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.

Have a blood-red summer: Rochelle Feinstein's Mr. Please Please, 2010
Courtesy On Stellar Rays
Have a blood-red summer: Rochelle Feinstein's Mr. Please Please, 2010
On Stellar Rays
Danielle Hyland
On Stellar Rays

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

Lee Ufan: ‘Marking Infinity’
June 24–September 28
A rotunda-filling exhibition of works on paper, paintings, sculptures, and installations of the “less is more” variety, Lee’s exhibition is the first U.S. retrospective of a longtime advocate of the de-Westernization and de-modernization of contemporary art. Featuring 90 works by this Korean-born, Japanese master of “absence,” the show constitutes a tailor-made Buddhist tutorial for narcissistic New York artists, championing “a realm of infinity where one can continuously bring one’s self back to nothingness.” Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, guggenheim.org

‘Under Destruction, Chapter III’
June 29–August 7
The final chapter in a three-part exhibition that examines the role of destruction in contemporary art, this group exhibition takes as its north star Swiss artist Jean Tinguely’s spectacularly self-annihilating Homage to New York (1960). Made up of a series of cataclysmic updates as articulated by artists Alexander Gutke, Kris Martin, Jonathan Schipper, Ariel Schlessinger, and Roman Signer, the works on view connect to much recent natural and man-made violence—Martin’s piece 100 Years, for example, consists of a bomb set to detonate in the year 2014. Swiss Institute, 495 Broadway, swissinstitute.net

‘Ostalgia’
July 14–September 25
This survey devoted to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Socialist Republics may—together with the recent Gustav Metzger show—regain the New Museum much of the goodwill squandered previously on youthennials and trophy art. Titled after the German word ostalgie, a Mitteleuropean term that describes nostalgia for the certainties of the Communist Bloc, the exhibition examines contemporary art’s unfolding relationship with human history. Including works by artists Tacita Dean, Miroslaw Balka, Roman Ondák, and 50 others, it should easily be the smartest show of the summer. The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 235 Bowery, newmuseum.org

Lyonel Feininger: ‘At the Edge of the World’
June 30–October 16
This is the first full-fledged, U.S.-based retrospective of a native New York artist who was also a European Johnny-on-the-spot. From his early days in Germany, where he moved when he was 16, to his forced wartime repatriation, Feininger remained a polyvalent creator intimately connected to the dynamism that defined modern art. Marching through his involvement with Cubism, German Expressionism, the Bauhaus, and Black Mountain College, the show also examines Feininger’s relationship to comics, photography, sculpture, and music. The Whitney Museum, 945 Madison Avenue, whitney.org

‘Talk to Me’
July 24–November 7
“I am a good listener, just ask my TV”—this and other uncomfortable punch lines may pop up as you peruse this show of technology and design that literally addresses the convenient marriage between our gadgets and ourselves. Featuring computer and machine interfaces, video games, websites, installations, immersive environments, and sundry tools and products, this exhibition relates what our “gateways and interpreters”—read: cell phones and computers—tell us, even when we’re busy ignoring them. Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, moma.org

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