By Bruce Poli
Few galleries have a backstory like this one.
Art of Our Century, which opened at 137 West 14th Street in January, was named with a reverential wink at Peggy Guggenheim. It is located in the space that housed New York’s first Spanish-language bookstore—Librería Lectorum—and run by a true child of the Village. It was also the first gallery to safely reopen after the pandemic.
“We were classified as a retail business, as we try to sell things—art—and we don’t charge admission,” said gallery director Tim McDarrah. “It worked out beautifully. People put on their masks and were so happy to get out of the house and see art in person again.”
McDarrah grew up under the desks at the Village Voice newspaper, where his father Fred W. McDarrah was the paper’s first picture editor and, for decades, its only photographer. Tim often accompanied his father to artist’s studios, gallery openings, and other cultural events that were the bailiwick of the late alternative weekly paper. His childhood included crayon work with Andy Warhol, digging holes in Central Park with Claes Oldenburg, and asking Nam June Paik why his TVs didn’t have any cartoons playing on them.
Last fall, after a career in journalism and then having been sidelined by a cancer diagnosis (now in remission), McDarrah was at the McBurney Y on West 14th Street with an artist friend who was lamenting that his pop-up show had been canceled. McDarrah explains, “I said to him, ‘Well, I have a friend that inherited a building down the street and there’s an open loft. I’ll open a gallery for you.’ He looked at me like I was bat-shit crazy.” The friend was the son of the couple that had opened Librería Lectorum in 1960 on what was then a Spanish-influenced strip of West 14th Street.
Long story short, Art of Our Century was born; the name is derivative of Guggenheim’s legendary 1942-47 gallery.
Acknowledging he had zero experience running a gallery, McDarrah assembled a team to help insure success; the group includes legendary gallerist Patti Astor of Fun Gallery fame (she put graffiti on the map and first exhibited Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat), curator and art advisor John Gagne of Gagne Contemporary, and young gallerists Ali Haselbeck and Katerina Levantis.
Like Guggenheim, McDarrah aims to showcase works by established artists, and also exhibit works of lesser-known artists, often for the first time, and always artists with some personal connection.
The August show, for example, was of solo paintings by Suzanne Scott who lives on Waverly Place and was an assistant to Bond Street resident and global art icon Chuck Close. “One of the first professional interviews I ever conducted was with Close. So it made sense that one of our first shows had a Close collection,” McDarrah said.
Opening September 10th is a show by Uman, the Somali-born gender-fluid multimedia artist who has been friends with McDarrah for years.
“I am fortunate that I met my landlord at PS 41 when I was eight, and that he too believes in art, personal relationships and the bohemian and artistic legacy of Greenwich Village,” said McDarrah. “And hey, if you can’t champion your talented friends, then what’s the point of having a gallery?”