New York According to: Jacob Robichaux of Gordon Robichaux

The co-founder of the Union Square gallery explains the pros of its ninth-floor location and shares favorite cultural spots including the Dream House and murals by Martin Wong at the LGBTQ Center

in Frieze New York , Interviews | 23 APR 24

In this new series, gallerists showing at Frieze fairs share an insider perspective on their neighbourhoods and cities. Founded by artists Sam Gordon and Jacob Robichaux, Gordon Robichaux in Union Square nurtures and promotes under-recognized and emerging artists – many self-taught – and offers new perspectives on established artists. Co-founder Jacob Robichaux talks about having a space on the ninth floor and sharing a building with Peter Hujar’s former acupuncturist.

What’s great about your gallery’s location? 

My life in New York City began at Union Square. I moved here in 1997, lived in a dorm on the same block as our gallery, and my classes and studio at Parsons were a few blocks away. It didn’t occur to me until after we opened Gordon Robichaux that I ended up back where I started. 

Installation view (b) Otis Houston Jr. 'All Eyes on Who_' at Gordon Robichaux 2024, Courtesy Gordon Robichaux, NY_Photo Greg Carideo
Otis Houston Jr., “All Eyes on Who?” at Gordon Robichaux 2024. Courtesy Gordon Robichaux, NY. Photo Greg Carideo

Union Square is a connective space with a major intersection of subway and bus lines, a public forum for protest and celebration, and a farmers’ market on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The area has a rich history of art and culture, and many artists have made work here: Leon Polk Smith had a studio in our building; Antonio Lopez was down the block; and one of our artists, Kerry Schuss, had a loft on the opposite side of the park, above Max’s Kansas City, during the 1970s. Two of Warhol’s studios, which also housed Interview magazine, were here. The Palladium, Cedar Tavern, and the first location of the New Museum were in the neighborhood, and Duchamp created Étant donnés in secret a few blocks south of here.

Our gallery is up on the ninth floor so anyone who decides to visit us does so with intention and purpose. The few people who happen upon us by chance are usually in the building to take a pilates class, or to have a treatment with Peter Hujar’s former acupuncturist. People ask us regularly when we’ll move to a ground floor location. That’s not part of our vision. I love it up here—it’s an intimate space and it allows us to engage directly with visitors in a distinct way. 

What changes have you seen in your neighborhood since the gallery opened? 

The same changes (and stores) I see most places I go, with a few holdouts like Rainbow Falafel. Recently a new building has blocked part of our view of the Empire State Building. Thankfully one of our artists, Tabboo!, made a great painting of the view out that window a couple of years ago. 

Cara Bookstore, NYC
CARA Bookstore

Why would you recommend your neighborhood area to art lovers new to New York? 

There’s great art to see in our area: CARA; the Martin Wong, Thomas Lanigan Schmidt, and Keith Haring murals at the LGBTQ Center; Fragment Gallery; and White Columns.

Martin Wong mural at the Center
Martin Wong mural at The Center

Can you explain the ethos of your gallery and what unites your artists?

We’re both artists and that’s shaped our vision for Gordon Robichaux. Community and collaboration are our ethos. There’s so much art being made and shown right now. We think carefully about how we can contribute something different or otherwise overlooked. We enjoy collaborating closely with artists who have diverse life experiences, and we share respect and excitement for many self-taught artists whose work is often excluded from a contemporary art context. A number of our artists are self-taught, two came to the US to seek asylum, two we met through Visual AIDS, one is an archivist and activist, another makes most of his art on the street, and others are artists whose work we and our friends love and respect. 

We didn’t know we were opening a gallery when we started, so most of this evolved organically. We’d worked with many of our artists before we opened, and we were developing a project and book with our friend—artist Matt Connors—that we planned to present at someone else’s gallery. That project became our first show.

Sam Gordon, artist and curator Jenni Crain, and Jacob Robichaux
Sam Gordon, artist and curator Jenni Crain, and Jacob Robichaux 

Favorite museum or gallery in New York?

The Dream House 

Last exhibition you went to?

Sonia Delaunay at the Bard Graduate Center, Agosto Machado’s shrine installation at MoMA, Janet Olivia Henry at Stars, an auction preview of old Disneyland drawings and props, and Lynn Hershman Leeson at Bridget Donahue. 

Janet Olivia Henry at Stars
Janet Olivia Henry at Stars

Which emerging artists or media excite you at the moment?

Deondre Davis, an LA-based artist who is having his first solo show at Gordon Robichaux in May. 

What’s different about the New York art scene to that of other cities? 

New York is a big engine with intensity and density. 

What is Frieze Library and why is the project important to you? 

Sam Gordon came up with this genius idea: “a curatorial collaboration between a fair, a magazine, a museum, and a gallery.” It’s true to the spirit of Gordon Robichaux. All galleries participating in Frieze are invited to submit one publication that is displayed at the fair, then donated to the Thomas J. Watson Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or The National Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Over 400 books have entered the collection of the Watson Library since the program’s inception in 2019. 

Knead Love Bakery, NYC
Knead Love Bakery, Union Square, NYC

Favorite place to eat in your area?  

Knead Love Bakery at the Union Square farmers’ market on Wednesday and Saturday. 

Best bar near the gallery?

News Bar on University Place.

Your most recommended local business? 

The Compleat Sculptor

Best thing about New York?

The people.

Worst thing about New York? 

That the city isn’t supporting its people who are unhoused and without access to healthcare and mental health services.

Gordon Robichaux is participating in Frieze New York 2024 (stand F07) with a solo presentation of Reverend Joyce Mcdonald. 

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Main image: Otis Houston Jr., “All Eyes on Who?” at Gordon Robichaux 2024. Courtesy Gordon Robichaux, NY. Photo Greg Carideo