NEW YORK — In the already densely packed Chelsea art district, the opening of yet another gallery could be cause for an eye roll. But Friedrich Petzel, whose namesake space has sparked excitement for more than a decade, sees his new venue as a means of rejuvenation.
“When you have a gallery for 10 years, it can become a bit tired because people think they know something and can relax on their success,” explains Petzel, who moved to Chelsea in 2000 after seven years in SoHo. “How do you stay interesting? You’re only interesting as long as you introduce younger and lesser-known artists from all kinds of places in the world and don’t just stick to the 10 or 12 that you selected from New York City.”
The new place, which opens tonight at 535 West 22nd Street, next door to his current gallery, provides Petzel with just this opportunity. He had been renting the shop out to a not-for-profit bookstore since 2000, and when it moved out this past fall, he decided the timing was right to inhabit the space himself. At one third the size of his current headquarters, the 535 area allows him to play with new formats for shows on a different time frame than the traditional monthlong circuit on which his main gallery runs.
“You schedule your exhibits two years in advance, so I have to be extremely ahead of my own schedule and be very clear about what I want,” says Petzel of the art world’s hectic pace. “It takes a bit of the fun out of it. With a smaller space, where there’s not as much pressure on the artists, I can be a lot more flexible … I can have exhibitions that only last an hour or two days. So it’s breaking the mold of how a gallery functions.”
He hopes to tap artists working in more diverse mediums, such as film and performance art, and who produce intimate pieces that can benefit from the smaller place’s close quarters. And he is adamant that the 535 venue will not simply be Friedrich Petzel “Light.”
“Any artist that I ask to do an exhibition with me in the smaller space, in 535, should also have the potential to show in 537. I want to show artists with big ambitions,” explains Petzel, who represents Richard Phillips, Sarah Morris and Dirk Skreber, among others. “Some of them that have shown here five times will show in the smaller space because it’s more concentrated.”
For the new gallery’s first exhibit, though, he was immediately drawn to the Dutch duo Jeroen de Rijke, 35, and Willem de Rooij, 36, who screened their film, “Mandarin Ducks,” at the Dutch pavilion at the Venice Biennale last summer.
“A lot of younger artists sometimes are a bit careless in their development of ideas. I think they are extremely sophisticated,” explains Petzel of his choice.
A selection of the pair’s recent works will be on display in their New York solo debut: “Orange,” a slide projection of 81 shades of said color; “Bouquet IV,” a black-and-white photograph of a floral arrangement shown concurrently with the actual bouquet, and “Light Study V” and “Light Study VI,” photographic studies from their “Mandarin Ducks” film.
De Rijke and de Rooij’s reflective, meticulously produced pieces seem a particularly appropriate premiere for Petzel, given his scholarly background.
“I never thought I would be an art dealer,” he admits, having studied as an art historian in Germany before moving here in 1991. “I think my interest in the art I show as a gallerist has been influenced by the fact that I have museum taste … the historical past and how these artworks reflect that with a kind of pursuit of how to discuss art in the future. I’m less interested in artists who just think they have an idea and illustrate it.”