Over the past decade, Karma’s art galleries have been taking over a stretch of Second Street in the East Village of Manhattan. Founded by art dealer and trained graphic designer Brendan Dugan, Karma’s three galleries and bookstore have cultivated a reputation for showcasing eclectic works by a roster of intergenerational contemporary artists. Some exhibitions—like the upcoming group show Painting in New York: 1971–83which will display the work of Faith Ringgold, Lois Lane, and other women painters from feminism’s second wave—even span Karma’s multiple galleries, which are directed by Sïniša Mačković. Others have gone on to be memorialized in monographs sold at the bookstore. Dubbed the gallery’s “crown jewel,” Karma’s newest outpost adds over 2,500 square feet of exhibition space to the gallery’s already-sizable footprint in the East Village.
When architect Neil Logan first encountered the space, it was a far cry from the white cube ideal. To execute the transformation, Logan enlisted architectural designer Jasper Campshure who the architect credits with running the project. “The aged brick building was slightly out of scale, and on a mostly residential block it didn’t reveal its function,” Logan says of the structure, whose brick facade was graffitied and lacked windows and natural light.
The adaptive reuse project marked the architect’s return to gallery design after spending much of the past decade focused on workplaces, residences, and artist studios. “While we have worked on several workspaces for artists, it has been some time since we designed a gallery,” he says.
Once home to a midcentury glazier’s shop, the building was later converted to an experimental theater and performance venue that retained the industrial features of the original workshop. While Logan took care to bring the interiors up to par for Karma’s exhibitions of work by the likes of Nicolas Party and Gertrude Abercrombie, among others, he took note of the extant concrete slab floor, exposed brick, and wooden joinery.
“For the conversion to an art gallery showing both new and historically important artwork, the building was transformed into a series of proportionally varied rooms,” Logan says. The rough-hewn architectural elements he took note of in the original space were subtly preserved in the gallery’s primary exhibition room, creating an ethereal effect.
“This principal room exhibits the tension between typical ‘white cube’ gallery space and the desire to retain the building’s essential character by exposing the original brick and steel roof beams, and centering the space around a single large skylight,” he says.
In addition to the exhibition room, the gallery also features a reception area and private viewing room, as well as back-of-house facilities like an office, kitchenette, and storage. The use of custom, oak millwork throughout the non-exhibition spaces balances out the austerity of the monochrome palette.
A new storefront features oversize clerestory windows, while panels of steel, glass, and brick beams are rendered in a dusky black hue. The result is an undulating architectural rhythm, ready to engage passersby, artists, and clients alike.