Chelsea's Meulensteen gallery is closing its doors for good, ARTINFO has learned. Formerly known as Max Protetch, the gallery is located in a two-floor ground space on West 22nd Street in Chelsea and has long cornered the market on drawings and artifacts by architects the likes of Frank Gehry, R. Buckminster Fuller, Steven Holl, and Frank Lloyd Wright. It also has a stable of contemporary artists including Marjetica Potrč, Eric Binder, and Alice Miceli.
The gallery was unable to comment or confirm the news at press time, but one curator involved in its current show and two others close to the gallery confirmed the news to ARTINFO. It is unclear when the gallery will close its doors, but sources say it could be as soon as August 1.
Since 2010, the gallery has struggled to maintain its reputation under the ownership of Dutch-born businessman Edwin Meulensteen, who purchased the financially flailing establishment from longtime owner Protetch without any prior experience running a gallery of his own. (Meulensteen’s parents are collectors who founded a contemporary art museum in Slovakia.)
Since Meulensteen’s arrival, the gallery has lost no fewer than 13 of its artists, including well-known names such as Byron Kim, Ann Pibal, and Betty Woodman. As the blog Art Fag City noted in a recent post titled “The Fall of Max Protetch,” only nine artists and two estates from the gallery's 2010 roster remain. “Since the switch, none of the gallery’s artists has had an institutional show in a space larger than a college art gallery,” the post notes. “It’s hard to cast a positive light on any gallery that so quickly sees an exodus of its artists after a change in ownership.”
In February, the gallery hired former longtime Marlborough Chelsea director Eric Gleason and opened a refurbished subterranean 3,000-square-foot space to exhibit the work of younger artists in its program. That same month, it hosted a solo exhibition of new gallery artist Andrea Galvani. The gallery is currently hosting the well-loved annual summer show, "Young Curators, New Ideas IV." (Read ARTINFO's review of that show here.)
"I've been doing this show for four years [at different galleries], and working with Muelensteen was probably the best, most positive experience," said Amani Olu, who organized the Young Curators exhibition. "Eric [Gleason]'s inviting me to do this at the gallery was part of a larger vision he was trying to implement." Olu said he had planned to make the show an annual event at Meulensteen.
Though unable to comment on the specifics of the news, a gallery artist told ARTINFO, "I was totally surprised. I was working out a long-term plan with them and recent shows did really well. We just went into a new season and I felt there was good energy."
As Max Protetch, the gallery had a storied history. Founded in Washington, D.C. in 1969, it represented Andy Warhol and gave Vito Acconci his first solo exhibition. After moving to New York in 1978, Protetch began selling architects’ drawings — he was among the first commercial dealers to do so. Shortly after 9/11, he organized a show of design proposals for Lower Manhattan that was ultimately acquired by the Library of Congress. The gallery was also a pioneer in exhibiting Chinese artists, including Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, and Zhang Huan, in the United States. At the time of the switch over, Protetch told the Art Newspaper that he sold the gallery, rather than closing it, to preserve his staff and roster of artists.
"I was very concerned that I would have set loose a really great staff and incredible group of artists at a time when they wouldn’t be in a good position to get jobs," he had said. "I wanted to give the artists as much cover as possible." Protetch did not immediately return a request for comment.