Volume 19 • Issue 5 | June 16 - 22, 2006

Photo by Maggie Innes

Rick Davidman inside his gallery at 176 Franklin Street, as DFN prepares for the Affordable Art Fair this weekend. Later this month, DFN will relocate to Chelsea.

Peripatetic gallery is on the move again

By Nicole Davis

From brightly-lit suburban porches at night, to illuminated storefronts on dead quiet city blocks, the dozen or so paintings in Dan Witz’s latest show, “Up Late,” at DFN Gallery, are all suggestive of that liminal period before dawn when people sleep, stores close, and bartenders announce their last call. The exhibit runs concurrently with Alyssa Monks’ “Dissolve,” another appropriately titled show for DFN, seeing as it’s quietly closing its doors at 176 Franklin Street after a successful five-year run. When both shows end this Friday, June 16, the gallery staff will start packing — for Chelsea.

The move marks the third one DFN has made in 10 years. When the gallery first opened its doors in 1996, it was located at the corner of Broadway and Prince — once “the center of the art world,” said DFN’s owner, Rick Davidman, on Tuesday. But whereas neighboring galleries in 1990s Soho were all about abstraction, installations and video art, DFN stood out because it featured representational paintings. Davidman, a very young-looking 42 with cropped blonde hair and eyes as blue as his denim-colored shirt, described the look of relief on people’s faces when they stepped into his space and saw “paintings of stuff — people, places, things” that they could recognize.

His preference paid off. Davidman acquired a lot of good representational artists before the style came back into vogue, and when the art world crashed in the late 90s, and Soho morphed into a shopping district, he was ready to move on, artists in tow, to the new “epicenter of the contemporary art world” — Chelsea. But one day before he signed his new lease, a partner suggested he check out a space on Franklin Street, the former home of the Riverrun cafe.

As a neighborhood, Tribeca appealed to Davidman more than West Chelsea. It was a lot more accessible for one. There were also only a handful of galleries compared to the hundreds in Chelsea, so it would be easy to stand out. But the real selling point was his potential clientele. “A lot of the work I show is like the first shot in a movie,” said Davidman. “It’s very cinematic.” And since Tribeca serves as home to Miramax (now Weinstein Co.) and the Film Center, he figured he would be able to attract buyers in the business — not to mention residents with “large wallets and large lofts” who could afford his artists’ large-scale paintings.

In September 2001, Davidman was in the midst of hanging his first show when the planes hit. But even after 9/11, which dramatically reduced foot traffic in Tribeca, DFN was hugely successful. So much so, that Davidman now feels the only way to keep his artists is to move them to a place where their art will sell at a price they deserve. “If this show were in Chelsea, Witz and Monks would be able to command 50% more for their work,” said Davidman. He’s already had a couple of artists leave DFN for uptown galleries — “not for any personal reason,” he explains, “but to get to the next level,” one that could translate to anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 more for their art.

“The other part is that even though we’ve gotten good reviews, I still feel that the artists we show would get more respect by being in Chelsea. That’s the just the way it is,” Davidman added, sounding rueful. “It’s not my world, I just live in it.”

Still, the decision to relocate is bittersweet. “Leaving is not an easy thing for me to do. I got very involved in the community after 9/11,” says Davidman, who helped found the Tribeca Organization in order to revitalize the neighborhood. He also laments that DFN won’t attract the same sort of diverse patronage as it does now on Franklin Street. Its Lower Manhattan locale and proximity to Nobu meant that it was just as likely to spot a person on jury duty in the gallery as it was Leonardo DiCaprio. But there is hope that DFN will return.

“I’m moving to Chelsea because I think it’s the best thing for my artists, but my heart is Downtown, and at some point I would like to open up another space down here as well.”


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