Molotch, H. and Treskon, M. (2009). Changing Art: SoHo, Chelsea and the Dynamic Geography of Galleries in New York City. _International Journal of Urban and Regional Research_, 33(2):517-541.

Mark Treskon is a doctoral candidate in NYU’s Sociology department. He has a BA in Geographical Studies from the University of Chicago, and M.Sc. in Urban Planning from the University of Toronto, and his research interests are urban sociology, public space, and housing. (See other entry for Molotch’s bio.)

In this article, the authors examine the commercial displacement of the gallery scene from SoHo to Chelsea from the mid-90s through the mid-00’s. Unlike residential gentrification, which seems to be just about rising rents, relevant in commercial displacement are the new values of what is sold in that particular space. Galleries are the sites of intense socialization, Oldenburg’s (1999) Third Spaces, which promote lucky meetings and consequent deal makings (Currid, 2007) and “designate the ‘buzz’ (Storper and Venables, 2004; Caves, 2000) that results as a fundamental economic resource” (518).

Molotch and Treskon here are less interested in the social issues generally linked to displacement (mostly because it’s not residential). Instead they want to know whether Chelsea galleries can withstand non-art pressures and, more generally, whether there can be durable gallery districts?

In terms of the “contingent scene,” Chelsea is protected from retail competitors and their clientele in a way that SoHo isn’t, and its upper-floors can still feasibly be gallery spaces, benefiting from the “art neighborhood” scene.

Chelsea benefits from “contingency artifacts,” too. The spaces, former garages and the like, were perfect for the new, bigger art and complex installations coming into vogue. Artists now can do their work in other, smaller places and present their works on a large, urban scale in the district. This means you can have a “bohemian product” (534) in an industrial setting — the works themselves have become more indicative of the spaces in which they’re presented.

“This represents an escalation in the meaning of ‘scene’…. If you want to be with contemporary art in a hip social setting, Chelsea becomes the necessary — and reliable — place to go” (534).

The place stability occurs via the twin forces of good reasons to move (e.g. higher rents) and reasons to stay (e.g. worry that others won’t follow). At this point, galleries stay in Chelsea because, even if they rents are high, they want to maintain in the sticky social setting.

Finally, the processes: (1) escalating rents can dislodge, (2) a leader can select a new site, (3) “scene dependence” encourages others to settle in the new zone, and (4) provided the value of art tracks with rising rents, the new district can be durable. However, if consumption preferences weaken, the durability can crack.

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Cultural Economy, Minor Field, Research Fields

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