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NEW YORK — As Chelsea’s art galleries grow larger, gobbling up real estate by the block, one trio of curators is thinking small. Really small. Only Guinness knows for sure, but artist Maurizio Cattelan; Massimilano Gioni, artistic director of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, and Ali Subotnick, an editor at Parkett, opened what may be the world’s smallest art gallery last month. The Wrong Gallery is a forlorn spot tucked between a scuffed basement door at 516 West 20th Street, and an outer door made of glass and measures 40 inches wide, 12 inches deep and 93 inches high.
Small though it may be, the curators’ concept is big enough to attract major talent. Currently on display is a sound piece by Turner Prize winner Martin Creed, “Work No. 122: All the Sounds on a Drum Machine,” lent by Gavin Brown to support the cause. Next week, the young British artist Phil Collins will transform the entire space into a light box for an exhibition of his photos. And come Christmastime, the controversial artist Paul McCarthy will install something Subotnick promises will be “grotesque.” A couple of Merce Cunningham dancers may even squeeze into the space during a performance sometime soon.
“It’s a place that looks like any other gallery at first,” says Gioni, “but there is no selling, no buying, no space. We like to call it the back door to Contemporary Art.” In fact, many art lovers give the outer door a good tug, hoping to get inside. Many more walk by, turn around and come back to look for the space before finding it.
“It’s small,” says Subotnick, “but we’re trying to do as much as we can without the pressures of the market.” Of course, the gallery’s budget is equally small, and has already been spent on installing a light and an outer door to create the niche. An artist inspired to wreck the space then rebuild it three times to make his artistic statement is out of luck.
The idea to create the gallery came about when, in discussing a show, Cattelan once said “It’s good, but it’s in the wrong gallery.” The phrase stuck. While the group looked at all sorts of spaces — from a parking lot to a refrigerator to a drawer — to house the project, it’s clear that they’ve found the right place. As they stand on the sidewalk with next-door neighbor gallerist Andrew Kreps, who opens the outer gate and flips on the gallery’s light every morning, the landlord happens by, takes Cattelan by the arm and leads him to the far end of the building. Behind a gate and in front of a black steel door, yet another artistic oasis — a second miniscule rent-free space. Sure it’s cluttered with a mop, snow shovel and a dusty fan, but it’s got potential.
“We should take over all the unused spaces on the block,” says Gioni.
“We should open Uptown,” says Subotnick, “and call it The Super-Wrong Gallery.”