Next month, New York-based gallerist Gavin Brown will open a Rome gallery in an unexpected location: an 8th-century church named Sant’Andrea de Scaphis at Via dei Vascellari 69 in the Trastevere neighborhood.
“I wouldn’t be opening in Rome unless I found this space, as much as I absolutely love Rome,” Brown said today by phone from Los Angeles. “It’s not that I was looking to open a place in Europe. I was looking to open this place in this building.”
The British-born dealer has had his eye on the building for about a decade, since the days when he was co-running a gallery in the Italian capital called Roma Roma Roma with fellow dealers Franco Noero and Toby Webster, who run galleries in Turin, Italy, and Glasgow, Scotland, respectively.
“Nearby was this restaurant we used to go to which I still love and I would sit outside and look at this building that was on the corner,” Brown said. “Literally you could throw your artichokes at it. It was always the most evocative and magnetic building, so simple and small and obviously empty.” On a trip to Rome last summer he met the building’s owner—the church was deconsecrated in the 1940s and had been in private hands—and signed a lease on the building, which measures around 500 square feet, has 30-foot ceilings, and was restored in the 17th century.
The Rome gallery will open to the public on April 6, but Brown is keeping mum about what, precisely, one will see there. “I kind of want to leave it alone and protect it a little bit,” he said.
An unconventional space, it would seem, calls for an unconventional approach. “I need to readjust in the way that I work,” he said, “and not bring the conventions that I have used in New York.”
Brown is not the first New York based dealer to open a Rome location. In December, 2007, Larry Gagosian opened his seventh worldwide gallery in a former bank building on Via Francesco Crispi, near the Spanish steps, with a design by architects Caruso St. John.
Depending on how you are counting, the Rome location is either Brown’s third, fourth, or fifth space. Since the 1990s, he has been based on New York’s West Side. Last year he opened a project space of sorts on the third floor of a Lower East Side building, and in 2012 he took a lease in Los Angeles for a gallery called 356 Mission that is operated as an artist-run space by painter Laura Owens, whom Brown represents. He also has a white-box space inside his Harlem townhouse that is occasionally open to the public.
Rome won’t be the last new gallery for Brown. In a few months, he’ll be leaving his West Village location for a new, as-yet-announced New York space on which he is now negotiating a lease. “We’re close,” he said.
“I think a lot of people who run the kind of business I run have this real-estate problem,” he added. “If you see empty buildings, you imagine what could be done there.”