Summer Guide: On Stellar Rays' Candace Madey Talks Lower East Side Art

The Bowery gallery scene. Plus summer art picks

Before the New Museum opened its doors on the Bowery in 2007, cheaper rents than those available in the West 20s attracted an adventurous crop of DIY galleries to an area better known for its storefront grittiness than pristine loft spaces. A few years later—with the financial crisis a reality and Chelsea’s polished cool at an all-time low—several big-box art dealers (Salon 94, Sperone Westwater, Lehmann Maupin, and newcomers Untitled) swooped in to capture some Bowery real estate.

While recent changes in the demographics of the LES gallery scene won’t exactly inspire a new chapter in Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, commentators have noted the growing divide between emerging innovators and blue-chip bounders. Candice Madey—the winsome honcho of On Stellar Rays gallery—is one of the neighborhood’s early trendsetters. An arts advocate with an MBA and a Holly Golightly manner, she’s responsible for the careers of a new raft of bright young things. Since it’s often hard to tell pioneers from carpetbaggers at first sight—they both mostly insist on wearing black—we asked Candice how she started out in the LES, what she thinks of her interloping neighbors, and whether she’ll be slaving or sunning this summer.

You have an interesting story about the night you opened your gallery. I opened the gallery on September 14, 2008, the day before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. It was a Sunday and the markets were closed, but my father-in-law, who’s an economist, came with rumors of impending doom. I tried to ignore him and enjoy my party. In the morning, the news broke. My first thought was to renegotiate my lease.

The LES scene struggled through the Wall Street crash. What was that experience like for you as a novice art dealer? A number of galleries opened that year (among them Rachel Uffner, Simon Preston, and Laurel Gitlin), supplementing older galleries like Canada and Reena Spaulings. A dialogue developed, along with a shared commitment and resourcefulness. I had little overhead, and my business plan took slow sales into account for my first couple years, so the recession affected me far less than others. I decided that the best strategy was to do more performance and video, and take risks with the program. Industries tend to restructure in recessions—it’s the best time to innovate and experiment.

Lately, big-money galleries have set up shop on the Bowery. Do you think their presence has altered the nature of the scene? Like Chelsea as a whole, those galleries seem detached to me. I’m curious to see if their presence here simply has to do with wanting to profit from the scene’s energy and dynamism—without reconsidering their programming or organization—or if they will use the move as an opportunity to reinvent themselves. The latter could be exciting, since those galleries are in a position to fund great work.

Most blue-chip galleries close shop from mid-June to Labor Day, while scrappier outfits generally stay open throughout the summer. Which will you be doing? Tanning in Ibiza or working through the summer?I work 24/7 for 11 months of the year, so by August I need a vacation! After our summer show, which I’m co-curating with the artist Clifford Owens (it runs June 16 to July 31, and will include work by Terry Adkins, Rochelle Feinstein, Benjamin Patterson, Maren Hassinger, and others), I’ll travel to Nicaragua again. When I’m there, I avoid work and read books that are not about art.

June 16 to July 31, On Stellar Rays, 133 Orchard Street, onstellarrays.com

Summer Art Picks

El Museo’s Biennial: The (S) Files 2011
June 14, 2011–January 8, 2012
The Museo de Barrio’s sixth biennial features 75 emerging Latino, Caribbean, and Latin American artists, admirably selected to illustrate what the show’s curators call the “effect of economic and political crises in art production,” as well as the threadbare notion of “the aesthetics of the street.” Spread throughout six venues and three boroughs, this piñata will be crammed to bursting with local Hispanic talent and also the fregadero de la cocina—the kitchen sink. El Museo De Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue, elmuseo.org

‘Pure Clay: Young Sook Park and Lee Ufan and Contemporary Clay’
June 29–August 20
A commercial gallery addendum to Lee’s Guggenheim show (see below), the exhibition concentrates on minimalist works in clay the artist made with a collaborator, as well as friendly confrontations with earthen objects turned by other, more maximalist artists. The latter include Ai Wei Wei, Sterling Ruby, Arlene Shechet, and Jeff Koons. New and (one imagines) subversive uses for an old medium. RH Gallery, 137 Duane Street, rhgallery.com

Ryan Trecartin: ‘Any Ever’
June 19–September 3
If you think a mash-up of Hairspray and Alvin and the Chipmunks is a fun idea, then this is the show for you. The New York premiere of a gaggle of seven movies made over the past three years, this mini-retrospective celebrates Trecartin’s latest antic soap opera. Depending on where you come down on the notion of art between quotation marks, his “queer aesthetics” are either profoundly intense or just deeply annoying. MOMA P.S.1, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, ps1.org

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