Top Photography Venues in New York in 2014

In the context of all of the discussion about the dislocations of art fairs and the Internet on the economic framework of the art world, our sixth annual ranking of venues for photography in New York might seem a bit old school. I mean, who cares about physical spaces and how they are run anymore, right? Isn’t interacting with art in real life becoming a quaint memory? But even with the exciting explosion of digital viewing/buying options and the mounting pile of new photobooks to look over, as collectors, we’re stubbornly stuck on seeing and engaging with photography in person – and galleries and museums still provide us a primary lens through which we are introduced to and experience the diversity of the medium.

Practically speaking, what this means is that the multitude of unseen choices, difficult edits, and meticulous decisions made by gallery directors and museum curators still undeniably shape our reactions to and encounters with what we see. Mounting a consistently thoughtful, innovative, and ambitious exhibition program (in short, having a distinct point of view and standing behind it) takes real work, and the goal of this annual summary is to single out those venues that have routinely discovered and shown us photography of importance.

As background, the statistics that underlie our conclusions about the “best” venues are built using simple arithmetic, adding up the total number of rating stars awarded by us to shows at particular venues throughout the course of the year. We believe that this method rewards both quality (in the form of rare 3 star ratings) and consistent quantity (a solid program of 1 star rated shows month after month) in relatively equal measure. In 2014, we reviewed a total of 158 photography shows at 82 different venues in and around New York, awarding a grand total of 205 stars. If we are honest, we were a bit stingier this year – last year we awarded 214 to roughly the same number of shows, so grade inflation isn’t one of our concerns. Another wrinkle in the aggregate ratings this year comes from the contributions of a second reviewer – Richard B. Woodward chose the ratings for the roughly two dozen gallery and museum shows that he reviewed for us this past year, so his voice is now indirectly blended with mine in the creation of these standings. In many ways, this retroactive analysis is always full of surprises, as the leaders emerge out of the data, one great show at a time.

Led by its Marville and Winogrand retrospectives (both receiving our elusive top rating), the Metropolitan Museum of Art took top individual honors this year (with a total of 9 stars), unseating the International Center of Photography, a previous two time incumbent champion. While the shows in the Met’s contemporary photography gallery continue to search for a consistent voice, when it can put the full weight of its power behind a scholarly pre-1980 photography exhibition, there are few institutions in the world that can match its excellence.

On the gallery front, our leaders offer an unlikely variety of photographic approaches and viewpoints. If we assume that the photography program at Pace is fully aligned with that at Pace/MacGill, then the combined ratings of the two galleries would actually place it in the top overall spot, with a total of 11 stars (5 coming from Pace’s Close, Sugimoto, and Graham shows). If we treat them as separate, stand alone entities, then the galleries with 8 stars jump to the forefront – Yossi Milo, Higher Pictures, and Janet Borden. These three would almost never be mentioned in the same sentence – they all have distinct points of view, but have little overlap in philosophy or interests. That they can all succeed with such consistency says something about the breadth of ways that galleries are creatively carving out niches for themselves under the larger umbrella of the medium.

More than any other year that we have tallied these aggregate results, our lists this year had lots of movement – 24 galleries and museums fell off (failing to earn a total of 2 stars for their photography programs), while 23 reentered or made the listings for the first time. Nicelle Beauchene, Invisible-Exports, L. Parker Stephenson, Anastasia Photo, Hauser & Wirth, Taymour Grahne, and the Morgan Library were all exciting new entrants, while familiar names like Marian Goodman, Metro Pictures, Matthew Marks, Paula Cooper, Andrea Rosen, Jack Shainman, and Luhring Augustine all missed the cutoff. Given the vagaries of scheduling at many of the major contemporary art galleries, we expect to see them return again when photography comes up in the rotation more often; in the meantime, new venues will likely continue to pop up, bringing added freshness and risk taking to the whole.

