Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why Chelsea Galleries are for Everyone, Despite What Maybe the People who Work There Think

I love Chelsea, and I want everyone else to love it too. I think it's one of the great examples of the multicultural, democratic, high-low mishmash that is New York City. And, it's a relatively contained and easy-to-navigate neighborhood that's conducive to walking, wandering & stumbling on weird stuff, which is also a quintessentially NYC activity that every visitor should experience.

The Chelsea I'm talking about is the gallery area, which runs from roughly, 14th Street to 26th Street, west of 10th Avenue to the water, with the highest concentration being between 22nd Street and 26th Street. This is a neighborhood of old warehouses that in the 90s became the place for cutting-edge contemporary art galleries. The real-estate was cheap, the old brick buildings were generally single-story, with incredible, looming, industrial skylights and you could--and still can--get away with doing weird stuff like digging a enormous hole through the gallery floor into the dirt below. Not that everyone would consider that to be art or enjoy looking at it.

Which brings us to my primary point about why I like Chelsea so much. The layout of the galleries fosters a you-be-the-judge experience. There are so many galleries, on street level, and they're usually just one room, so you can walk in, take a look, and if you think it's boring or ugly or offensively stupid or you don't like it or just don't get it, you walk right back out. No gallery requires a commitment in terms of time or money, like a museum would (admission is 100-percent free, everywhere, and yes I'm aware that free does not need the modifier 100-percent, 'cause either it's free or it ain't, but just for fun, indulge me....), and there's not that pressure to stand respectfully in front of a masterpiece. You spend the day walking around outside, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, and looking at artworks, one or two of which might speak to you. You can regroup at a tapas bar or an Irish pub afterwards and ask your companion, "Did you like anything?" and "Why?" and "What do you think it meant?" And your guess will probably be as good as anyone's.

I find the art world to be largely stifling and full of shit, but Chelsea, itself, is freeing. And that thought gets me all teary on how I think New York City is the center of the free world (despite the fact that previous US presidents made 'freedom' a dirty word), but that is a matter for a different posting. Try it.

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