A veteran gallery of New York’s Lower East Side is joining the exodus to Tribeca.
James Fuentes Gallery will soon open at 52 White Street, in a column-free, ground-floor space that measures around 3,000 square feet. It’s an upgrade from the nearly-2,000-square-foot space the gallery currently has on Delancey Street.
Additionally, next year, Fuentes will open an L.A. location in the Melrose Hill section of Hollywood, near Lisson’s forthcoming branch in the city. All this physical growth will come alongside an expansion of the gallery’s roster.
“I see this as a massive opportunity,” Fuentes told ARTnews. “I feel the way that I did the day I signed the lease for my first gallery. I’m full of hopes and dreams.”
Fuentes still has around a year left on his Delancey space and will continue to program it during that time.
Renovations to the Tribeca space will be underway through the end of the year, though the gallery has already mounted its first show there: an exhibition for Juanita McNeely. Momentum surrounding McNeely is growing—the Whitney Museum recently acquired her 1969 nine-panel painting McNeely’s 1969 Is it Real? Yes it is!, in which the artist is seen receiving an abortion, and Fuentes is set to take her work this week to the new Independent fair focused on 20th-century art.
Fuentes said he felt like the history of Tribeca as a neighborhood that once hosted DIY projects by artists in disused buildings fit into the gallery’s mission of working with under-recognized artists. “The space has great bones, so to speak,” he said.
He first opened his gallery in 2007, near the borders of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, becoming one of the dealers that aided in building up a mass of galleries there. In 2016, once Alexander and Bonin departed Chelsea for Tribeca, he pondered a move to the latter neighborhood. But he found Tribeca “desolate,” and wanted to wait for an ecosystem to grow. Now, however, “there’s this vibrant community there, and it just felt like an exciting evolution or next step for the gallery.”
Although he is leaving behind the Lower East Side, “I feel rooted in that neighborhood in a way that extends beyond my gallery history because I grew up there,” he continued.
After much searching over the past six or so years, Fuentes said he finally found the right space for what he wanted to do with the program. (A member of the building’s co-op board includes sculptor Arlene Shechet.)
What attracted him most to it was its historic architecture and high tin ceilings, and that it is column-free. “Having that openness is exciting to me,” he said. “The space has a tremendous amount of soul. The moment we walked in we realized there was just like an incredible amount of history there.”
A space that had the right vibe was also of importance to Fuentes when selecting the L.A. location, which he had begun seriously considering last year. “I found a space that blew my mind—I’m inspired by it,” he said.
Fuentes sees L.A. as a city where “the next generation of collectors are blossoming in an amazing way. To develop those relationships with that next generation,” he said, “it feels almost necessary to have a presence there.”
And, with the physical growth of the gallery, which will allow his artists to be ever more ambitious, Fuentes said he feels like he just getting started, 15 years on. “I felt like some of my artists needed more elbow room,” he said. “It also provides another exhibition opportunity for my artists and allows us to evolve with the artists too.”
He added, “It’s exciting and overwhelming. Objectively, it’s a lot to take on but it doesn’t feel like a lot.”