Rooster Gallery: In a 5-year relationship with the Lower East Side

Rooster Gallery celebrated its 5th year of activity in the Lower East Side of New York City with an exhibition dedicated to Factory Records, a landmark record label with a unique artistic line; on show the record covers from their 14 years of life from 1978 to 1992. Together with Arianna Carossa, one of the gallery’s in-house artists, we talked with gallerists Alexander Slonevsky and André Escarameia who outlined Rooster Gallery’s history, line of work and its relationship with the peculiar area it is located in.


Factory Records, Vinyl Design, Rooster Gallery, New York

FAC512: Factory Records Vinyl Design 1978-1992 / Rooster Gallery’s 5th Anniversary on October 22, 2015


Matilde Soligno: We should start from the beginnings of Rooster Gallery. How did the project take shape?

André Escarameia: Alex and I met in 2008 at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York. Right after we graduated, the crisis hit, and finding a job was hard. As a foreigner, I had no credentials to stay in the country. Eventually we both ended up working for Janos Gat Gallery on the Bowery. Janos was a mentor for us, and inspiration in the pursuing of our project. When Janos decided to close his gallery in 2010, we were resolved to open our own space, and we did. It was a bold move. Janos’s was another type of gallery, he used to work with more established artists. At that time the Lower East side was really beginning what then became an explosion. Back then there were only around 20 galleries in the area, and real estate was very different, more affordable. We had budget for a year. We found a space, and we’ve been in this market for 5 years now.

Alexander Slonevsky: We always said we wanted to open a gallery, we would joke about it. But when we got out of college, and we both were struggling to find jobs, we decided we would pursue our project after all. At the beginning we organized pop-up exhibitions, but we quickly realized that was not what we were interested in. When we found this space, we said, let’s do it. Many people advised us against it, because it’s a hard business, and the city is very competitive. But you have to take some risks. You have to be cautiously optimistic – we could fail, but we don’t think we’re going to. Many think one wants to be in art because there’s a lot of money, crazy parties. But if you look at our program and at what we’ve done since we opened, it’s clear we don’t choose the easily sellable shows. We got into it because we had a vision of what we wanted to do, and we’re trying to execute that vision with every show. People always ask us, how’s the gallery doing? We just put one foot in front of the other. We keep meeting people, going to studio visits, and trying to find new things that are interesting to us. I think it’s what every gallerist wants to do, to put their own fingerprint on the art world. Of course there’s an economic side to it, but we never do shows just because we want to sell. We find an artist we want to work with, and we show them.

André: And there was also the risk of putting together two very different people. Alex was raised in New York, I am from Coimbra, Portugal – two very different cities. But we knew we agreed on the essential, and we were able to cultivate our differences through our diversified gallery program, without it ever being a problem. It is a common project, with its own unique idiosyncrasies. This explains in part our broad program. Like Alex said, I think the economic part of it was only secondary somehow. But we’ve always been able to stay afloat in such a competitive market.


Andy Rourke, The Smiths, Rooster Gallery, New York

Andy Rourke (The Smiths) at the opening of FAC512: Factory Records Vinyl Design 1978-1992 / Rooster Gallery’s 5th Anniversary on October 22, 2015


MS: Your dynamic approach to the gallery space is a strong characteristic in your program.

André: We soon understood we had to make as much as we could from this space. This is important because at the beginning, despite this being a regular gallery, we related to the fact that the space is relatively small, actually a typical situation in this area. Real estate in New York is not easy, particularly now, after the crisis, when all the rents are increasing – especially in the Lower East Side. For instance, with artist Arianna Carossa, when we first invited her to work with us – before her first solo show with us, Il Gattopardo – we really wanted to do something right away but our calendar was already full. Arianna proposed she should have her own show in the bathroom. Arianna’s ideas on how to intervene on this unusual space were a further confirmation that this was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration.

Arianna Carossa: I used towels with holes cut in them and aluminum pipes to modify the space. I chose towels because they remind me of Deleuze’s concept of thingness – they are a neutral object that gets invested by their owners’ individuality. The hole is a characterizing element in this space, since the drain is the center around which a bathroom’s function revolves. I called the project Water [a wordplay based on the Italian word for "loo"]. It was a wonderful experience, but challenging. In fact, at the last show I did in Milan [I funghi del guru at Spazio O’] the owner of the space told me: “I saw your resume, and I come after the bathroom.”

André: But it’s an honor! [all laughing]. Our friendship with Arianna has been very important for us, and it was clear from the beginning that she was willing to do awkward things with us, to cooperate with us whatever the project was. That is something we really appreciated, and in a way made her part of the project. She is one of the people that will always work with us, regardless of the situation. She really has the ability to put herself in a situation, and give her contribution to whatever it is. I remember she received some criticism for holding a show in a bathroom, but she accepted that as a challenge.

Arianna: If you’re sure about your work, a space can’t bias it. You are the one transforming the bathroom, and what really comes out of it is your artwork. If an artist thinks otherwise, it’s a problem.

André: We want to make a connection with the area we’re in, its peculiarities and its position in the art world. We thought of Gracie Mansion in the 1980s having her gallery named Loo Division because it was inside a bathroom here in the Lower East Side. So in a way we didn’t come up with anything new, we just understood where we were, what the situation was regarding real estate here, and that previous experiments can actually be translated, 30 years later, into something that is relatively new. This type of action reflects a particular mode for which Chelsea galleries wouldn’t necessarily be available, for instance.


