A raw, post-industrial space on a resurgent block of Niagara Street will become home to Buffalo’s newest art space in June, when the recently launched Body of Trade and Commerce Gallery opens its doors to the public.
The new commercial gallery at 1250 Niagara St., which had a soft opening during September’s Echo Art Fair in the Central Library, is the brainchild of former Albright-Knox Art Gallery staffer Anna Kaplan. Its first exhibition, a sampling of new work by Buffalo-area artists Amanda Besl, Millie Chen, Dennis Maher and Julian Montague, will open Feb. 6 in a temporary space at 429 Rhode Island St.
The light-filled, 1,900-square-foot space on Niagara Street, after being fitted with new lighting fixtures and cleared of the rusty metal lockers, rain barrels, moldering cardboard boxes and artificial Christmas trees that now litter the room, will open in June with an exhibition of new work by Montague.
The gallery will join the arts collective Sugar City and Resurgence Brewing Company, both of which are in the process of opening new spaces on a block that is quickly becoming a cultural destination under the stewardship of Niagara Street landlord and business owner William Breeser.
The gallery will share the building at 1250 Niagara with the environmental group Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, Resurgence Brewery and Realestatesigns.com, one of two businesses Breeser owns on the block.
For Kaplan, a Brown graduate who left the Albright-Knox in 2008 to pursue a graduate degree in the history of decorative arts and design at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City, the post-industrial feel of the building was the perfect fit for her gallery.
“I’d heard that Bill was developing the block and Sugar City is going to be across the street, which is a really nice synergy,” she said. “When I saw this, it couldn’t have been more perfect in terms of the aesthetic. This industrial look with the concrete floors, the high ceilings, the skylight. Everything’s perfect.”
Kaplan’s gallery, which is supported in part by Echo Art Fair founder Frits Abell’s company Echo Creative Ventures, will focus its efforts not only on hosting exhibitions, but on promoting the careers of a selected stable of artists in markets beyond Western New York. In that sense, its sole peer and potential competitor on the Buffalo art scene is Nina Freudenheim’s eponymous gallery on North Street, a respected and long-established outfit that promotes the careers of many nationally regarded artists with ties to Western New York.
While Western New York’s vast nonprofit museum and gallery scene is flourishing, its commercial scene is less robust. Smaller venues like Elisabeth Samuels’ Indigo Art and Barbara Hart’s Studio Hart on Allen Street and Marcus Wise’s 464 Gallery on Amherst Street have long been targeting the mid-to-lower end of the collecting market to mixed success, while many other spaces exhibit art alongside food service or retail.
“None of these galleries retain a stable of artists that they constantly promote, and I don’t even know how much they actually sell,” Kaplan said in reference to the city’s many hybrid art spaces. “People always say Buffalo’s so great because you can see art everywhere. That statement kind of makes me a little uncomfortable, because on the one hand, it’s really great that there is all this creative energy, but I feel that sometimes the art is not presented in a professional way, and that can actually hurt the artist involved.”
Though they each call Buffalo home, the first four artists to sign on to Kaplan’s gallery are each known outside of the area and have their work in significant public and private collections.
“I see Buffalo as a home base. I can’t limit myself to the Buffalo market, so I am definitely going to be pushing into other markets, and that’s a really big part of the mission of the gallery in terms of general promotion of the artists,” Kaplan said. “I’m really focusing on a New York gallery model where I retain a stable of artists who I’m constantly promoting beyond a show here.”
Abell said the gallery will be a boon to the region’s local artists.
“We’ve got an enormous number of incredibly talented artists, like Dennis, Julian, Millie and Amanda, who are showing elsewhere around the world, who are getting into collections, but they don’t have anybody continuously working on their case as artists and building their markets for them,” he said. The gallery, he added, is “another cog in the wheel of a healthy local art scene.”
For Breeser, who began buying buildings in the area nearly two decades ago, his investment in this once-downtrodden block is beginning to pay off.
“I was able to buy the buildings cheap enough that it was a pretty low downside, and I was hoping for the upside. Here we are 17 years later and it looks like it’s finally starting to happen,” he said. “With everything else that’s going on in the city downtown, I think this is one of the little hotbeds that will happen over the next five years.”