Above: “You” by Urs Fischer, 2007, Courtesy of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise

Gavin Brown’s Enterprise isn’t just a contemporary art gallery in New York with an unusual name. It’s also a phenomenon, a state of being, and a destination where more than “just art” happens. Long established as one of the more original spaces for contemporary art exhibitions, the gallery serves as much as a locus for unique events and performances as it does for the sale of works of painting, sculpture and other objects.

Gavin Brown

A Uniquely New York Origin Story

Gavin Brown is distinctive within the world of art dealers. His destiny lies in a fine understanding of what makes for deceptively compelling and clean work. His first “real exhibition” consisted of small paintings by Elizabeth Peyton that were displayed in the Chelsea Hotel. Mr. Brown, at the time, an unknown and without a proper gallery space of his own, decided to try an unconventional format and venue to sell work by the young Ms. Peyton– an artist known for her graphically-explosive renderings of her friends, musicians and various celebrities.

Visitors to the show were required to fetch a room key at the hotel’s front desk. From there, they proceeded to the exhibition space. One of the rooms in the infamous hotel made famous by the likes of Janis Joplin and Leonard Cohen. The result: The exhibition sold out and solidified Mr. Gavin’s place in New York’s contemporary art mythos.

Ella Kruglyanskaya, Doll on Lilac Background, Oil on linen (2018)

A New Vision in New York’s Gallery Circuit

Though first established in 1994 in New York City’s SOHO neighborhood by Gavin Brown, the gallery finds itself situated today in Harlem, after a brief stopover in the West Village. From its inception, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise has been (in)famous for its exhibitions that push boundaries, create craters in the gallery floor (by Urs Fischer), and tantalize art-goers and New York’s perpetually-jaded set with fresh approaches to contemporary creativity that never seem too contrived or staged.

This is a rare feat in a world where every gesture is viewed with cynical precision, and the skepticism of those who have grown imperviously numb to enchantment, stimulation and humor.

Art By Other Means

If contemporary art is a plaything for the wealthy, then art gallery dealers are purveyors of rattles, stuffed animals, and other objects that pretend to stimulate and feed on the fantasy of its users. Playthings are not necessarily bad things. They need not be callow or shallow, vapid or inane. Indeed, art has always been about play, ever since Marcel Duchamp and Jean Arp stuck a finer in the eye of the European Bourgeoisie in the shadow of World War I.

Sturtevant, Finite Infinite (installation view at 356 Mission Road, LA, 2013), Video installation, dimensions variable (2010)

Since then, art can be anything an artist desires: philosophy by other means, or politics as a grandstand. It can be innocuous in its seduction or gritty in its debasement. The purpose of art is almost beside the point, really, and Mr. Brown’s gallery understands this with a feverish relish that borders on the mad squabbles of a street fighter who has just been kicked out of medical school.

Gavin Brown’s Ambition

What separates Gavin Brown’s Enterprise from other New York City art stalwarts is its founder’s vision that sees the contemporary gallery as a forum for an exchange and questioning of what may be considered “art,” in an era when most all acts of creative expression become commodity and get collected by the world’s economic elite. In a recent interview with Art News, Mr. Brown expounds on this concept:

The word ‘gallery’ is no longer elastic enough to describe all the versions and species that we currently regard as galleries. There are vastly different models, vastly different scales of economy, different ideologies which all produce different ideas of what art even is. What art is for. What galleries are for. But my instinct is that the entire endeavor—across the board—and however it manifests itself is more vital and needed than ever.

Davidy Bowie, a 2012 painting by Elizabeth Peyton

An Intricate Roster of Artists Marking New Territories

With a distinguished roster of artists that includes Joan Jonas, Alex Katz, Danny Lyon, Rob Pruitt, Sturtevant, Ella Kruglyanskaya, and Franz Ackermann, it is no wonder that Gavin Brown’s Enterprise is considered one of the most confusing, unpredictable and challenging galleries in the contemporary art scene– not only in New York City, but in the United States. Mr. Brown’s challenge is one of contemplation, one that refuses to let his gallery arrive at an easily discernible brand. What makes Gavin Brown’s Enterprise a bold and brave foray is its utter rejection of many of the formalities and customs of the contemporary art business.

More Than Just a Space for Art

The gallery’s parties and dinners are legendary for their intimacy and adventurism. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise has successfully transcended the line between contemporary art space and art world. It’s relationship to the community of artists in New York City (and elsewhere) is enhanced greatly by its staging of events inside and outside its four walls that go beyond the selling of artworks. These events include happenings, musical performances, parties, and just about any other social interaction that blends the privileged insiders of New York’s collecting circuits with the fringe-lifestyle of artists and thinkers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

Global Presence

With this commanding presence in the New York art scene, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise has launched a global initiative with a commanding position in the world-wide push of Art Fairs. Indeed, the gallery’s routine presence at Art | Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach, and Art Basel Hong Kong have positioned as a major powerhouse in the contemporary art sphere of influence that includes major auction houses, top museums, and a variety of curators.

An Inventiveness Born of Eclecticism

The gallery’s shows embrace the unpredictable and the difficult. In our current era of predictably luxurious art markets and artists who cater to them (however veiled their intentions may be) Gavin Brown’s Enterprise represents a contemporary art utterance whose spirit of inventiveness, openness, and irrepressibility represents a seduction to the better natures of art-lovers and art-makers. This is indeed, an utterance that has braved a consistently strong vision and established itself as a voice to be heard in the cacophony that often passes for art in today’s world.