As Black Lives Matter protests continue, some New York art galleries are mounting window displays

Workers boarding the Hauser & Wirth gallery storefront on West 22nd Street (all photos by author for Hyperallergic)

On Tuesday, I strolled through Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, past the galleries that are often seen as a major hub for luxury contemporary art sales. I noticed some galleries were closed, including Hauser & Wirth, with workers nailing sheets of plywood to protect exterior windows.

Other galleries in the neighborhood have chosen to cover their windows from the inside to avoid the gaze of possible looters, it seems. I ran into a gallery owner who was walking around to check out their gallery, which had the windows covered with paper inside. They shared that the thought of dealing with insurance gives them anxiety, given that the artists they feature are not top notch. “I don’t want to fight with an insurance company over the cost of things,” they said. “Especially since some of our artists have shaky auction records.”

But even without the plywood barrier, in these mostly empty streets, it’s clear how walled up many of Chelsea’s art galleries are already. Of course, there are exceptions, like Lisson, who continues to display his glass doors on display on Tenth Avenue, but David Zwirner, Gagosian and others have long used rolling doors. You could say it was simply preserved to maintain its earlier appearance, as many of these stores were once garages and other industrial spaces, but given that they are among the only items preserved, it is remarkable . It should also be recognized that the richest spaces seem more likely to preserve this characteristic.

303 Gallery is an example of an art gallery that doesn’t need doors, because the building it occupies is so unwelcoming to the public that you might think you’re entering some sort of detention center for criminals in White collar. Their space draws on the visual language of contemporary architecture, which has long been a darling of autocratsto relay a more important message.

Clockwise from top left, Gagosian Gallery on West 24th Street, David Zwirner Gallery on West 19th Street, 303 Gallery on Street and Lisson Gallery on Tenth Avenue

The fact that galleries aren’t appealing to most people outside of a certain demographic is nothing new. What seems unique is how contemporary art galleries have turned this century into extreme luxury boxes taking notes from fashion flagship stores with their sparse interiors, unfriendly staff (unless you do part of the target demographic), intimidating entry doors and cold interior temperatures (remember, “the higher the prices, the lower the temperatures”) that rely on the manifestation of insecurity to encourage sales. Insecurity is the key to a thriving luxury industry. And I won’t even explain how intimidating doors, lack of benches, and other features can not only be limiting for people, but completely exclude those with reduced mobility and other physical challenges. Fortunately, none of the galleries used razor wire on the plywood, like Saks Fifth Avenue did in Midtown, but we have little reason to be proud of regarding the arts community’s long and unsettling history as welcoming spaces.

Part of me hopes that this hostile architecture that has become commonplace in Chelsea and elsewhere will one day be seen as anachronistic. As the country and the world wake up at the end of an era, the new worlds before us waiting to be created and remade are being imagined now. In this new reality, the doors would open by themselves and there would be plenty of room to sit. Art is better too.

Mildred D. Field