Open City: Blogging Urban Change
Notes on galleries, pt 1
By Jerome Chou

 

Windows Gallery is not your typical gallery, and Dino Eli is not your typical gallery owner. Eli’s primary line of work is running psychic/palm reading storefronts around the city. About four years ago, he came upon the idea of opening a gallery and it has been his obsession ever since. This past summer he convinced his cousins to let him take over the psychic readings storefront at 37 Orchard, removed the pink neon sign, Buddha statue, and window curtains, and opened his gallery. (Not one to ignore history, Eli has named the gallery website “psychicwindowsgallery.com.”)

Galleries typically mount shows for a minimum of two months. Eli is currently doing two shows a week: one Monday through Thursdays, and another on weekends. He says he’s found artists mostly through word-of-mouth. “I’m always out scouting, looking for new talent. I’m not snobbish about art.” He met photographer Amanda Bari, who showed at Windows for a few days in mid-November, coming out of a store with some of her prints; she had a show at Windows a few weeks later.

Eli says he chose Orchard Street because he heard the city was planning to turn it into “Gallery Way.” “I’m not going anywhere,” Eli says. “I’m going to get a 20-year lease. I’m on the hottest block in New York.”

"Orchard Spreadsheet," R.H. Quaytman (2008)

Orchard Gallery, which occupied the storefront at 49 Orchard Street from 2004-2007, “was born out of despair after Bush was re-elected,” says Jeff Preiss, one of twelve artists who founded the gallery’s collective. Brought together by their friendships more than a single ideological or aesthetic mission, the collective had many ideas about what kind of work to feature, and how and where to do it. “One part of our program was going to be an analysis of the art world,” says Preiss. “We thought it might be interesting to be in Chelsea and go undercover like anthropologists.”

Instead, the group found an ad on Craigslist for a former lingerie shop on Orchard Street run by Orthodox Jews. The owner was specifically looking for a gallery as a tenant, “a choice that was not in any way obvious at the time,” says Preiss, but that now seems prescient. Preiss says the mid 2000s were a tipping point in the neighborhood’s transformation into a fashionable scene—something sudden and seemingly spontaneous, “like when cream starts whipping.” In one show called “Around the Corner,” the group presented works on what Preiss calls “the erasure of the neighborhood,” including Lower East Side walking tours and photographs of the evolution of old synagogues, fully aware that the gallery itself was in some ways contributing to this change. Rebecca Quaytman, the gallery’s director, made a piece called “Orchard Spreadsheet,” which she describes as “a conceptual drawing” that documents the gallery’s financials, including every sale, its contribution to the gallery’s operating expenses, and the commission that went to the seller. This piece might be the gallery’s greatest legacy, laying bare the dollars and cents that make storefront galleries viable and echoing the transactions in neighborhood real estate that these galleries helped make possible.

Orchard Gallery was always intended as a temporary project, and closed in 2007 when its lease expired. Three years later, Preiss is thoughtful about and a bit mystified by the Lower East Side’s new status as a celebrity destination. The day after we speak, he sends an article from the real estate blog Curbed: Guss’ Pickles, a Lower East Side business since the early 20th century, has moved to Brooklyn and been replaced by a cigar shop. He has no regrets, however, about Orchard Gallery’s closing. Not every neighborhood change must come with a sense of loss.

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
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