The complete 2014 venue data set is below, with gallery name, followed by total number of review stars earned over the course of the year (including only those venues that earned at least 2 stars):

Specialist Photography Galleries

  • Janet Borden (here): 8
  • Higher Pictures (here): 8
  • Yossi Milo Gallery (here): 8
  • Howard Greenberg Gallery (here): 7
  • Aperture Gallery (here): 6
  • Pace/MacGill Gallery (here): 6
  • Gitterman Gallery (here): 5
  • Andrea Meislin Gallery (here): 5
  • Bruce Silverstein Gallery (here): 5
  • Sasha Wolf Gallery (here): 5
  • ClampArt (here): 4
  • Danziger Gallery (here): 4
  • Yancey Richardson Gallery (here): 4
  • Anastasia Photo (here): 3
  • Robert Mann Gallery (here): 3
  • L. Parker Stephenson Photographs (here): 3
  • Edwynn Houk Gallery (here): 2
  • Steven Kasher Gallery (here): 2
  • Laurence Miller Gallery (here): 2
  • Throckmorton Fine Art (here): 2

Contemporary Art Galleries

  • Pace Gallery (here): 5
  • 303 Gallery (here): 3
  • Sean Kelly Gallery (here): 3
  • Maccarone (here): 3
  • Mitchell-Innes & Nash (here): 3
  • Nicelle Beauchene Gallery (here): 2
  • Denny Gallery (here): 2
  • Fredericks & Freiser (here): 2
  • Gagosian Gallery (here): 2
  • Taymour Grahne Gallery (here): 2
  • Hauser & Wirth (here): 2
  • The Hole (here): 2
  • Invisible-Exports (here): 2
  • Andrew Kreps Gallery (here): 2
  • Murray Guy (here): 2
  • Postmasters (here): 2
  • Salon 94 (here): 2
  • Sonnabend Gallery (here): 2
  • Wallspace (here): 2
  • Miyako Yoshinaga (here): 2
  • David Zwirner (here): 2

Museums

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (here): 9
  • International Center of Photography (here): 7
  • Museum of Modern Art (here): 6
  • Grey Art Gallery/NYU (here): 3
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (here): 3
  • Whitney Museum of American Art (here): 3
  • Morgan Library & Museum (here): 2
  • Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (here): 2
  • Walther Collection (here): 2

One comment

  1. Pete /

    For years I used to go to loads of gigs in my town (population 75,000), to see local bands playing original music. Rock, pop, indie, punk, metal, chiptune (google it) there was a lot going on. It was amazing just how many were in bands, and their dedication; working away in bedrooms and garages and no-rent shabby methodist church halls at their music and while a little was naff most was highly proficient and occasionally there’d be something life-affirmingly astonishing. But in the end every small live music promoter around here ended up throwing in the towel or going broke, because the numbers turning up regularly on a rainy wintry evening (and yes it always seemed to be rainy and wintry, even in summer) to hand over a few quid ($2) they just dwindled away to next to nothing. I calculated that if just one or two people from a tenth of those bands had sometimes went to see other bands play there would have been a vibrant scene and a sustainable business model for cheap live music nights in our town. But 99 per cent of the actual music makers were never seen unless they were playing themselves. I think photographers are a lot like that.

    Most photographers never go to see photography exhibitions – excepting the very occasional trip to an extensively-promoted must-see big-ticket retrospective, and only then once every couple of years, and only if the journey can be combined with another purpose like buying shoes on the way back.

    It’s mostly a trickle of under-grads, and people wanting to do something a bit arty on a day out that make it to little venues, especially so if there’s a decent caff nearby: Ninety seconds in and out (could have done it in twenty but didn’t want to look a complete philistine) then around the corner for coffee and cake for half an hour to recover from the effort of having got there in the first place.

    So it all looked set for a digital win but most photographers I know rarely, if ever, even visit this website – which is THE NUMBER ONE WHAT’S GOING ON SITE – AND IT’S FREE. And sadly there is next to no conversation as no-one ever leaves a comment. So for most photographers all the going to shows, reviews and expressing an opinion about what’s going happening is left to someone else.

    So I don’t think the internet has quite turned out to be an exhibition space revolution for photography or any kind of revolution – apart from being able to buy camera kit cheaper.

    Still, for what is probably only a relatively small number (including ‘you’ here reading this) the few precious places like Collectordaily are our local dive where we are lucky enough to have a couple of lunatics who put in time and effort to stage live music, while all about them, their SOs family and friends consider the insanity of it all and try their best to resist saying anything too negative. As for those ‘specialised photography galleries’ – they are the bands we get to see play when we come here.

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