Picking Up the Pace: A Mega-Gallery Expands in Chelsea

Tagging along on a business trip to Paris with his father, the art dealer Arne Glimcher, in the 1970s, Marc Glimcher was struck by the rough-hewed warmth of the wood-block flooring in André Chenue’s art storage warehouse. Now, as the 55-year-old president and chief executive of Pace Gallery, the younger Mr. Glimcher has been able to bring that memory to life in Pace’s new home in Chelsea, which opens next month.

The eight-story building, on West 25th Street and designed by Bonetti/Kozerski Architecture, is heavy with symbolism, not only because of what it says about Mr. Glimcher’s taking the reins from his father — who founded the gallery 59 years ago — but also because of what it telegraphs about the art market.

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At a time when small and midsize galleries are struggling, closing or merging because of a decline in foot traffic and the rise of costly art fairs, New York’s four mega-galleries are doing the opposite: doubling down on major building projects in Chelsea.

In designing such new homes, these heavy hitters — Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner and Pace, which is consolidating its spaces on the Upper East Side and West 25th Street — are redefining what it means to be a gallery, shifting their emphasis from selling and showing art to a more full-service visitor experience that offers food, performance spaces, research libraries and open storage.

The future of art galleries, Marc Glimcher said, lies in making spaces where people want to congregate, “like church.” It is why his new building will feature Pace Live, a multidisciplinary program of music, dance, film and conversation with a full-time curatorial director at the helm: Mark Beasley, the former curator of performance and media art at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.

But some art experts say the building boom boils down to little more than dueling empires with a “mine is bigger than yours” mentality. “It’s a horse race,” said Howard Read of Cheim & Read, which last year closed its 21-year-old Chelsea gallery and now operates a private dealership on the Upper East Side. “They’re all out to see who can represent Jeff Koons for the longest.”

Marc Glimcher acknowledged that the art market demands survival of the fittest but said it has been ever thus, and that the moment simply calls for a course adjustment — namely collaboration, so that galleries are not going it alone.

Galleries have banded together to drive street traffic through Art Walks, and Mr. Glimcher pointed to Pace’s recent announcement that it would team up with the Los Angeles-based dealer David Kordansky to represent the abstract artist Sam Gilliam. “Big galleries who are trying to fight that are going to suffer,” he said. “We’re collaborative because it’s the smartest thing to be.”

“The audience for art has grown radically,” he added. “The number of people who care about contemporary art versus 30 years ago is just crazy. It’ll evolve, and there will be many casualties for sure. And I’m not saying the mix of galleries won’t change; it will. But there is an audience.”

Pace — which represents the estates of Agnes Martin, Mark Rothko and Robert Ryman along with living artists like Chuck Close, Adam Pendleton and Adrian Ghenie — saw 38,000 people pour in for its Rothko dark palette show in 2016. “On some Saturdays we had 2,000,” Arne Glimcher said. “That really disseminates your artists’ work in the best way.”

Proffering user-friendly amenities to woo future buyers, Pace’s new building includes a dining room for catered events; an art book library where scholars can do research; and art storage where visitors can pull out racks of Pace’s inventory, modeled after Galeria Luisa Strina in Brazil. Pace bought a food truck to park on its expansive terrace; the gallery also plans to present music four times a year

“A quarter of this building is given over to experience,” Mr. Glimcher said. “It has to be a cultural destination. The job of an art gallery is not retail square footage. It hasn’t been for a long time.”

The “my” points up the sense of liberation Mr. Glimcher seems to feel in finally being the guy in charge. His office is bigger than that of his father, who over the past five years has been handing off more responsibility. This building project was Marc’s baby and earned Arne’s grudging blessing.

“He thinks it’s extravagant, but he is totally supportive,” Mr. Glimcher said of his father. “It took 35 years for him to get supportive. It took me 35 years to be ready.”

“There were plenty of times when I was like, ‘It’s you or me,’ and he was like, ‘Bye-bye,’ and I’m really lucky that he did that,” he continued. “It’s really hard to take over. Every gallery is a personality cult. It’s hard to be the second generation person. You didn’t do your rags to riches, but you have advantages too. You saw all the things that worked and all the things that didn’t work.”

Arne Glimcher said their current hierarchy “feels good.”

“He used to work for me,” he said. “Now I work for him.”


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