On a blustery Saturday night in January, one of the year’s most anticipated gallery shows opened in New York City. As winds off the Hudson River barreled eastward down the charmless streets of Chelsea, the haute monde of Manhattan and the wider world streamed in from the west, down to Gagosian, at the very end of Twenty-Fourth Street. They came to see Niagara, the new series of photographs by Alec Soth, who lives in Minneapolis and works in a studio just over the border in St. Paul.
Gagosian anchors one end of what is acknowledged as the “power block” among galleries in Chelsea. There are other big names on this street, including Barbara Gladstone, Matthew Marks, Mary Boone, and Andrea Rosen, but Larry Gagosian, with his towering stature, silver hair, and tanned skin, looms largest. Less an art dealer than an art mogul, he’s a perennial figure on Art + Auction magazine’s annual “power list,” and the kind of man whom people fear, admire, and envy in equal measure. Chelsea is just one outpost of his empire, which includes galleries on the Upper East Side and in Beverly Hills and London.
At thirty-thousand square feet, Gagosian is the size of a small museum, and it was mobbed for Soth’s opening. Plenty of people were glammed up in full-length minks, in gold leather jean jackets, in Gucci ascots. They pivoted expertly on glittering midnight-blue stilettos, flipped their expensively colored, perfectly ironed tresses—and also admired two dozen large-scale photographs that Soth made in and around a place that is a quintessentially American honeymoon destination. Throughout the reception, a clutch of people slowly drifted around the main gallery; at the center of these admirers, well-wishers, collectors, would-be collectors, onlookers, old and new friends, was the artist. He smiled, chatted amiably, shook a lot of hands, had people tug on his arm and whisper in his ear.
As the reception wound down, 170 guests made their way to an honorary dinner party at nearby Bottino, the art world’s version of Elaine’s. It was modest compared with last year’s notorious to-do for Damien Hirst, another Gagosian artist of a slightly older vintage. Considering that Soth was virtually unknown four years ago, though, it was impressive—and not undue. A few weeks later, one of Gagosian’s directors reported that sales—more than four hundred prints were available, for between $5,500 and $20,000—were considered “very successful.” Soth had a pragmatic explanation for the ardor with which his work has been received. “It’s in fashion,” he said, with a modest shrug characteristic of someone who describes himself as a “conservative Midwestern boy.” “And I don’t think it’s going to last forever.”
Soth’s success is uniquely dazzling, but he is not the only Minnesota artist to make a recent splash in New York. A few days after the Niagara opening, paintings by Jin Meyerson, who was born and raised in Atwater, Minnesota, were being installed at Zach Feuer Gallery, a few doors down the block. Roiling with swirls of disastrous imagery, these floor-to-ceiling canvases were intended to overwhelm the space, which is as tiny as Gagosian is massive. Yet the gallery’s size belies its influence; though he’s only been in the business for six years, twenty-seven-year-old Zach Feuer has quickly become a powerful arbiter of the gallery world, one who merits his own spreads in glossy magazines.
As it happens, Feuer also represents Aaron Spangler. Spangler is a native of Park Rapids who, after graduating from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, built himself a house outside his hometown. Last summer, he added a studio, reinvesting, in a sense, the earnings from his carved wood reliefs and sculptures, which fetch tens of thousands of dollars. (Many people are waiting to acquire work by both Spangler and Meyerson.) That same summer Rob Fischer, another Minnesota artist whose career has been taking off, built a studio and cabin nearby. Fischer too is an ex-Minneapolitan and MCAD graduate who now lives part-time in Brooklyn; a solo exhibition of his sculptures was on view this winter at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s midtown gallery. The week after it closed, a collector had asked for a private viewing of one of the pieces, a twisting form made up of battered hardwood flooring that might have been salvaged from an abandoned farmhouse.