By Ishita Singh
When Gravelle Pierre decided to open his art gallery +Kris Graves Projects, he knew that it would be best suited for DUMBO. Pierre and his co-owner Kris Graves loved the neighborhood’s art scene, and they also loved its low rents.
Pierre and Graves opened +Kris Graves Projects in January, one of many new galleries to open in DUMBO in the past year. A.I.R. Gallery recently moved into the neighborhood, as did Bose Pacia, among others. The moves have improved the artistic quality of the neighborhood, according to Andre’ Martinez Reed, director of the Henry Gregg Gallery.
The market and the recession have caused artists to move in and out of the neighborhood, Reed said. He added that more serious, better-established galleries have moved to the area in a search for lower rents.
Reed, who has been in the neighborhood for six years-a long time by DUMBO standards-said that the influx of new galleries has brought a lot of experimentation to the arts scene, along with different audiences.
“Our audiences are people who have an affinity for new artists,” Pierre said. “They’re young collectors, people looking for artists who have a lot of upside.”
+Kris Graves Projects focuses on the work of new and emerging artists. The lack of brand-name art allows Pierre to price his pieces at a lower rate, a boon in this recession. Most of the artwork at Kris Graves is priced between $1,000-1,200, much less than the $5,000 artwork found at Henry Gregg and other galleries in the neighborhood.
“Given that this is the most severe recession we’ve had in 80 years, lower-end retailers benefit,” Pierre said. “You see McDonald’s knocking the ball out of the park because they offer a $1 hamburger. Not to draw too close a comparison between fine art and hamburgers, but we offer a lower price point so we’ve done well.”
Pierre said that the art in his gallery has begun to attract customers not only form in the neighborhood, but from all over Brooklyn and even lower Manhattan. The new crowd has come for what he called the “critical mass of galleries” in DUMBO. Many galleries are housed in old warehouses, so there are multiple galleries in a building, even on a floor. This has created an exchange of ideas and creative visions among the owners. Each gallery has its own target audience and its own culture. Since they are each so unique, competition is not really a factor. But with so many galleries so close to one another, those separate cultures have begun to bleed together.
“Everyone can benefit from the different range of visions, prices,” Pierre said. “There’s a different feel for each one of the galleries.”
The proximity has also created a camaraderie among gallery owners. Pierre called it a “collegial environment.” He said that when arranging seats for a lecture held at +Kris Graves Projects, he simply walked down the hallway asking other owners for chairs.
“Boom-I had the chairs,” Pierre said. “It’s a cooperative thing, we all benefit from helping each other.”
Borrowing chairs from fellow galleries was a way for Pierre to avoid the cost of renting chairs. He is always trying to find ways to keep the cost of running the gallery down.
Like Pierre, Rebecca Davis, the director of Bose Pacia, which moved to DUMBO from Chelsea in August, is just trying to survive through the recession. But she said she was confident the move would help Bose Pacia’s finances. “We have streamlined our overhead significantly, which makes it easier to stay afloat when sales volume drops,” Davis said. “Certainly the reduced rents in DUMBO help with these efforts.”
Setting up a gallery is always difficult, regardless of the recession. Davis said that she had to maintain relationships with investors, art institutions and advisors even during the move. Pierre added that the physical labor involved in opening a gallery can be overwhelming. “All that partying and glamour of owning a gallery is only five percent of the time,” Pierre said. “The rest kind of sucks: painting and spackling walls, mopping floors.”
But still, Pierre enjoys being surrounded by art. Both as an owner and an avid collector, he finds himself on the lookout for new work all the time. After all, new work means new exhibits, which means more excitement for Pierre.
“It’s a lot of fun: the openings, the parties, the closings,” Pierre said. “The long and the short of it is that I’m glad I did it.”