Monica Serra showed at Mina, a boutique, after her gallery closed.

Anne Pedret eyed a standard-issue sawhorse improbably dressed up in fleece. “I’d love to have that in my bedroom to put clothes over,” she said, apparently prepared to part with $750 to turn that conceptual artwork into a high-ticket coat hanger. Ms. Pedret, an associate professor of architectural history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, could have been forgiven.

The sawhorse, one of several by Cheryl Pope, a local artist, was on view, after all, not in a gallery, but at a fashion boutique on North Damen Avenue, a mercantile thoroughfare that is home to the likes of Marc Jacobs and Club Monaco. That it vied for attention with satin cocktail dresses and oversize cardigans was fine with Robin Richman, the owner of the shop that bears her name. She is mounting the works of emerging artists to fill space once reserved for fashion labels she can no longer afford to sell, and to pique the interest of her worldly clientele.

“In this economy,” Ms. Richman observed, “we have to be really inventive.”

Those words would surely resonate with merchants across the country who have transformed their boutiques into one-stop emporiums offering gladiator sandals alongside rare lithographs and vivid oils on canvas. And these days they have as compelling a ring for scores of artists forced by a rocky commercial climate to seek new settings for their work. As the galleries that once embraced them succumb to soaring overheads and declining sales, some have taken to exhibiting in restaurants and hotel and condo lobbies. Even more are seeking refuge in the fashion world.

Exhibition in a dress shop? “You can’t say no,” said Monica Serra, who agreed to show her moody portraits, priced at about $10,000 each, at Mina, a boutique in downtown Manhattan, after the Miami outpost of her German gallery shuttered last month. “If the economy was different, I might have thought twice. I might have been worried that the art world wouldn’t take me seriously. But what are you going to do — stockpile your paintings because the venue is not right?”

Quite a few of her peers have adopted a similarly flexible attitude. In exhibiting alongside camisoles and candles, they have stood convention on its head: If their presence once lent cachet to the clothes, today it is the artist who seeks to borrow fashion’s luster.


Ruth La Ferla
New York Times