The blocks of far West Chelsea, around Tenth and Eleventh avenues, have never been terribly hospitable, a grid of dark, untidy streets lined with grimy warehouses, printing houses, taxi garages, and factories. This urban setting, especially the blocks between 20th and 26th streets, is these days the world’s epicenter of contemporary art, home to more than 200 galleries. Chelsea galleries tend to be a bit snooty – they do not as a rule go out of their way to extend a warm welcome. Even so, stepping in and out of these spaces is a quintessential New York experience and an illuminating introduction to the current art scene. Arm yourself with a free Gallery Guide (available at any gallery) and a copy of M magazine, which features detailed listings, maps and reviews. Your tour should include the building at 529 West 20th Street, where dozens of galleries are spread over nine floors, and the block of West 24th Street between 10th and 11th avenues, a line-up of some of the city’s finest galleries, including Gladstone Gallery, Metro Pictures, Mary Boone Gallery, and Gagosian Gallery.
You’ll encounter another art work on West 22nd Street between 10th and 11th avenues. Trees growing along the sidewalk were planted by German artist Joseph Beuys – a welcome presence on these harsh city streets.