Whitehot Magazine

Here No More: Lexi Bishop on the History and Future of Pittsburgh’s Commercial Art Galleries

Photography by Chris Uhren.


By EMMA RIVA April 1, 2024

To find Lexi Bishop’s gallery, you had to type “here” into Google Maps. The name located you in a present, where you were, bringing yourself into her space. The actual location of here gallery was Pittsburgh’s Mexican War Streets, a neighborhood named as such for its streets monikered Buena Vista, Monterrey, Jacksonia, and Sampsonia. Much of Mexican War Streets has historic preservation status for its elegant Victorian homes and cobble-stoned streets, but it was also home to contemporary art museum the Mattress Factory. That was what made Bishop choose a gallery space on Taylor Avenue, just blocks away from the Mattress Factory’s artist residency.  

But as of February 2024, here is, well, not there. Bishop announced a sabbatical and shuttered the gallery doors. 

Bishop came to Pittsburgh from a career as Associate Director at Los Angeles’s Nino Mier Gallery and an educational and professional background at Christie’s Auction House. Here, established as a physical space in 2021, was a liaison for the social organism that is “the art world” into the Pittsburgh art landscape, which has many artist-run spaces and nonprofits but little presence in the wider commercial art market outside of the Carnegie International. Pittsburgh does have a few commercial art galleries—ZYNKA Gallery, which mostly caters to an established collector base, and Concept Art Gallery, which also functions as an auction house—but Bishop brought a cool factor that changed the city’s market. 

“Everything in Pittsburgh is word of mouth,” Bishop said. “It was a fun three years, and there really was an appetite for what I was soing. One thing I really appreciate about it in comparison to other cities I’ve lived in is that people really wanted to know you and were really excited to have something new in the arts.” A key element of Bishop’s space was that it was explicitly not a nonprofit—it was a commercial gallery. here showed at New Art Dealer’s Alliance (NADA) in New York and Barely Fair in Chicago, where it was often the only Pittsburgh gallery represented. “The most fun thing about doing those fairs was that people saw Pittsburgh as exotic,” she said. 

Having a Pittsburgh gallery at reputable art fairs was a small contribution to what Bishop called a “marketing problem” for the city. She reflected: “I feel like until pretty recently I didn’t know what was going on in the city. The only time I read about Pittsburgh in the art news was the sexual assault scandal at the Mattress Factory.” (Ironically, Pittsburgh’s newest presence in the art news is scandals at the Andy Warhol Museum). “There isn’t cultural caché around being in the arts here as there is even in cities like Cleveland,” Bishop said. “If you really want to support artists in their careers, commercial galleries support artists the most. But I think people think commercial is dirty somehow, and the Pittsburgh art scene can be unnecessarily competitive when there isn’t a big culture of buying in the first place.” 

This wasn’t always the case. Willa Cather writes in “On Various Minor Painters” excerpted in Edward Hirsch’s Writers on Art that “…buying pictures and getting people to look at them has been exemplified in at least three cities in the United States: New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. As a result, those three cities contain nearly all the important collections in the United States.” Cather does quip, though: “[Pittsburgh] is not a city of culture […] but one thing Carnegie did; he bought pictures and got people to look at them.” This, however, was in 1895. Carnegie’s steel boom eventually busted, and the city’s identity changed.  

When I spoke to Bishop about here’s closure, I fully expected her to cite the reason as the lack of interest in collection and the arts in Pittsburgh, and to say that she might want to move back to the more developed commercial gallery scene in trendier cities. But what I found was a more optimistic and nuanced story. “Much of here closing was logistical,” she explained. “My lease was up. I realized how important doing fairs was, but also how expensive. It cost me, no joke, five months of rent to do NADA. I don’t know how people do it. But I also don’t know how anyone survives without outside of Pittsburgh clients.” She saw REYES | FINN, a small gallery in Detroit whose business model she followed, shut their doors in 2023, and she came to the realization that the big-fish-small-pond commercial gallery model might not be sustainable. 

Photography by Chris Uhren.

Another facet that made here financially untenable was its location on the North Side of the city.  Bishop soon realized that “a lot of people don’t cross bridges, and a lot of my collectors were East End collectors. It wasn’t the right neighborhood for me.” For a potential re-opening, she would put it in Garfield, Pittsburgh’s de facto art district home to Bunker Projects and Silver Eye Center for Photography, two of the city’s most established contemporary galleries, as well as project spaces like Inter- or LikeLike. Garfield hosts “Unblurred,” a monthly First Friday gallery crawl responsible for a large portion of sales and engagement within the Pittsburgh art scene. “I also want to do more experimental works and more community engagement with the next iteration of here,” she said. 

Her penultimate and final shows, Ester Petukhova’s If and When You Find Me and Lydia Rosenberg’s Lamp Store, did have that more experimental, more community-oriented feeling. There was a definite shift in the programming that perhaps spoke to a future direction for here. Petukhova’s featured an opening with a live DJ playing Soviet-inspired dance music and a cocktail inspired by the work. Rosenberg’s hosted its opening during the day and framed it as a “grand opening” of an actual store, with coffee and donuts for sale. Both also sold editions of their work at a lower price point. 

But what surprised me most in my conversations with Bishop was that rather than taking here’s closing as a black mark on local interest in the commercial galleries or high-value collection that’s soured her on the city forever, she sees it as time off to work on other projects specifically focused on art history and culture in Pittsburgh. Her future projects include archival documentary work about all the art spaces in Pittsburgh going back to the 1800s. One example she mentioned was The Store, a gallery in a small neighborhood just outside of the city that showed Alexander Calder’s Circus. Very little exists online about many of these spaces, and documentation of it could help highlight the richness of art history in Pittsburgh and pave the way for future spaces. 

There also already are new players to connect Pittsburgh to the wIder art market: Margaret Kross, writer and former curator at the Whitney, runs ROMANCE, an apartment gallery on the East End. Philip Andrew Lewis and Lenka Clayton, two artists known for their work with the Mattress Factory and the Troy Hill Art Houses, have started Gallery Closed, a public art-gallery space project bringing in work by names as prestigious as Louise Bourgeois. 

Bishop was hardly dour or jaded about the local art scene, either. She cited for local artists to “know the market…there are so many opportunities in Cleveland, Buffalo, Cincinnati. There are open calls everywhere, too.” She suggested SHRINE, a New York gallery that recently launched a submission platform for artists anywhere.  Or, “If you’re not getting a show, do your own show,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be in a traditional space. Do it in an alleyway, do it in a park…Jacquline Cedar, who runs Good Naked gallery, I remember she did a show in Prospect Park hanging gallery pieces on trees. There’s so much space that’s available and people are hungry to engage in that way. I’m optimistic about the future and I’d love to reopen the gallery in the next year.” WM

Emma Riva

Emma Riva is an art writer, author, and curator based in Pittsburgh, PA. She serves as the managing editor of UP, an international online and print magazine covering street art, graffiti, fine arts, and their intersections in popular culture. She is also a masthead staff writer at Belt Magazine and a contributor to Bunker Review, Widewalls, Carnegie Magazine, and Rust Belt Girl. She published her first novel, Night Shift in Tamaqua, in 2021. More about her can be found on her website and Instagram.

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