Cultured Magazine

Spring 2014

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104 CULTURED The duo behind the buzzed-about New York art gallery 47 Canal navigate the art world on their own terms. BY TED LOOS PORTRAIT BY MARGARET LEE TWO OF A KIND eing young and hip in the art world isn't quite as easy as it looks. People are suspicious of anything that's too glossy and too suc- cessful right out of the gate. It doesn't feel authentic. Then again, there's such a thing as a gallery that's too far off the radar—dealers need to have the work of their artists seen and appreciated. Striking that balance with sincerity and aplomb are Oliver New- ton and Margaret Lee, of the gallery 47 Canal located on an offbeat stretch of Canal Street in New York City. Partners in work and life, the couple, who are en- gaged, started the gallery in 2011 and are being noticed in all the right places for the loose and experimental feel of works they show. The gallery is on the second floor, with no street signage to speak of. "We're happy here," says Newton, dressed in a white T-shirt and seated in front of a windowsill piled with a basketball, decks of playing cards and a calcula- tor—a kind of hipster-business still life. "We feel like we'd always like a second floor no matter where we are. There's something different when you walk through a hallway or go upstairs or take an elevator. You can really surprise people." The program at 47 Canal reflects the tastes that the two early 30-some- thing partners have developed in their careers so far. Newton worked at the Chelsea gallery Alexander and Bonin and Lee had another, even scrappier gallery a few blocks away on Canal Street. Amazingly, to this day, Lee also holds down a big job as art superstar Cindy Sherman's assistant. "We definitely do more installation and sculpture," says Lee, "and when we do a painting show, we build out the space to be a true exhibition, instead of a glorified showroom." They just did so for the current show of the painter Trevor Shimizu, New York-based like most of their artists, who plays with the conventions of paint with his loose, broad strokes and witty storytelling. "We're willing to take risks," says Lee. "Very few galleries will see a young artist and go, 'Yeah this work is a little iffy, but maybe if you have the chance to make an exhibition, you can shine. You have to be able to show people that you have the courage to support someone who is not yet established." Artist Anicka Yi, for instance, has been known to play with her food, so to speak. Her 2011 show "Sous-Vide" featured bouquets of tempura-fried flowers and the walls of the gallery were made to ooze olive oil. Yi sometimes collaborates with Josh Kline, perhaps 47 Canal's best-known artist. His show last fall, "Quality of Life," addressed aging and celebrity culture. Karen Rosenberg of The New York Times wrote that the multimedia installation "suggests some combination of a juice bar, a human growth hormone clinic and the Staatling-Wapachung Corporation from Gary Shteyngart's novel 'Super Sad True Love Story.'" To see the 47 Canal line-up of boundary-pushing artists, you don't neces- sarily have to be in downtown New York. Newton and Lee, who live in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, also present their wares at some of the world's most prestigious art fairs, including Independent and Frieze in New York, as well Frieze London and Art Basel Miami Beach. Of course, that demonstrates how the couple balances the low-overhead gallery vibe with the world stage, where they need to be to give their artists ex- posure. "All of that is incredibly expensive," says Newton, with a laugh, of the fair circuit. "We spend far more on art fairs than we do on our yearly rent." He adds, "We always want to be in a position where we can provide the support, the space and the structure that our artists require, wherever they are in their career, from top to bottom." Both dealers are artists in their own right, though Newton claims that's all in the past for him. "I was much better at working in a gallery than making paint- ings," he says. Lee, on the other hand, still spends time in a studio on sculp- tures and photographs, working with "readymades and appropriation," she says. That has won them the trust of those who show work in the gallery—47 Canal isn't run by businesspeople who treat the works as dry commodities. "When we push the artists, they understand," says Lee. "We know it's scary to dive into a piece or make a really weird decision. We have that experience al- ready." Perhaps the neatest trick the duo is pulling off is being in a relationship as well as entrepreneurs at the same time. In terms of the day-to-day gallery, New- ton is more in charge of sales, but both work with the artists equally. "We could- n't do this without the shared commonality of what we want, what we're attracted to," says Lee. Ultimately, it's their fearless level of commitment that shines through, and Newton has the perfect phrase for their blending of art, business and romance: "We've gone all-in." B

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