In the gallery race, Shainman expands beyond Chelsea to Tribeca landmark
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In the gallery race, Shainman expands beyond Chelsea to Tribeca landmark
The mezzanine of the Clock Tower Building’s bank hall, where the new Jack Shainman Gallery will be, in New York, Oct. 3, 2022. When renovations are completed in fall 2023, the Jack Shainman Gallery will make its headquarters in 20,000 square feet of the blocklong Clock Tower Building, the Italian Renaissance Revival building that was once home to the New York Life Insurance Company. (Vincent Tullo/The New York Times)

by Laura van Straaten

NEW YORK, NY.- Jack Shainman, a denizen of the gallery district in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood since 1997, will expand his footprint beyond Chelsea, to a massive historical landmark on the edge of Tribeca.

When renovations are completed in fall 2023, the Jack Shainman Gallery will make its headquarters in 20,000 square feet of the blocklong Clock Tower Building, the Italian Renaissance Revival building that was once home to the New York Life Insurance Co. Now known as 108 Leonard St. (and the site of luxury condominiums), the building by McKim, Mead & White was completed around 1898 and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

“The space seduced us,” Shainman said during a recent tour of the dusty site with his spouse, Carlos Vega, a Spanish-born painter who is taking the creative and logistical lead on the project. “Becoming the custodians of this amazing landmark space is something Carlos and I had to really think about and consider; it’s a huge responsibility,” Shainman said, while pointing out architectural details that he hopes to preserve.

The dealer will retain the upstate outpost known as The School, a 30,000-square-foot former school in Kinderhook, New York, that also required extensive renovations, and will continue to mount exhibitions at his space in Chelsea, on West 20th Street.

The new gallery will offer multiple exhibition spaces, a library and offices for more than 30 employees across three floors of the Clock Tower Building. The gallery will have a new address: 46 Lafayette St., reflecting the gallery’s entrance on the building’s east side.

The building boasts a titanic beaux-arts bank hall that will become the main exhibition space. “It has a feeling of a cathedral,” Shainman said, calling it “a cathedral of commerce.” He gestured to the ornate, coffered 29-foot ceilings, sweeping staircases and a wall of arched windows.

Vega said that what has most excited him and the other artists to whom the couple has shown the bank hall is how 21st century art can interplay with the ornate space and its problematic history. (New York Life Insurance once insured the lives of enslaved people as “property.”)

Shainman purchased the space for nearly $20 million and anticipates an additional $3 million to $4 million for a three-phase renovation. The purchase made sense compared with a 10-year lease in Chelsea, the gallery owner said. The project’s architect is the couple’s niece, Gloria Vega Martín, who is based in Málaga, Spain.

Shainman represents a large and diverse roster of artists of global acclaim, many of whom address social and cultural themes. They include Kerry James Marshall, Carrie Mae Weems, Hank Willis Thomas, Nina Chanel Abney, El Anatsui, Nick Cave, Toyin Ojih Odutola and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, along with the estates of Barkley L. Hendricks and Gordon Parks.

With this move, he joins the gallery exodus to Tribeca that began about six years ago from other parts of New York, notably Chelsea. But Anne-Brigitte Sirois, an expert on real estate for art organizations who assisted the gallery, cautioned that Shainman’s move needn’t be seen as a comment on Chelsea’s viability as an art center but as a desire to escape the “rigorous modernist ideals” of the white cube that defines the contemporary art gallery in Chelsea.

The new quarters will put Shainman in the same league as some of the galleries with huge homesteads in New York that function as cultural destinations — including Pace (which leases its eight floors), David Zwirner, Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth. The Shainman gallery does not have a toehold across continents like the others do. “I’m not interested in opening galleries across the world,” Shainman said, “but it was time to create a gallery, right here in New York where we’ve been all along, that befits the cultural impact of the artists whose careers we have helped build.”

Nick Cave, whom the gallery has represented since 2005, will be the subject of the inaugural show at 46 Lafayette, slated for fall 2023. The artist will premiere large new artworks that will speak to the grandeur of the architecture.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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