The 10 Most Innovative Galleries of 2016

Who pushed the boundaries this year?

Installation view of "Kurt Schwitters: Merz" designed by Zaha Hadid. Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska.
Gavin Brown and Elizabeth Dee. Brown photo Alexa Hoyer/; Dee photo Will Ragozzino/

Gavin Brown and Elizabeth Dee. Brown photo Alexa Hoyer/; Dee photo Will Ragozzino/

1. The Pioneers: Elizabeth Dee and Gavin Brown (New York)

As rents blow up in various Manhattan neighborhoods, dealers are seeking digs elsewhere. Longtime Chelsea denizen Elizabeth Dee and Gavin Brown, who recently gave up a spot in the West Village (but maintains one on the Lower East Side), have set up shop a mile apart from one another in Harlem, right near the main artery of 125th Street, home to both the Apollo Theater and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

2. Fort Gansevoort Gallery (New York)

Dickie Landry with friend and artist Mary Heilmann at Fort Gansevoort Gallery. Courtesy of Fort Gansevoort Gallery.

Dickie Landry with friend and artist Mary Heilmann at Fort Gansevoort Gallery. Courtesy of Fort Gansevoort Gallery.

A light bulb went off in Adam Shopkorn’s head when he realized that a former meatpacking district restaurant, a Greek Revival row house built in 1849 near Gansevoort Street, was sitting empty since it had shuttered. After negotiating a lease, he opened up Fort Gansevoort Gallery, where he has initiated a series of dynamic exhibits highlighting some lesser-known artists such as Dickie Landry, a jazz musician and peanut farmer who now lives in Louisiana but had toured the world with the Philip Glass orchestra in his past life. At 77, Shopkorn gave Landry his first solo show, and Alanna Heiss put Landry’s work in MoMA PS 1’s anniversary show “Forty.”

Installation view of Roy Fowler, "New Wave" at Fort Gansevoort Gallery. Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort.

Installation view of Roy Fowler, “New Wave” at Fort Gansevoort Gallery. Photo by Eileen Kinsella. Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort.

Shopkorn seems to have a knack for finding interesting characters and organizing multi-faceted events to complement the shows. Landry gave several saxophone performances during the run of his show last summer. A recent show of wave paintings by artist Roy Fowler was complemented with a reading by New Yorker author William Finnegan of his Pulitzer prize-winning book Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. Did we mention that Shopkorn’s friend also operates a barbecue pit out back? Next up Shopkorn is planning to introduce a chef-in-residence series and hold dining events there.

Zaha Hadid's exhibition design for Galerie Gmurzynska's exhibition "Kurt Schwitters: Merz." Courtesy Galerie Gmurzynska.

Zaha Hadid’s exhibition design for Galerie Gmurzynska’s exhibition “Kurt Schwitters: Merz.” Courtesy Galerie Gmurzynska.

3. Galerie Gmurzynska (Zurich, St. Moritz, Zug)

Eye-popping architecture by the late Zaha Hadid set Gmurzynska’s exhibition “Kurt Schwitters: Merz” apart. The sinuous, unearthly shapes were in homage to Schwitters’s Merzbau, his Hanover home, which he transformed into a forerunner of installation art. The distinctive merging of subject matter and display served as a model for creative exhibition-making. (The fact that the show marked the hundredth anniversary of Dada, with which Schwitters was associated, and took place in Zurich, that movement’s birthplace, didn’t hurt.)

4. Hauser & Wirth (Los Angeles, New York, London, Somerset, Zurich)

Global powerhouse Hauser & Wirth seems to manage it all—operating multiple New York spaces as well as spots in London, Somerset, Zurich, and Los Angeles—mounting museum quality shows from artists’ estates (think Philip Guston paintings and drawings shows this year) as well as cutting edge work by contemporary stars like Rashid Johnson and Subodh Gupta. As if the massive former flour mill it took over in downtown Los Angeles that opened this past year with a groundbreaking show of work by female sculptors, was not ambitious enough, they also opened a restaurant—named “Manuela” after co-president Manuela Wirth—that has been a smash success so far. At a recent event at their 22nd street space—the former Dia space—we were informed that the tasty beet chips being served to guests were from Great Performances’ Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, N.Y.

