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Interview: Jack Shainman Speaks on his Expansion in Chelsea and Upstate New York

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With a red-hot and distinctively global artist roster that includes El Anatsui, Nick Cave, Kerry James Marshall, and Malick Sidibe, Jack Shainman Gallery is in expansion mode. A second Chelsea location opened earlier this month in the former home of Marc Jancou Contemporary at 524 West 24th Street, four blocks north of the flagship space that Shainman opened in 1997 after stints in Soho, the East Village, and Washington, D.C. And the gallery has got something even bigger cooking upstate, where Shainman has acquired a 30,000-square-foot building in Kinderhook, about two hours outside of Manhattan, that will house the gallery collection and be used for special exhibitions during the summer. Built in 1929 as a school (and dedicated by FDR), the building is set on five acres that will be used for a sculpture park. Shainman made time amidst the Armory Week frenzy to answer our questions about his vision for the new spaces.

WHITEWALL: What led you to expand the gallery at this particular point in time?
JACK SHAINMAN: We have been looking to expand for the past couple of years. Our artists are doing so well and are very ambitious. We are growing together. In the past five years we’ve almost tripled our staff, so we have that expansion to accommodate as well. It seemed like a natural progression.

WW: Do you plan to significantly expand your artist roster as well, over the next few years?
While we’ve had a few additions to the roster in recent years with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Toyin Odutola, Hayv Kahraman, and Vibha Galhotra, we don’t see the roster expanding. That being said, if I see work that I know I have to have, then I will pursue it. We have been so busy with outside museum exhibitions for our artists, as well as working with other galleries. What we can accomplish now, is more personalized attention to our artists so that their reach and their practice can expand.

WW: How do you envision using the second Chelsea space?
The 24th Street space will give exhibiting artists the opportunity to test out new ideas in simultaneous shows. The 24th Street location will be more flexible than our flagship space on 20th Street, giving our artists the freedom to exhibit work they might not have otherwise. For example, Kerry James Marshall recently completed a large-scale installation including paintings and sculptural aspects that will go on view at 24th street in September. We also hope to mount Hank Willis Thomas’ transmedia social project Question Bridge: Black Males in the space. The scale of the 24th street space is better suited for installations of this nature that require its own space.

WW: How did you find the old school building in Kinderhook?
We have amassed quite a large collection, and since the gallery’s inception I’ve always wanted a big space to house it all in, like a bunker. I have a farm near the Martin van Buren Elementary School and its grandeur has always impressed me. It’s on a historical street, and the second I saw the ‘for sale’ sign I called, thinking it would be long shot.

WW: What about the building appealed to you?
The school itself is impressive. The gymnasium is sprawling, with over 20-foot ceilings – perfect for exhibition large artworks like El Anatsui’s monumental sculptures or for Nick Cave’s installations. The classrooms are ideal for viewing rooms and smaller exhibition spaces. It’s also exciting to have five acres of property to show outdoor sculpture.

WW: How did you choose architect Antonio Jimenez Torcillas to design the space?
Antonio has worked on some amazing projects, including the Museo de Bellas Artes at the Carlos V Palace in Alhambra, and he has won numerous awards including the National Prize in Architecture for Best Project on Architectural Heritage. I’ve always been impressed by the elegant simplicity of his work.

WW: What have you asked him to do in terms of transforming the school into an exhibition space?
The school was beautifully maintained, so we’ve actually already moved our storage facilities up there, and we have someone managing the space. The classrooms just need a little work to make them functional for storing and exhibiting art – heightening ceilings, installing bigger doors. The major transformation will be the gymnasium. This will be the main exhibition space, so Antonio will create more height and work to increase the amount of natural light, creating a flow between the building’s exhibition spaces.

WW: When do you expect the Kinderhook building to open?
As I mentioned, we are already using the space for storage, and work has begun on the classrooms. The gymnasium renovation will take a little longer, but we hope to have some of it completed this summer at which point we may host a local non-profit fundraising event. Eventually, we hope to start an education program during the summers. The whole project is ongoing and will grow organically.

WW: Will it be known as “The School?”
We’ve been calling it “The School” internally, but we’re open to suggestions…



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Kelly Wearstler




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