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On Friday Pace Gallery revealed plans to build an eight-story, 60,000-square-foot building where the largest of its spaces on West 25th Street in Chelsea currently sits. The complex, in which Pace will occupy 40,000 sq-ft. when it opens in fall 2017, is more museum than commercial gallery, with a ground-floor space devoted to a library of more than 10,000 art books, an open storage facility on its second floor, and a sixth-floor outdoor sculpture garden.

Architectural rendering of 540 West 25th Street (courtesy of Bonetti/Kozerski Studio)

Designed by architecture firm Bonetti/Kozerski Studio — master planner of the Avenues school at the end of the block — the Pace tower at 540 West 25th Street is the latest in a string of large, purpose-built complexes erected by some of the world’s largest galleries in Chelsea. In fall of 2012, David Zwirner opened a new 30,000-square foot, five-story headquarters on West 20th Street. The gallery’s sprawling complex on West 19th Street comprises another 30,000 square feet, making Zwirner the neighborhood’s biggest. In February, Hauser & Wirth announced it will build a multi-story structure at 542 West 22nd Street, due to open in 2018. Its current space on West 18th Street, the former Roxy nightclub, is 24,700 square feet. (That gallery’s West Coast branch, Hauser & Wirth & Schimmel, is also currently renovating a 100,000-square-foot building in Downtown Los Angeles.) And, of course, Gagosian operates both a 26,000-square-foot space on West 24th Street and a 9,000-square-foot annex on West 21st Street, for a total of 35,000 square feet in Chelsea alone (to say nothing of its 13 other locations). Pace, in other words, is joining the ranks of museum-size galleries.

How does the new Pace tower, with its 40,000 square feet, stack up against major museums? The Bronx Museum of the Arts, following the completion of an expansion in 2006, spans 33,000 square feet. The Whitney Museum’s former building on Madison Avenue is 85,000 square feet, but exhibition spaces only accounted for 33,000 of them. The New Museum’s eight-year-old building on the Bowery has 58,700 square feet spread across seven floors. The Neue Galerie has just 23,000 square feet. Pace, Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian, and David Zwirner — not incidentally, four of the five galleries whose artists have become household names at US museums — are effectively operating mid-size museums as both institutions and galleries succumb to the bigger-is-better imperative.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...