Installation View of Noam Rappaport Exhibition at White Columns, June 11 - July 17, 2010
Courtesy of White Columns, NY

In the past decade, no other Manhattan neighborhood has seen as radical a transformation as the Meatpacking District. With the new millennium came its commercial reinvention and a fashionable make-over — seeing a wave of high-end boutiques (such as Diane von Furstenberg, Alexander McQueen, and Stella McCartney), an Apple Store, restaurants such as Pastis, and popular nightclubs like Cielo settling in. Hailed by some as the new SoHo, the extent of the Meatpacking District’s change is best reflected in the sprouting of luxury hotels — including the 14-story-high Hotel Gansevoort (which opened in April 2004) and The Standard (which opened in 2008). The Meatpacking District’s proximity to Chelsea — which has been overflowing with galleries since the late 1990s and the now picturesque connection to it via the High Line — leaves some wondering if it will in fact become an art center in its own right.

One of the most obvious preventatives for this to happen is the skyrocketing increase of commercial real estate prices, a byproduct of the high-end retailers that have already moved to the neighborhood. In fact, only a few of the pioneering galleries to move to the Meatpacking District, remain. White Columns (320 W. 13th St.) is such an exception. As one of the city’s oldest alternative art spaces, it relocated to its present address in 1998 after years in SoHo and the West Village. Founded in 1970 by Jeffrey Lew and Gordon Matta-Clark as a nonprofit public forum, it has viewed itself as an experimental platform for artists, providing early exposure to many who gained fame later, including Felix Gonzalez-Torres and John Currin. So far, White Columns is staying put.

Another example is Heller Gallery (420 W. 14th St.). After sixteen years in SoHo, Heller Gallery had moved in time for its 25th anniversary — inhabiting a new 7,000-square- foot space. While representing artists whose works vary in style and technique, Heller Gallery focuses on contemporary glass and wooden sculpture — at times navigating between fine art and craft. It might be this particular blend that works well for the surrounding scenery, the embrace of creativity with an eye set on interior design. Leo Kesting Gallery (812 Washington St.) is one of the few galleries to more recently open up shop in the neighborhood. It sure has come a long way from its origins as Capla Kesting Fine Art in Brooklyn, promoting a program that might prove a refreshing sea change in the high fashion context. With an emphasis on contemporary figurative art, Leo Kesting Gallery is particularly motivated to promote largely unknown cutting-edge artists. Examples of young galleries committing to the Meatpacking District are otherwise rare. In fact, one of the most high-profile galleries of the area, Sperone Westwater, is relocating this summer. After moving from SoHo to a 10,000-square-foot space on West 13th St. in the Meatpacking District several years ago, it will open its new gallery space at 257 Bowery in September. By leaving the neighborhood for the Lower East Side, Sperone Westwater joins a vibrant group of young and established galleries further Downtown. Two major moves are sure to impact the Meatpacking District’s art scene and involve two entities outside the gallery world — the first being the auction house Phillips de Pury & Company.

Originally founded in London in 1796, the company was bought in 1999 by Bernard Arnault — the chairman of the French luxury good brand, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH). Shortly after, Arnault merged with private art dealers Simon de Pury and Daniela Luxembourg — creating Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, with its first head- quarters on East 57th St). In 2002, de Pury & Luxembourg took majority control of the company and moved the headquarters to the Meatpacking District (450 W. 15 St.) a year later, seeking close proximity to Chelsea’s buzzing contemporary art scene. However, in contrast to the city’s two most prestigious auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s — which are located in Midtown and the Upper East Side — the sales at Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg have increasingly fallen short of expectations. Changing strategy, the auction house recently announced that it has signed a lease for over twenty-five thousand square feet of space at 450 Park Ave., where it intends to open a three-floor secondary salesroom by October. Though it will still hold on to its space Downtown, the move nevertheless can be interpreted as a testament to the fact that the Meatpacking District might lack visibility and accessibility for a crucial buying and selling clientele.

While Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg’s reconsideration of Midtown might have a negative impact on the Meatpacking District’s art scene, another move will most likely prove the opposite. Soon, the Whitney Museum of American Art will begin construction on a six-story building in the Meatpacking District (scheduled for completion in 2015). Thus far, it is uncertain what will happen to the museum’s Marcel Breuer-designed building on 945 Madison Ave., if it will be sold, rented or shared with another institution (such as the Metropolitan Museum). Certain is that the move of a major museum to the Meatpacking District will have a significant impact on its art scene. It was the move of the New Museum to its current location at 235 Bowery in 2007, for example, that inspired a larger group of galleries to settle in close proximity. Even though nobody can foresee the future, history more often than not repeats itself. If one takes the Lower East Side/New Museum connection as an example, the Whitney Museum’s move might indeed have a considerable impact on the art community in the Meatpacking District.

However, differences remain. For one, even in 2007, the Lower East Side was less commercially developed (and yet larger) than the Meatpacking District. Secondly, the Whitney Museum is not a cutting edge contemporary museum. Whereas the New Museum’s reputation was analogous with the character of the Lower East Side, the Whitney Museum aims to re-vamp its image by moving closer to the pulse of the contemporary art scene.