

Quoting the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and the 1994 Madonna song “Human Nature,” Mogadassi says in her letter that she refuses to apologize for her presence in Chinatown, and that the area that the gallery occupies was not regularly being rented in the past.

“Because of the economic implications of this ownership,” she writes, “and because the building lies directly beneath the Manhattan bridge, luxury development would be extremely challenging if not impossible for this particular building. That is why the rents I pay are not significantly higher than the rent other proprietors in the mall who are of Chinese origin pay. In fact some of spaces below mine command higher monthly rents.”

Mogadassi goes on to note that other galleries, including Reena Spaulings Fine Art and Miguel Abreu Gallery, have been in Chinatown for far longer than Tramps.

The debate surrounding Tramps in some ways recalls one had last year over an Omer Fast show at James Cohan Gallery’s Chinatown location, where the Berlin-based artist created a fake “waiting room” area for a store; a release said that the installation returned the gallery’s Grand Street space to its pre-gentrified state. (In fact, the Fast installation bore little resemblance to the market formerly occupying the space.) Chinatown Art Brigade led protests there, and demanded that the exhibition be removed; James Cohan Gallery chose to keep the show on view.

Mogadassi’s full letter is available on Tramps’s website.

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