Arianna Carossa, Gattopardo, Rooster Gallery

Arianna Carossa’s show “Water” inside Rooster Gallery’s bathroom in 2014

Arianna Carossa, Gattopardo, Rooster Gallery

Exhibition view of Arianna Carossa’s solo show “Il Gattopardo” at Rooster Gallery, December 2014


MS: Rooster Gallery’s diversity of program is another signature mark of your project.

André: Besides the main gallery and our experimentation with unusual spaces, we host a screening project with video curator Mark Boswell. He is always welcome in the space to show experimental cinema, work with live musicians, and so on. We have broad interests, and an open look at what contemporary art is. For instance, design can be part of the dialog, like in our current show.


MS: Rooster Gallery’s 5th Anniversary exhibition, “FAC512: Factory Records Vinyl Design 1978-1992 / Rooster Gallery’s 5th Anniversary,” shows original cover design from Factory Records’ prolific production. Why did you choose them for your anniversary show?

André: Alex is a graphic designer, and I grew up in a city with a strong musical scene and background. We both like punk rock and alternative music. For our 5th Anniversary, we decided to pay homage to Factory Records because it relates to us on a very personal level, and it is in many ways similar to what we’ve been developing with this gallery. Look at the progression of their graphic design and the type of artists they were releasing. For instance, at the hype of rave parties in the late 1980s and 1990s, Factory Records ran a classical music sublabel. Their catalog showed how broad Factory Records’ interest in music really was. Our line of work is inspired by the same principle. We had exhibitions on landscape architecture, we showed Joseph Beuys, we worked with graphic designers, and music in this particular case. We’ve worked with so many media and approaches, and we’re even interested in showing together pieces of art from different time periods, back and forth in time in a single exhibition. FAC512: Factory Records Vinyl Design 1978-1992 / Rooster Gallery’s 5th Anniversary in particular relates to both of us on different levels, and it resonates to the way we both want to approach the space. We relate to the space with respect to what the space already is, rather than like owners. Hence, it has always been a collaboration between us, the space, and the artist.


Factory Records, Vinyl Design, Rooster Gallery, New York

FAC512: Factory Records Vinyl Design 1978-1992 / Rooster Gallery’s 5th Anniversary on October 22, 2015


MS: Many Chelsea galleries are moving or opening a new location in the Lower East Side. As businesses open but more close down, what’s your observation as insiders?

André: Businesses open and close at a fast pace. Just on this block, on Orchard Street in between Stanton and Houston, in the 5 years we’ve been here 24 businesses have closed, and more have opened in their place. I thought of it the other day because American Apparel just closed down on this block. The same turnaround happened with a number of galleries around here, which tells a lot about how the market works but also about the role of real estate in the city’s development. Many are doing well, they carry on interesting projects, but real estate is just merciless.

Alex: New York City has always been changing. The only surprising thing is the rapidity at which the Lower East Side has changed. I grew up on Roosevelt Island, and I used to come down here because I had friends who lived in this area. Back then, there was a lot of crime and drugs, now it’s a completely different place. I don’t think there’s even a single store left from that era.

Arianna: Except for Rosario Pizza at the corner of Stanton.

André: But I think he probably owns his own space.

Alex: It’s a common New York City thing: your lease expires, they double or triple the rent, and that’s it. You’ve got to go. Obviously, as galleries move in, it’s a signal of gentrification, and they push real estate prices up.

André: This hasn’t happened to us yet, but we’ll see. Obviously if your rent triples, the dynamic of your business has to change as well. As of now, things have been absolutely sustainable for us. When we first opened, there weren’t many galleries here, most of them are clustered near the New Museum and south of Delancey. In the meantime, many good spaces opened, such as Louis B James Gallery and On Stellar Rays, that also helped defining the area for their really good art program. James Fuentes Gallery on Delancey is my favorite in New York, he has a really relevant program – he recently had shows with Jonas Mekas, Fluxus artists such as George Maciunas, and so on – which really inspired us. So it’s actually good that we’re north of Delancey but at the same time close to such landmarks. I think they helped us in a way, and they resonate with the direction we want to work in.


Robert C. Morgan, Rooster Gallery

From Robert C. Morgan’s exhibition “The Swimming Lessons (1981)” at Rooster Gallery in 2013


MS: What’s your next exhibition project?

André: We go back to archives once again. 72-year-old artist Robert C. Morgan, that already had a solo show with us on his 1970s conceptual production, will be showing his archives. Largely known as prolific writer and art historian, he never gave up his artistic practice. His journals are an in-between medium: they contain writing but also drawings and sketches for his paintings and video production. We enjoy digging into archives. I remember that the first time we met Robert 3 years ago, we went to his place. He was showing us his paintings, when he started going through his archive. He started pulling out his lifetime production, and we loved the work he showed us, and that is how we started working together.

Robert C. Morgan will be on show at Rooster Gallery, New York City starting December 1, 2015. Arianna Carossa has an exhibition planned on the gallery’s rooftop for this December.


Arianna Carossa, Alexander Slonevsky, André Escarameia, Matilde Soligno, Rooster Gallery, New York City

Arianna Carossa, Alexander Slonevsky, André Escarameia and Matilde Soligno at Rooster Gallery, New York City

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by Matilde Soligno
in Focus on the American East

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory