With Move, James Fuentes Will Become Only Gallery on Delancey

Yet another gallery will have a brand new space come September. After three and a half years on the aptly named Saint James Place, in Chinatown, 33-year-old dealer James Fuentes is moving his eponymous gallery to an 1,200-square-foot storefront at 55 Delancey Street, between Eldridge and Allen Streets, a location that formerly housed a sign-maker.

Fuentes, whose old space was somewhat inconveniently located south of the main cluster of Lower East Side galleries, says he began looking seven months ago, and saw over 50 locations during the subsequent time period, both in New York’s main Chelsea art district, on the far west side of Manhattan, and downtown. Over the course of his search, Fuentes found that rents were comparable in the two neighborhoods, at around $65 per square foot, and he told IN THE AIR that landlords were more than ready to negotiate — a sign of a still-soft real estate market. In Chelsea, he even looked at a space in the former Dia building on 22nd Street, which, as of October, will feature on its ground floor Zach Feuer (moving from 24th Street) and CRG (moving from an upper floor on 22nd Street). “I wouldn’t have been able to take enough of that space,” says Fuentes. “It would have been premature for me to take so much square footage and have such high overhead.”

In April, Fuentes expanded the available exhibition space in his former location from 400 to 800 square feet when he moved out of the second floor, where he had been living. “At that point, I started to think, what can I find out there for a bit more money,” he said. “That’s when I accelerated the search to relocate.” A successful booth at the Liste art fair in Basel, Switzerland, in June was the deciding factor. Shortly afterward, he signed his new lease. “There was a confidence I had coming out of Liste,” he said, indicating just how important a successful art fair can be to a gallery’s future plans. “That encouraged me to move forward with getting the space. If Liste had gone differently, I may not have made the move. I may have been more conservative.”

The new gallery takes up all 800 square feet on the ground floor of the storefront (he said it feels more like 1,000, with its roomy 13-foot ceilings), as well as 400 additional square feet of storage space in the basement. The layout is close to 25 feet squared, with just a single column. “The fact that it was such a perfect cube and the ceiling height was so generous was what got me so excited and helped me visualize all the exhibitions I could do here,” Fuentes said. “To find this combination of modesty with some elbow room at the same time — it’s very specific.”

And it helped that it was ground floor – which is highly coveted among dealers for the visibility it provides. Fuentes said he came “really close” to signing on a second-floor space, both in Chelsea and on the Lower East Side. In the second instance, back in December, with a second-floor space on Grand and Allen, a fashion designer beat him to the punch. “In retrospect, that was a blessing in disguise. My new space is phenomenally better.”

As for the location, “I love the idea of being close to the New Museum,” said Fuentes. And he hasn’t entirely lost his slightly-off-the-beaten-path spirit; he says he likes being near the cluster of galleries on Orchard Street, “but not being on Orchard Street. Between myself and Feature and Simon Preston, this area is like a little bridge between the north and south sides of Delancey.” In fact, Fuentes is the first gallery on this busy thoroughfare. “I’m excited because it’s such an iconic street,” he said.

Telling of downtown dealer camaraderie is the fact that Fuentes was tipped off about the space by Kelly Taxter, who co-runs Taxter & Spengemann, another gallery that will reopen in a new location in September. That gallery, which had been located for two years in Frank Stella’s former studio on the little-trafficked East 12th Street, ended up settling on a larger space on 18th Street, in Chelsea, where it will have a grand reopening on September 18 with an exhibition of artist collaborators AK Burns and A.L. Steiner.

The inaugural exhibition in Fuentes’s new space, which opens on September 24, is of work by octagenarian filmmaker Jonas Mekas, who has dug out of his archives some old footage of the very neighborhood Fuentes is moving into, some with shots made in the shadow of the World Trade Center, for a show appropriately titled “To New York With Love.” (Mekas is being widely fêted these days: curator Hans Ulrich Obrist is planning a Mekas show at London’s Serpentine Gallery for 2011, and, perhaps more spectacularly, he will be honored with a lifetime achievement award at Rob Pruitt’s offbeat Annual Art Awards at the Guggenheim this fall.) The exhibition opens on September 24, but Fuentes says he will be open by appointment as of September 10. In addition, the Guggenheim Young Collectors Council is set to hold a fundraiser in the space on September  23. Mekas and another Fuentes artist, Lizzi Bougatsos, have created limited-edition prints for the event, and each guest will receive one with the purchase of a ticket. (Tickets to the event are $250 for guests that are not members of the YCC.) “It’s going to be an action-packed September,” he said.