Screenshot of the smoke above West 21st Street.

A fire broke out in the heart of Chelsea, the hub for art galleries in New York City, late this morning. The blaze began on the second floor of a two-story building at 521 West 21st Street, according to a spokesperson for the New York Fire Department, where veteran dealer Paula Cooper Gallery has a storage facility. The spokesman said that the fire was called in just after 11:30 a.m. and was contained an hour later.

The facade of Paula Cooper Gallery on West 21st Street. Photo: Eileen Kinsella.

There were no injuries reported and no danger that the fire would escalate, according to the fire department spokesperson. The cause appeared to be electrical, although the fire marshal plans to investigate the incident further to conclusively determine how it began. It remains unclear whether any art was damaged or the extent of repairs needed on the building.

Four galleries in the area confirmed to artnet News that their staffs had been evacuated shortly before noon, including Tina Kim Gallery at 525 West 21st Street. Staff members decamped to the gallery’s second space a few blocks north on West 25 Street.

As of 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, several galleries, including Tina Kim, Paula Cooper, and Tanya Bonakdar, remained closed and the street smelled of smoke. Several members of Bonakdar’s staff were sitting on the sidewalk directly across the street in front of a branch of Gagosian, which was not affected by the fire. Nearby Kravets Wehby Gallery remained open.

The view at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery at 521 West 21st Street. Photo: Eileen Kinsella.

Tanya Bonakdar, meanwhile, appeared to have sustained some water damage from the sprinkler system; staff said they were waiting for their insurance company to assess the damage but declined to comment further.

Reports of the blaze first appeared this morning on the community message board Citizen.

Calls to the Paula Cooper Gallery on 21st Street were not answered, and a representative for the gallery did not respond to a request for comment by publication time. As of this afternoon, the gallery had been cleared of all artwork. Reached by the New York Post, an employee at the gallery said: “This is a very emotional time. We’re still trying to figure things out.”

This evening, Paula Cooper Gallery sent an email confirming no one was hurt and thanking both its neighbors and the New York fire department for their assistance. “We appreciate your patience and understanding while we work to address the situation,” the gallery wrote. A conservation team is expected to assess the damage on Wednesday.

According to a recent report in ARTnews, Paula Cooper Gallery is preparing to temporarily relocate from its longtime home to a 9,000-square-foot space on West 26th Street (formerly Robert Miller Gallery). The new location, which the gallery plans to occupy for the next three years, is scheduled to open in mid-September. Cooper said the move was prompted by construction that was set to begin in an adjacent building.

The gallery, which represents titans of art history including Hans Haacke and the estates of Bruce Conner and Sol LeWitt, has operated on West 21st Street since 1996, when it became one of the first galleries to relocate to Chelsea from Soho.


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