While most of those in the art world — plus everyone else — are watching their wallets, one new gallery is spending like it’s a pre-bailout boomtown. On November 24, Croatian-born ex-department-store mogul Ana Tzarev will open a 14,000-square-foot, two-story, ground-floor eponymous gallery, in which she will sell only her own paintings, in the West 57th Street building that’s home to tony galleries like Marian Goodman and Galerie St Etienne. Tzarev’s property, outfitted with a central glass elevator wrapped in a spiral staircase, is just home base for Tzarev’s extravagant coming-out party. To announce its arrival, the gallery launched a lavish advertising campaign, including splashy billboard spreads, print ads in The New Yorker and W magazine, and an estimated $250,000 worth of ads on city buses. And it’s hawking Tzarev’s paintings for up to $500,000 — for an unknown artist, not exactly priced to sell.
The gallery, though, doesn’t seem too concerned about catering to a post-meltdown marketplace. “The universe of collectors has probably shrunk in the last few months,” executive business director, Reed McMillan, who describes the gallery as a “start-up,” acknowledges, “but we haven’t changed our plans.” “We’re cautious of the future,” he says, “but not afraid.” Tzarev, who acquired her fortune after she and her husband, Robert Chandler, sold their department-store chain, Chandler House, in 1987 — the two now split their time between Monaco and Thailand — is relying on her retail credentials. “It never occurred to me to market through an existing gallery,” says Tzarev, whose legal name is Marija Guina (she adopted her mother’s maiden name). “It feels natural for me to open my doors directly to people.” She and McMillan, who both talk about “building brand recognition,” aren’t shy about the corporate overtone of the enterprise. “Her multi-panels look great in lobbies, hotels, office buildings,” McMillan says. Or they might if those businesses had any cash left to buy them.