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Chelsea Gallery Brings 'Lowbrow' Artists to Highbrow Patrons

By Mathew Katz | May 31, 2012 7:33am
"libidine," a golden sabertooth lion skull by artist Michael Johnson, will be on display at ArtNowNY.
"libidine," a golden sabertooth lion skull by artist Michael Johnson, will be on display at ArtNowNY.
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WEST CHELSEA — In the frou-frou Chelsea gallery scene, if you have to ask for a price, you probably can't afford it.

But at ArtNowNY, a new gallery in the neighborhood, talking cash is an important factor.

"Art is a culturally significant thing, but it's also an instrument for investing. An artist needs an economic benefit," said Jey Van Sharp, a spokesman for ArtNowNY.

"We do believe in art as function, but also art as an investment vehicle," he added. "It's that full transparency that differentiates us."

Opening on June 7, the gallery at 548 W. 28th St. hopes to bring the work of street artists and other creative types outside the big-name West Chelsea scene to the attention of those with big pocketbooks.

"A lot of these artists have been pigeonholed onto a lower-brow gallery scene, which really doesn't show their talent," said gallery owner Joseph Gross. "In the lowbrow scene, it's harder to sell art and to make a living."

The pieces range from graffiti-inspired prints to a blinged-out, jewel-encrusted gold saber-toothed lion skull by artist Michael Johnson.

The gallery is also giving newer artists a shot, including 20-year-old Pratt student Alyssa Kazew.

By recruiting the kinds of new artists who might not have the reputation or cache to make it into a Chelsea gallery, ArtNowNY's owner and staff hope to stay on the cutting edge of what's trendy — not to mention at the forefront of sales.

"We want to be the documenters of what's happening in contemporary art in the urban environment," Van Sharp said.

Gross himself isn't new to selling lowbrow art at highbrow prices. ArtNowSF, his giant San Francisco gallery, hosts art shows and concerts for a huge array of audiences.

That's also the goal for the New York gallery — to bring in collectors who know the art scene well, along with novices looking for something to fit their apartments.

"A lot of the galleries around [in Chelsea] only fit to one type of collector or person," Gross said.

"But the artists we're working with, their work is open range for anyone — from a new money Wall Street guy's house to an old money Upper West Side house."

The gallery's June 7 opening party will showcase more than a dozen of different artists and will have not only the standard collector and buyer types in attendance, but also representatives from the retail industry, looking for the kind of stuff that they can sell.

"It's going to be a very eclectic environment," said Van Sharp.