“Tonight’s the opening. I’ve survived it fucking raining on me,” artist Jason Pulgarin exclaimed as he greeted guests at the opening of his exhibition at GR Gallery on the Bowery in Lower Manhattan last Friday.

Pulgarin had positioned himself in the narrow foyer of the gallery next to his painting, a colorful cartoon-like still life of a painter’s table complete with cigarette butts, brushes, stacks of bills, a gun, and a mug that reads “#1 Dad.” His double solo show with Daniel Núñez is up through September 30, but a parade of well-wishers kept insisting on selfies, preventing him from heading to the gallery’s back room.

“I’m honored to have a New York show. It’s a big thing,” he said. “Downtown is free and bohemian. You can wear a dress if you want to. I don’t go uptown, it’s too stiff.” 

In the art world where it costs upwards of $30 to see masterpieces at a museum, New York’s gallery crawls remain a joyous, free experience to see works pushing the boundaries of contemporary art and get sloshed chatting up the artists who created them.

Jason Pulgarin, “Work faster than your Self Doubt” (2023), acrylic, oil, flashe and oil pastels on canvas, 48 x 36 inches (image courtesy GR Gallery)

GR Gallery was one of dozens of Manhattan spaces staying open until 8pm and even later on Friday as part of the Armory Show’s Gallery Night. Coordinated events have returned in full force in recent months: Chelsea’s gallery hop on September 7 reportedly drew heavy crowds, as did Tribeca’s Gallery Walk. The Lower East Side appeared sparser, perhaps because its art venues are scattered along odd blocks from Great Jones Street to Monroe Street. Or maybe it was due to a volatile forecast of thunderstorms after a week of near-record-high temperatures.

At Clearing on Bowery, one other person wandered through shows featuring Peruvian Indigenous Shipibo-Conibo artists Sara Flores’s exquisite geometric patterned textile paintings and Celia Vasquez Yui’s bracing coil-built clay and resin sculptures (the official opening was on Wednesday). It was one of the strongest presentations in the neighborhood. 

The opening of Shaunté Gates’s exhibition In Light of the Hunt at Sperone Westwater. Bottom row, left to right: Larry Williams (bottom left), Andrew S. Jacobson (bottom center); top row left to right: Aaron Myers, Rodney “Buck” Herring, Shaunté Gates, Nate Lewis, and Wesley Clark (photo courtesy Andrew S. Jacobson/Balmore Art)

A lively crowd inhabited Sperone Westwater, which brought Washington, DC, artist Shaunté Gates back for his second show there, In Light of the Hunt. Gates’s paintings included photographs of friends and family that he turns into large collages with images from history textbooks, TV, and film to create heroic narratives. Many of Gates’s friends had come up from DC.

The vibe at High Noon Gallery during the opening of Armita Raafat’s solo show (courtesy High Noon Gallery)

Down the street, High Noon was so crowded that artist Armita Raafat’s legion of fans spilled onto the sidewalk. Rocco Ruglio-Misurell and Carrick Bell, friends from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, flew in from Berlin to see her intricate resin sculptures at her debut solo show Traces and Silences and squeezed in visits to Tanya Bonakdar, Selenas Mountain, and Microscope in Chelsea, too. They hadn’t visited the city since the pandemic.

“Everywhere seems so expensive and so far along in the process of gentrification,” Bell said. “In the past, you’d felt more experimentation here [on the LES], and less pressure to sell.”

On the other hand, crowds packed the inside of Derek Eller Gallery, which was lit like a rave thanks to Austin Martin White’s large-scale glow-in-the-dark fabric paintings that reference colonialism (he says his paintings are about “partying at the end of history”). His father, James Martin White, and brother, Kaiman White, were there to support him.

“I think it’s good exposure,” Kaiman observed of the Gallery Night event. “You can walk around and see multiple galleries and see multiple shows. I’m using an app for it.”

Armita Raafat, “Untitled” (2022), handmade paper, pigmented paper pulp, fabric, mesh, mirrors, and embroidered textile, 15 x 11.5 inches (image courtesy High Noon Gallery)

It was a challenge to see multiple galleries within the art crawl’s two-hour window (apparently Berlin’s gallery nights go for four hours or longer). By 8pm, Henry Street’s oldest gallery, 56 Henry, had closed, but ATM Gallery and Long Story Short still had plenty of stragglers thanks to Dreamers Coffee House’s inexplicably late-night hours — the coffee shop is expected to sell alcohol soon. Both galleries share the same owner, though ATM shows more established names while the latter likes to give artists their first New York show, Long Story Short’s Harry Walker explained. He had been entertaining visitors for several hours and was about to lead an after-party dinner for the opening. 

“This time of year is when it all picks up again,” Walker said. “People want to see art and they want to get a drink after.”

Sounds like a good idea.

Installation view of Celia Vasquez Yui, The Council of the Mother Spirits of the Animals at Clearing (photo courtesy Clearing)
Installation view of Shaunté Gates, In Light of the Hunt at Sperone Westwater (image courtesy Sperone Westwater)

Aaron Short is a Brooklyn-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, real estate, the environment, and the arts. His work has appeared in New York Magazine, the New York Post, The Daily Beast,...

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