The Xu Zhen store. Courtesy MadeIn, Shanghai.

The Xu Zhen store. Courtesy MadeIn, Shanghai.

5. MadeIn

Shanghai-based artist Xu Zhen is continuing to challenge the boundaries of what a gallery can be, turning his Shanghai venue to the purposes of satirizing the Western all-service notion of the gallery. Among the gallery-cum-artist’s project’s new initiatives is the Xu Zhen store, which sells limited edition artworks by the brand Xu Zhen, produced by the artist’s MadeIn company.

6. Galeria Nara Roesler (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, New York)

Having long been a force in Brazil—with galleries in São Paulo and Rio de Janiero—Galeria Nara Roesler brought it’s dynamic touch to New York earlier this year with a new gallery space on 28th street. Part of a small group of gallery names that have opted for space in the Flower District, as opposed to far West Chelsea, the gallery is known for representing international art stars like Vik Muniz and Julio Le Parc, while also shining a light on lesser known artists like Paulo Bruscky, who recently had a show at the Rio space. New York branch director Alexandra Garcia Waldman told artnet News earlier this year: “I’m now obsessed with taking the Brazilians outside of Brazil.”

Visitors take their photo in teamLab's Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together–A Whole Year per Hour. Image: Ben Davis

Visitors take their photo in teamLab’s Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together–A Whole Year per Hour. Courtesy of Ben Davis.

7. Pace Gallery (New York, London, Menlo Park, Beijing, Hong Kong)

When you’re aiming to cultivate the disruptors themselves, sometimes you’ve got to disrupt … well, yourself, and that’s what Pace Gallery did with its exhibition of Japanese art collective teamLab at its Menlo Park outpost.

Dread Scott, A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday (2015). ©Dread Scott. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Dread Scott, A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday (2015). ©Dread Scott. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

8. Jack Shainman (New York and Kinderhook)

It’s easy, once you’re successful, to think you shouldn’t rock the boat. Dealer Jack Shainman has done anything but, lending his support to controversial political initiatives this election year. He helped to support For Freedoms, the political action committee formed by artists Eric Gottesman and Hank Willis Thomas; during a benefit show at the gallery, police shootings of unarmed black men inspired the display of Dread Scott’s banner, equating the killings with lynchings.

9. Sprüth Magers

Sprüth Magers has steadily grown into an international gallery in the decades since it was launched in Cologne, Germany, in 1983, amid a contemporary art burst there. In 2003, Sprüth Magers Lee opened in London, relocating to Grafton Street in Mayfair 2007. In 2008, the gallery established its flagship space in a former dancehall. The most recent expansion was part of the westward migration with the gallery taking over a former doll museum on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, just down the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The gallery now works with over 60 artists and estates, showing a vibrant roster of mid-career and emerging artists alike.


10. Team Gallery (New York and Venice, California)

We’re already looking forward to the first 2017 group show (opening January 12) at Team Gallery on the Lower East Side, “The Love Object,” organized by Tom Brewer and featuring a lively mix of artists, including Zoe Barcza, Allison Branham, Brice Dellsperger, Jenny Holzer, Laura Hunt, Christian Jankowski, Hanna Liden, Alissa McKendrick, Sam Samore, Heji Shin, Martine Syms, and Georgia Wall. Also catching our eye in recent months was Alissa Bennet (the gallery’s museum liason) and her involvement with the protest “Dear Ivanka.” Along with curator Alison Gingeras and Jamieson Webster, she is a member of Halt Action Group, the organization behind this Instagram account and the protest.


Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics