By Christina Soriano
Spring is here! The flowers have bloomed and we’ve entered one of the most BELLA times of year in New York City. We survived yet another winter (au revoir Polar Vortex, I won’t miss you!), so put on you favorite pair of flats (or heels) and stroll through Chelsea, packed with an array of galleries and activities. You may quite possibly stumble upon somewhere quiet to meditate and re-center as we welcome a new season. With so many options, you’ll fulfill every aesthetic taste, from ancient Tibetan textiles to outdoor installations. There’s something that will appeal to the most discerning art critic to anyone just wanting to take a walk on a nice spring afternoon.
Unassuming on West 17th Street is one of the most revered collections of Himalayan art as well as work from surrounding regions. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this October, the Rubin Museum of Art was founded by philanthropists, collectors and ardent art advocates Shelley and Donald Rubin in 2004. In an effort to share their personal collection as a vehicle to educate and inspire the public on a niche art category, you’ll walk up the spiral staircase to Gateway to Himalayan Art, curated to acquaint viewers with the basic context and concepts of the genre. It includes gorgeous thangkas (a painting on fabric) and intricately detailed sculptures made of gilt copper and bronze. What looks like a dark hallway off to the side of one of the galleries is The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, an installation complete with ritual objects, ornate textiles, paintings, and furniture that would be found in a traditional Tibetan home.
On view until June 9 is Count Your Blessings with elaborate, beautiful handmade Asian prayer beads, some made with precious stones like ivory or coral and adorned with tassels. It seems unexpected to find this type of work in a neighborhood that is often affiliated exclusively with contemporary spaces. We asked Beth Citron, assistant curator at the Rubin Museum, about her thoughts on the museum’s place in the Chelsea art community. Citron states, “Since its founding, the Rubin Museum has sought ways to traverse ancient and contemporary art and practice. Many of our exhibitions and programs reveal a continuity between the techniques, iconography and themes found in the traditional works of art in Museum’s collection – whether Nepalese sculpture, Tibetan scroll painting or Indian metalwork – and works by contemporary artists globally who connect to art and ideas originating in the Himalayas and South Asia. As we move into our second decade, we are more committed than ever to finding innovative ways to bridge the gap between “new” and “old,” and to providing opportunities to explore the rich relationship between the two.”
New York City is always balancing its past with new additions. Built on a historic freight line, the High Line is a park that opened in 2009 with a second section added in 2011. Take a close look and you’ll notice site-specific art commissions year round specifically Spencer Finch’s The River That Flows Both Ways, an installation of colored glass inspired by a journey on the Hudson River. Soak in the view from The Porch, an open-air café with beer, wine and small plates. For those with an appreciation for nature, there are more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees.
Artwork based on natural forms is Kathryn Markel’s expertise. The gallerist of nearly 40 years candidly admits, “Skulls are more chic these days in the art world than flowers. Oh well.” Her vision is similar to the Rubins’ – to exhibit what she loves. With an affinity for artists with what she has coined “Joie de Paint,” Markel says, “I tend to love artists with a sense that enjoys technical mastery, a command of her own specific visual language and the pleasure of pure paint.” With her gallery spaces Markel Fine Arts in Chelsea since 2001 and Bridgehampton in 2010, her strength is her sensibility, which emphasizes, “beautiful and serious painting that tends to have color, control and a kind of clarity.” Markel has also developed relationships with interior designers. When asked to comment on this area of commerce, Markel stated, “I like to market to designers because I like to sell art to regular people. The hard thing is to find art that is beautiful and serious and well priced. Any two of those three things is easy. To find all three is hard, and that is my challenge.”
For those looking to buy, art advisors help link potential patrons and visitors who can be intimidated by the Chelsea art scene. Riva Blumenfeld of Blumenfeld Fine Art has been working with galleries for 20 years and as an art advisor for more than a decade. She assists people to “narrow down the selection and educate them on the dealings of the art world.” When asked about where she sees the direction of the neighborhood going in five to 10 years, feelings are mixed as she notes, “New York breaks all the rules of growth and planning, so it’s hard to know Chelsea’s direction. However, with the addition of the High Line and the Whitney’s move, the neighborhood will become more residential and a bigger tourist attraction. Chelsea will remain interesting as long as there is a mix of art and galleries. Diversity is what keeps it exciting.”
Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th Street
New York, NY 10011
Markel Fine Arts
529 West 20th Street, Suite 6W
New York, NY 10011
The High Line
Markel Fine Arts interior views
Image credit: Alex Guajardo
Rubin Museum’s Spiral Staircase
Rubin Shrine Room
Photo credit: Courtesy of Rubin Museum of Art
Nepal, 13th century, Gilt copper alloy
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rubin Museum of Art