Opening in Chelsea in October 2000, Chappell Gallery was early in setting up shop in what has become New York City’s red-hot contemporary art district. But then the gallery, which also had a Boston location from 1997 to 2004, has always been bold, a quality well-suited to an important outpost for emerging artists working with glass. Founded by Alice Chappell, a former vice-president at Steuben Glass, who became enamored of Japanese contemporary glass sculpture during her decade as president of the United States branch of Japan-based Hoya Crystal Corporation, the gallery quickly set itself apart for a willingness to identify new talent from Asia, Australia, and the United States, and for the care that went into producing serious exhibition catalogs.
That’s why many of the artists she represented were very concerned when they received a message from Chappell in June 2009 that read:
One must consider if a gallery really needs a permanent gallery space. Many years ago it would not have been possible to be in business without a gallery. However, I have increasingly viewed the art gallery business as one of marketing rather than retail (hence the catalogs, direct marketing programs) and in the age of internet technology and contemporary art fairs it is clear that a gallery is less essential.
In a telephone interview with GLASS, Alice Chappell said that the lease had come due on her 2,100-square-foot gallery space last summer, and she wanted to find a smaller location. The building’s management originally said no smaller spaces were available. “When I told them I’d turn my lease over and give it back to the building, miraculously, smaller spaces became available,” says Chappell.
So by early December, in the same building at 526 West 26th Street as the previous incarnation of the gallery, Chappell will be taking the wraps off of a brand-new 750-square-foot space, approximately one-third the size of the former location that has been open by appointment only this fall. “This has been a very complicated 6 months with major changes in real estate on both business and personal fronts,” says Chappell, who has also moved her New York City residence. “After we settle in, I will bring people in to help me ‘attack’ the new space and get things in order for visitors. Luckily there have been two good art fairs during this time.”
Chappell is referring to GlassWeekend at Wheaton Arts in July, as well as the recently completed CHICAGO SOFA, where a smaller booth yielded more sales. “I took a smaller space in Chicago and did more business than I had done the last year,” says Chappell. “It wasn’t only the economy. I took the time to really plan things.”
As other galleries such as Elliott Brown Gallery, Sandra Ainsley, and, most recently, Kenn Holsten Gallery, have recalibrated their business model to a virtual gallery with no physical gallery space, Chappell is not ready to close her doors just yet. But the new, smaller Chelsea gallery will also have scaled-back exhibition calendar.
“There will certainly be many fewer openings,” says Chappell. “While will do a major opening with Toshio Iezumi early next year, we may be more oriented toward SOFA. This remains to be seen.”
Stay tuned as this story continues to develop.