“While Spellman is part of the establishment now, that wasn’t always the case. When she was first starting out, she was studying photography at the School of Visual Arts and had a live-work space with a gallery in the front of which she did shows of unconventional photography. “She wanted photography out of the darkroom,” writes artist Richard Prince in his essay for the anniversary publication 35 Years. The gallery was named in part for its first space and in part after Alfred Stieglitz’s legendary “intimate gallery” in Room 303 of the Anderson Galleries building.
In the early days, according to Spellman, the gallery was under the influence of an air of subversion that was felt across the city. “That was a great time to be in New York City,” she says. “New York was exploding. There was amazing music, amazing fashion, amazing art, and everyone was within ten blocks of each other.” And the art world was very “tribal.” “There was East village angst, Postmodernism, uptown dollar signs. Everyone was in their camp. And they believed with such fervor in what they were doing.” [Lisa Spellman in conversation with Rozalia Jovanovic]
The East Village art scene may be defunct, but its legacy lives on deep in the complicated heart of SoHo, where art and money, glamour and real estate continue to mingle in evermore varied combinations. The move of galleries out of the East Village, which started in earnest last season, still continues and is in its second and probably final phase.
In a way SoHo has absorbed its opposition, and is somewhat the better for it. This year’s crop of migrating East Village dealers has shifted SoHo’s geographical balance toward its quieter southern corners, and a few have left their spaces a bit more raw than has lately been the norm. Consequently, visiting these new galleries one has an eerie sense of being in touch with both SoHo’s emptier, less high-powered past and its expansive and increasingly sophisticated present – and sometimes this quality is reflected in the art on view.
Inevitably, the how and where of these recent relocations send different signals and have different effects. Certain dealers have moved to bigger, more glamorously designed spaces. Their new addresses and interiors – as much as the art on view – seem intended to announce a kind of professional coming of age. [Roberta Smith on the East Village Galleries]
“Back in 1984, you could actually start a gallery in Manhattan the way Lisa Spellman did: A photography student at the School of Visual Arts in the early eighties, she and a few friends rented a fifth-floor 2,500-square-foot loft at 303 Park Avenue South for $470 per month. “This was during the time of East Village angst and post-AbEx expressionism—artists like David Salle and Julian Schnabel,” says Spellman. “And I was more interested in Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince. It was so frustrating—I was studying photography at SVA, and my teachers hadn’t even heard of those artists.” (Whereas she not only knew about Prince; she ended up married to him for a few years.)
Spellman has a nearly unsurpassed reputation based on long, tight relationships with her artists as well as her prescient eye. She showed Prince, Jeff Koons, Charles Ray, Laurie Simmons, Thomas Ruff, and Andreas Gursky in the eighties. Although she says she is wary of characterizing 303 as a “chick gallery” (“The ratio has fluctuated throughout the years,” she says, noting that right now it’s twelve men to thirteen women), she has been peerless in her support of strong, boundary-pushing female artists, like Sue Williams, the Wilson sisters, and Collier Schorr. [Rachel Wolff on Lisa Spellman]