As a contemporary art specialist at Christie’s, Lexi Bishop established herself as a core part of a team well practiced in spotting emerging artists that went on to become market phenomenons. Then, in a surprise move, she left in 2019 for the gallery world. Following a stint as an associate dealer at Los Angeles’s Nino Mier Gallery during the early stages of the pandemic, she struck out on her own, and has now made moves to open her own gallery in a city without a sizable art-market ecosystem: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she and her partner are based.
There are almost no contemporary art galleries in Pittsburgh with a significant presence beyond the city, and opening a space there could in theory lead to few sales and little foot traffic. In an interview, Bishop said that she was willing to place a gamble on the city because buying habits have changed so greatly. While in Los Angeles, 80 percent of sales Bishop conducted were virtual. This led her to a realization: since people were so willing to buy without seeing the art in person, it mattered less where her gallery was based—it was all about forging connections instead. “If remote sales are a very viable part of this business and clients are comfortable with buying art just from a JPEG,” she said, “I think I can take this risk.”
Having staged pop-up shows around the city over the past year, showcasing artists like Molly Greene, Sinéad Breslin, and Eric Dwight Hancock under the name here gallery (which will participate in David Zwirner’s Platform initiative next month), Bishop is now opening a permanent gallery space that sits on Taylor Avenue in the city’s Mexican War Streets neighborhood. The gallery will be located in a 19th-century storefront building that was for years home to a pizza shop, and will open on April 22 with a solo show by Brooklyn-based painter Rebecca Rau. Bishop is working with artists on a trial basis in order to consider them for official representation at her gallery.
The gallery will be sited a short distance from the Andy Warhol Museum—an advantage, Bishop said, because almost all of the major collectors in the region hold board positions at local institutions like that one. Now, she’s building contacts in the area with ties to institutions, among them Joshua Hagen, a doctor who has funded shows at the Warhol Museum and who recently bought a work by Jamie Earnest from Bishop. Another pro to opening outside New York or Los Angeles—the major hubs for art galleries in the U.S.—is that people have moved all across the country during the pandemic.
Bishop herself was one of those people. When she left New York, she saw how many artists were also departing for other locales. “New York is just so cost prohibitive to artists, especially young artists,” she said. Unlike New York, accessible artist run spaces, milder weather and more affordable studio spaces in Los Angeles saw the city well-populated with emerging artists, Bishop said. She sees a similarly accessible setting for artists in Pittsburgh.
“I think that a lot of people feel the pandemic accelerated any kind of plans they may have had on the back burner,” she said. “I could have never opened a space in L.A. because of the cost of real estate there.”
In the last five years, there’s been a shift in the city, Bishop continued, with graduates from M.F.A. programs at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, who are opting to stay in the area rather than to move to the coastal hubs. Other artists are coming in as transplants. “I feel like I came at the right time,” said Bishop.