One cause of the upheaval is the schedule of developer Mario Nicosia’s GTI Properties, which owns numerous South End buildings. The leases of several galleries around town expire in coming months, but the leases of all tenants at GTI’s 450 Harrison Avenue at Thayer Street — the major art building in the South End — expire in November, according to commercial leasing director John Kiger. And rents are rising.
But GTI is also redeveloping an old factory building next door at 460 Harrison Avenue, and tenants could begin moving in as soon as this summer. “I think this year we’d bring on something like 10 to 15 more galleries [to 460],” says Kiger. Some dealers are skeptical of that number — if true, it would double the number of galleries on Thayer Street. A furniture store and restaurant are also rumored to be among the incoming tenants.
Allston Skirt, which is owned by Beth Kantrowitz and regular Phoenix contributor Randi Hopkins, and Space Other, which is run by Gamaliel Herrera and Mark Schwindenhammer, say economics isn’t the driving factor in their decisions to close. (For Kantrowitz and Hopkins, whose rent was rising, it seemed a good time to pursue separate visions; for Herrera and Schwindenhammer, it was the international curatorial opportunities.) Long-time Newbury Street galleries like Pucker Gallery and Barbara Krakow Gallery talk of the past year as a banner one. So Krakow doesn’t see a downturn in sales as a key factor — yet. “I’ve been through this before. It’s hard for me to believe this [a downturn] isn’t going to happen.”
But with leases ending and rents rising, dealers are taking hard looks at their futures. Bernard Pucker, who has seen hundreds of Boston galleries come and go since he opened his gallery in 1967, sees the changes as part of the usual “winnowing out.” The strong art market of the past several years — boosted by Internet and art-fair sales — has helped keep more galleries afloat, but if it cools it could leave them in a lurch.
“In a way it’s your usual cycle,” says Yezerski, who has run a Boston gallery for nearly 20 years. “You have a hot economy and a lot of people joining in. Now you have a combination of the economy slowing down and a lease cycle, and this is what happens.”
The new site at 460 Harrison promises not only newly renovated spaces but also, for some, better street visibility. Steven Zevitas of Steven Zevitas/OSP Gallery, which is located on the third floor of 450 Harrison Avenue, says he’s watching how things shake out as he considers moving to one of the storefront spaces in his building or perhaps to 460 Harrison. Gallery Anthony Curtis is considering moving to Harrison Avenue because its current location at 186 South Street, according to Anthony Shu (co-director with Curtis Rudbart), feels isolated. Frank Roselli of Soprafina Gallery at 450 Harrison has looked into 460 but says for now he plans to stay put.