Published: May 14, 2019
Review and Photos by Greg Smith
NEW YORK CITY – Just in time for the firm’s 275th anniversary, Sotheby’s unveiled its newly renovated and expanded galleries May 3 at its flagship 1334 York Avenue, New York City headquarters.
The renovation, designed by Shohei Shigematsu of the architecture firm OMA New York, will cost $55 million and expands the auction house’s exhibition space from 67,000 to more than 90,000 square feet. The reorganization consists of seven phases, two of which are now complete.
Tad Smith, president and chief executive officer of Sotheby’s, and Allan Schwartzman, chairman of Sotheby’s fine art division in New York, explained that the firm had every intention of moving from its address into a larger building until the very last moment. They explained they asked Shigematsu to sketch out some ideas showing a full-building renovation “to prove that they needed to move.” But the sketches took on a life of their own and proved that the firm could reinvigorate the space into a state-of-the-art showroom.
The result is a careful reorganization with flexibility and wall space at heart: a 4-floor labyrinthine layout made purposefully for the business of selling art.
In much the same way that one can become lost wandering the halls of the greatest museums, Sotheby’s new galleries are designed to segue from one room to another so as to expose, exhibit and feature.
The idea of a museum layout was deliberate. Shigematsu said, “We looked at so many – both modern and classical museums” to get inspiration for the new space. As this was more of a reorganization, the architect was principally concerned with proportion and room layout. The new space has created 40 galleries with more than 20 unique room layouts, ranging from styles that include White Cube, double-height, enfilade, corridor, cascade, octagonal and L-shaped.
The aesthetic is formulaic in the Twenty-First Century gallery space vernacular: polished concrete or gray floors, white walls (6,540 linear feet) and immaculate lighting (3,000 fixtures). Throughout the galleries, visitors will see monolithic reinforced concrete columns rising from floor to ceiling. To link the New York salesroom to the flagship London galleries, Shigematsu brought walnut wood samples from the latter and paneled many of the doorway thresholds with the same variety.
For the first time in New York, the auction house will have 20-foot-high galleries – three of them – where large scale works can be exhibited. The largest gallery is 4,100 square feet.
In accordance with the firm’s 2018 fiscal year-end results which reported a 37 percent increase in private sales to $1 billion, Shigematsu incorporated nine small galleries that can be dedicated to private sale appointments.
“The auction is a part of their business,” Shigematsu said, “but more is starting to happen in private sales. In this environment, they can quickly turn a room around to sell art.”
With 40 galleries at their disposal, perhaps one of the most impactful features of the space will be Sotheby’s ability to present micro-exhibitions within individual sales. If a single owner is selling 15 works in a 150-lot sale, those works can be isolated and displayed together in an adjacent gallery room to market provenance and collector vision. And a highlighted work can take center stage in its own gallery, like SFMOMA’s Mark Rothko untitled oil painting due to cross the block in Sotheby’s May 16 evening auction of contemporary art.
The new galleries depart from the prior organization of the building, which saw individual departments, including their offices, storage and exhibition space, occupying their own singular floor. The new layout moves all public facing spaces downwards.
“The galleries in size, range and sequence are conceived to allow for a great degree of versatility, while also creating many unique moments of place and arrival” said Schwartzman. “Taking inspiration from countless institutions around the world, we sought to create the best possible conditions for showcasing great works of art, no matter what size, style, or period, as well as to accommodate a variety of sales and exhibitions concurrently.”
For information, 212-606-7000 or www.sothebys.com.
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