Clearing Gallery has long been a central figure for the gallery circuit in Bushwick, Brooklyn—it began there in 2010, in founder Olivier Babin’s cleared-out studio on the second floor of 505 Johnson Avenue, and moved down the street in 2014 to a ground-floor space five times as big. Many artists in the program have studios nearby, and those who make large-scale work take advantage of the warehouse-laden neighborhood’s fabrication plants. Babin makes strong coffee for visitors in the back office, and he’s a reliable figure at local spots, with art types catching him walking around, picking up dry cleaning, and buying avocados in the neighborhood.
Now Babin is readying his second New York location—and third total, as he also has a gallery in his Brussels—and it’s rather far from Bushwick. It’s on the Upper East Side, and it opens tomorrow.
“It’s my first time having a job in Manhattan, so I’m excited on a personal level,” Babin said, dryly, over the phone earlier today.
Babin’s stable of young artists has established him as a power player on the international scene, where he regularly sells out his booths at fairs such as Frieze London and Liste in Basel. The new digs can only help—he’s at 43 East 78th Street, right off Madison Avenue’s Gold Coast, barely a block away from Gagosian headquarters, smack dab between Almine Rech and Mnuchin Gallery.
“We have private dealers, galleries, and museums around, so it’s a super location,” he said. “As much as Bushwick is off the beaten path, this is in the center of everything. I mean, we’re across the street from the Carlyle!”
Babin had not been looking for another space in New York—and certainly not on the Upper East Side, he said—but the opportunity presented itself.
“We were offered the space by someone who thought we might like it, and I immediately turned it down,” Babin said. “But when I figured out the address, it’s such a special spot on the map, I thought, if I don’t do it, I’m probably going to think about it every day for the rest of my life.”
“I never imagined that we’d be here, and it’s a very pleasant surprise,” he added.
The space is much smaller than Clearing in Bushwick, which sits in a former truck repair depot, and in Brussels, which is on the Avenue Van Volxemlaan. Both are over 5,000 square feet. On the Upper East Side, it’s more of an intimate setting, and Babin says he’ll stage shows at that scale, as well as using the spaces (he has two floors) for private viewing sessions with collectors—and these blocks are lousy with collectors, as Babin noted. Galleries, too: In addition to uptown outposts of blue chippers like David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth, Babin will be right by peers such as Daniel Buchholz and Bill Powers, whose Half Gallery remains upstairs at 43 East 78th. (Clearing will be taking over the space vacated by Powers’s wife, Cynthia Rowley, a fashion designer who had a boutique there.)
The Clearing team was still prepping for Thursday’s opening when we talked (“We don’t have a desk, we don’t have chairs,” Babin said, completely unfazed), and the inaugural show they were installing will feature pieces by artists in Clearing’s distinctive program, like Harold Ancart, Korakrit Arunandondchai and Calvin Marcus. The show has no name, and there’s no artist list, it’s “just great works by great artists of the program, period,” Babin said.
“It’s as if this were my house and I have to pick what I would consider my ‘collection,’ quote-unquote,” he said. “I’m welcoming you to my new house, and this is the work I think is great, by artists I think are great, and I’m showing you guys.”
And like its Bushwick gallery, Clearing UES will be a place to swing by, chat, or have a cup of coffee brewed by Babin.
“It’s going to be very much a hangout,” he said.