In the days leading up to Labor Day, the Chelsea gallery district is like a dormant volcano. “Off-season” doesn’t begin to describe it: just last week, only 50 or so of Chelsea’s 300 galleries were open for business. Just a few days ago, that volcano erupted, and I plunged head first into that cultural maelstrom, as I do every year. It’s my job.
The amount of creativity that gets unleashed in the coming week will be staggering. No city in human history, let alone a single 10-block neighborhood, has been the home to as many galleries, and as many high quality ones, as Chelsea. More than 95% of the art exhibited will be brand new, some of it on the very cutting edge, befitting Chelsea’s reputation as the planet’s taste-setter, for better or worse, in contemporary art.
I am setting myself an almost impossible logistical task: visiting just about all 200 Chelsea openings between now and my first “Best Exhibits” gallery tour of the season on Sat. Sept. 12. No other tour director or guide visits nearly this many shows in preparing for their tours—they have their favorite blue-chip galleries that they take their groups to time and time again, regardless of the quality of exhibits that particular week, and then supplement them with whatever few shows have buzz. But I discovered years ago that unless I visit everything in advance, and then make decisions accordingly, my groups miss out on some of the most extraordinary exhibits of the season. It’s a lot more legwork, but I’m convinced it’s the reason I am the only person (as far as I know) who makes a full-time living leading gallery tours in New York.
To complicate things further for my first-of-season tour, the large bulk of exhibits will open on just two days: Thursday and Friday. The operative phrase those two days is “run, don’t walk.” I’ll wear my most comfortable sneakers and scamper for hours from gallery to gallery. Yes, it’s as comical as it sounds.
By the close of the day on Friday I will discover that even with all my hustling I will come up short of my goal. Therefore, I will be back at the galleries at 10 AM on Saturday morning—the day of my tour—and visit whatever shows I missed. I’ll race back home (luckily, I live just 15 minutes away) to make further entries in my computer, then narrow down my tour itinerary to what I consider to be the top 7 exhibits, and print enough copies for my participants.
All that remains is making a mad dash back to the tour’s meeting place on W. 26th St., taking a minute to breathe, and then greeting each attendee with a most tranquil smile. “Great to see you! How was your summer?” Oh yeah, and then leading two very intense two-hour tours that day.
Why do I do this to myself? Why not just wait another week to hold my first-of-season tour, and therefore give myself more prep time? The fact is, it has been close to 3 months since my end-of-season gallery tour last June. I’ve had more than enough time to relax, and I’m raring to go. Also, I can’t stomach NOT leading a tour on the first Saturday that there are sure to be so many extraordinary exhibits up. Let the new season begin!
Rafael Risemberg, Ph.D.
Founder and Director
New York GalleryTours