Bridget DonahueSECOND FLOOR

photography by Clement Pascal
written by Becky Elmquist


Susan Cianciolo – Hologram Box, 2015


Nestled at the busy intersection of Bowery and Hester lies Bridget Donahue’s second floor namesake that opened its doors earlier to much buzz this year.

Gavin Brown’s enterprise alumni and co-owner of Cleopatra’s, an explorative gallery space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Donahue is one of the most instinct-driven people I’ve ever met. Donahue’s idea to create an environment with strong community roots, void of pretention makes her an anomaly in the market and trend- driven business of the current art world.
Donahue does not seem at all worried about the trajectory of her new gallery. For her, this next step “feels natural,” by now a comfortable philosophy for Donahue. Having recently celebrated its 7th year anniversary in June, Cleopatra’s, or “Cleo’s”, implemented and fostered an open-forum space throughout the tenure of the gallery. This “passion project” is fully funded by the women involved including Donahue, Erin Somerville, Bridget Finn, and Colleen Grennan. At Cleo’s the art market isn’t entertained and commerce is left at the door. With their loosely defined mission, Cleo’s is a space for experimentation, and a place to bring together artists who haven’t previously participated in an exhibition format, resulting in programming that is a reflection of pure interest and intrigue.

This conception and philosophy bleeds into Donahue’s new space. “The gallery’s programming is defined through reverential relationships with the artists,” says Donahue. Her inaugural exhibition with Lynn Hershman Leeson was a perfect example of this reverence, and resulted in a micro-retrospective that scaled over five decades of the artist’s work.

Donahue met Leeson while working at Gavin Brown’s enterprise and knew that timing for an exhibition would be key. She began to give weight to the “gnawing feeling in her gut” and the possibilities the work might have given a presentation opportunity in the new gallery space.

With an enormous international push of Leeson’s work in late 2014, as the result of a monograph and career retrospective in Germany, Leeson told Donahue she needed to source a venue in New York for her work. “On a more sympathetic motivation I really exploited the timing well; we received a ton of press from this show. One, because she deserves it, two, because this body of work is infinitely interesting, and three, the wheels were totally greased for this.” This “perfect storm” culmina- ting with Donahue’s ability to trust her instinct supported a comeback of sorts for Leeson and her work. Beginning in 2008, gallerists saw an opportunity for expansion in the Lower East Side.


Lynn Hershman Leeson – Breathing Machine II, 1968





Industry leaders such as Lisa Cooley, Laurel Gitlen, and Rachel Uffner Gallery, took up position for the next step in this new territory. “I am chiming in when everyone is locating to a larger space,” says Donahue of her own timing. For Donahue, it became more about space when she broadened her search to second floor spaces, something that rarely works and is often seen as a scary, bold move by contemporaries.

The lack of storefront doesn’t seem to deter visitors to the gallery. Spatially, Donahue is gradually defining the functionality of each room in the gallery. For example, sculpture artist Jessi Reaves is housing an ongoing showroom in the office – semipermanent in nature, as the work both serves as the gallery’s office furniture and is currently for sale. “How great is it psychologically that we are able to sit on her work all day,” says Donahue of Reaves’ work, which toys with the idea of functionality and its relationship to the art object. Throughout the duration of our interview, Donahue’s enthusiasm steadily increased at the mere mention of these artists. Her thirst for discovery is inspiring; she truly loves what she does. To “tell other people about these artists through my own enthusiasm is great, (yet sometimes exhausting) and it justifies my goals for the space,” says Donahue. I find her blend of presentation intriguing.



Martine Syms – Dedication, 2014; For nights like these, 2014

The idea of presenting a micro-retrospective as an inaugural show, rather than commissioning a new body of work, provides at once a new route of introduction for each of her artists and a historical context to couch this introduction. Donahue attributes “trusting her gut” as her foolproof entry into her expansive investigation of each artist she represents. Though her program has been immensely celebrated and has garnered a massive amount of support early on, she found quickly that she was pigeonholed into a gallerist that solely supports “underappreciated, overlooked woman artists.” Donahue points out, with a light hearted tone, that “No one would ever label a program ‘male-driven’… The program instead focuses on exhibiting good artists.”

The gallery’s second exhibition centered on multimedia artist and designer Susan Cianciolo, who moved to New York in the 1980s and ran her own fashion line for six years as a leader in the deconstructionist fashion movement. Following shows are with Los Angeles-based Martine Syms and London-based John Russell who couldn’t be more different, yet continue to expand the program’s range and intention. Of her tenure at Gavin Brown’s enterprise Donahue says, “I began on the eve of their expansion and ended in the moment where he was moving to Harlem, a nice bookended moment where many of the artists scaled up.” Her footprint and influence at Gavin Brown’s enterprise provided Donahue with the momentum for her current position, where she has found her own space, a strong and eclectic lineup of emerging and established artists, and a keen curatorial eye that allows to present their work with innovation.

Donahue is an active participant in the industry and her “self seeking” and inquisitive nature is refreshing in the often times-vapid art world. 2015 has served Donahue well, and, with good reason, she is confident and excited about the future of her gallery location and her artists.