Pam Lins, installation 2010

If you’ve been on an LES art crawl in the past few years, chances are you’ve been down Orchard Street. Galleries on this stretch include On Stellar Rays, Miguel Abreu, and Lisa Cooley, as well as recent neighbors like Untitled, who relocated from around the corner. It’s no secret that the LES gallery scene has been growing exponentially in the past five years. In fact, the neighborhood has produced a number of groundbreaking, must-see shows  featuring emerging and established artists alike.

Rachel Uffner Gallery has been a mainstay at 47 Orchard Street since 2008, after taking over the space formerly occupied by cooperative gallery Orchard. I appreciate the gallery’s curatorial program and am enthused by the range of artists and media represented. Opening with a solo exhibition by painter Roger White on September 20, 2008, Rachel Uffner Gallery celebrates a second solo exhibition by the same artist, on view through December 19, 2010.

Roger White, installation view

I visit this gallery every month because every time I go there is a show that actually makes me want to stay, one that challenges my gaze. However, what I think draws me most to the gallery is what Uffner would describe as an “ambiguity of materials.”  Sam Moyer’s show, Shape Shifters, in early 2010 included encaustic drenched Ikea rugs, India ink on paper, collage covers of Structuralist novels, and Xerox-covered plywood sculptures.  Barb Choit documents the effects of various beauty enhancing and/or salon products when placed onto the fine art posters of Patrick Nagel, producing faded, blotched, and distorted adaptations. Hilary Harnischfeger produces the illusion of solid chunks of luxurious stones with mostly paper and plaster (as well as small portions of mica or quartz), and Anya Kieler creates wall-mounted and other theatrical sculptures using sand, gloves, hair, cardboard, and egg trays.  No exhibition is ever just painting, just drawing, or anything of the sort. Each artist hovers somewhere outside and in-between, offering the viewer an opportunity to really think about what they’re looking at.

I was able to sit down with Rachel Uffner to talk about the past, present, and future of the gallery.

Where was Rachel Uffner before starting her own gallery in 2008?

Rachel Uffner worked at D’Amelio Terras for five years, starting at the front desk, and eventually becoming the director. From there, she was able to start curating and bringing new artists into the gallery. It was through these experiences that Uffner remembered her original goal to be an artist to make things. She soon realized that she wanted to open up her own gallery in order to stay creative, work with people directly, and through curating, make and realize her own projects.

Why did she decide to open up the gallery in the Lower East Side?

When surveying New York for the best neighborhood to open up her own gallery, Uffner knew that she did not want to be in Chelsea. She describes it as “not wanting to be too close to Mom and Dad.” The owners of D’Amelio Terras were very supportive of her decision to open a new gallery, and Uffner credits a lot of inspiration, motivation, and support to them. That being said, Uffner was ready to move on and try things on her own downtown. The space she found on Orchard Street was perfect because it had previously been used as a gallery and exhibition space by the collaboratively organized Orchard gallery. After re-doing the walls, the floors, and a recent upgrade to the ceiling, 47 Orchard is a sufficient exhibition space, ready to house shows in most media.

Book Launch for Sara Greenberger Rafferty's "Double Issue" November 12, 2010

Aside for her independent address, the gallery is located in a neighborhood that fosters a fully supportive arts community. Although they share different address, Uffner feels as though the other galleries are her colleagues. There are dozens of galleries in the Lower East Side, and the number is only growing.

What kind of artists and media are exhibited at Rachel Uffner gallery?

The gallery currently represents eight artists, most of who live or work in the greater New York area. Uffner shows artists who have developed their creative, conceptual, and technical skills, who are far along in their practice, however, may not yet have been introduced in New York. Uffner likes working with artists who are based in New York, as she enjoys conducting studio visits often. She considers the artists her peers, and effortlessly maintains personal friendships with each of them.

Recently, the gallery has been producing small catalogues and publications for its artists, and you recently had a book launch for Sara Greenberger Rafferty’s self-published zine, “Double Issue.” Even though publications can be costly, why are they important for the gallery?

The gallery has been publishing small books that include images and information about the works in a particular exhibition. It is a good idea in general to have these small books, as people like to have and to hold images in their hand. Some people want the material object, rather than just a jpeg image. They are an easy way to carry a lot of information, and much easier to give out than hefty artist binders.

Roger White, Untitled, 60"x40", oil on canvas, 2010

Why have I never seen video art at the gallery?

Although a wide array of materials and types of exhibition have been shown (performance-based work, publications, mixed media, etc), they have not yet included any video-based work. Although none of the current artists work in video, Uffner says she would not be surprised if one of them decided to explore this media. Uffner as well is open to the medium, and hopes to come across an opportunity to include it soon.

What can we expect to see in Miami this month?

Rachel Uffner gallery will present work by Anya Kieler, Pam Lins, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, and Roger White at the NADA Art Fair Miami Beach.

Why are art fairs beneficial to galleries and to artists? Why does the gallery participate in these events?

Uffner says that fairs are ultimately important for exposure, both for the gallery and its artists. Art fairs bring artists, curators, and curators from all over the world together for face-to-face conversation about the work. New York is a great place to exhibit new artwork, but art fairs provide an extended audience.

What does the gallery have in store in the future?

Rachel Uffner seems cool and calm throughout the entire meeting with her. Not once do I detect a sense of apprehension or doubt about the background of the gallery or of its future. It’s as if Uffner is so confident in her artists’ trajectories that the gallery could run itself. She is focused on the gallery’s projects, and doesn’t worry about pushing it further than needed. She noted that it is important that a gallery does not overextend oneself, that if a gallerist focuses on their artists, then they will produce good shows. Quality over quantity…. in my own analogy, sometimes Vermont Cheddar is just as good on a salad as is imported Brie. Good ingredients make good sandwiches, and bigger doesn’t always mean better.

That being said, Uffner does not rule out the possibility of expanding the gallery, both in square footage and in its roster. She is open and optimistic towards moving towards a larger space, exploring new media like video, showing international artists, as well as exhibiting at International art fairs. The gallery will also be participating in the VIP Contemporary Art Fair in January 2011, an international contemporary art fair being held exclusively online for one week.

For the time being, we can look forward to more shows by artists who have been with the gallery from the beginning. Pam Lins and Roger White (currently on view) are having their second shows with the gallery, and we can look forward to a new work by Anya Kieler and Sara Greenberger Rafferty at the NADA Art Fair Miami Beach in early December.