Walking along W. 22nd Street yesterday, on my way to the galleries on the west side of Chelsea, I realized I had often walked this way before. Looking at the familiar houses and recognizing several stoops, I recalled the series I wrote last December on the literature of Christmas and how I've already pointed out several places near here.
This time, however, I was on a different mission - first, to see one of the films screened for yesterday's formal opening of SVA's Visual Arts Theatre on W. 23rd St. Designed by Milton Glaser and inspired by Vladimir Tatlin's never-realized constructivist monument (see Wikipedia article), the complex features state-of-the-art projection systems in its two theatres and is now one of the best places to see a film in town. Second, I had plans to walk west to see several exhibitions that opened the cultural season in Chelsea. Still, though I had been here before, walking the same streets becomes a new experience each time. Furthermore, the last several months have brought important changes to Chelsea. While not apparent along the residential side streets, the neighborhood continues to draw new development, especially near the High Line.
Walking along the residential blocks of W. 22nd Street to the western end of Chelsea, as opposed to walking along the wider and busier W. 23rd St., makes for a pleasurable stroll from the subway stop on 8th Avenue to the galleries. A couple of years ago I thought walking to the Chelsea gallery district was almost impossible. Things are changing. The installation of bike lines and plantings of green things along the avenues have softened these streets, making them more pleasant to cross and to explore. Chelsea is much more accessible with the opening of the High Line, and though the current northern exit of the above-ground walkway is on 20th Street, its planned extension north to 30th St. will further link the gallery district with the rest of humanity. The new condo construction in evidence in the neighborhood presages the shape of Things to Come (and coincidentally, the title of the 1936 movie I had just seen in the SVA Theatre). The galleries just need to hang in there through slow economic times.
View An Art Walk in Chelsea for a Weekday Afternoon, and Places to Stay for the Night in a larger map
Listed on the enlarged map are many well-known galleries along W. 22nd and W. 24th Street, although the streets to the north and south are lined with many more. Look for gallery guides online to plan a visit. I like to use oneartworld.com.
Also, if you are planning a trip to New York and open to new ideas, look into the hotels and inns of Chelsea. I've noted a few recommendations on the map. In general, the area offers some breathing room from the congestion of midtown, and walking the residential streets in the morning and afternoon has a way of clearing one's head. I've also noted on the map the location of London Terrace, a massive complex of much-desired pre-war apartments, as well as a few places to rest and get something to eat. A cupcake and a cup of coffee at Billy's Bakery, a comfortable spot on 9th Avenue, provided just what I needed yesterday in order to fortify myself for fifteen exhibitions of contemporary art. The walk itself is only a mile, so plan to spend much of the time wandering the galleries.
Images from September 16, 2009 by Walking Off the Big Apple. From top to bottom - 1. a block on W. 22nd St.; 2. the SVA Theatre on W. 23rd (between 8th and 9th Avenues); 3. W. 22nd (between 10th and 11th Avenues); and 4. The Gem Hotel, 300 W. 22nd St.