Koray Duman is the go-to architect for the Lower East Side Galleries

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Osman Can Yerebakan

Architect Koray Duman. Photo by Kunning Huang. Courtesy of Koray Duman.

Architect Koray Duman’s designs for the art world have taught him that there is an affinity between artists and architects. “One great thing about working with artists is that, like people in my field, they obsess over a detail and they don’t let that go unnoticed,” he told Artsy. Perhaps for this very reason, the founder of the Lower East Side Büro Koray Duman has amassed an impressive client list of artists and gallery owners, many of whom found his practice through word of mouth.

Candice Madey — the founder of an eponymous Rivington Street storefront space originally designed by Duman in 2016 for her former gallery On Stellar Rays — recommended it to artist Miranda Fengyuan Zhang, who was looking for an architect for her studio in the hinterland was. sperm house. Zhang then connected Koray to Matthew Wood, the co-founder of Mendes Wood DM, when this Brazilian gallery decided to open a shop in a 7,000-square-foot Tribeca lot last fall. Wood turned to Duman again to work on his new upstate gallery outpost, located in an 18th-century barn in Germantown, New York, slated to open in September. That year, Duman also directed the design of Helena Anrather’s new Bowery storefront, which was moved from a second-floor space in the same neighborhood to a new location and tripled in size.

Mendes Wood DM in Tribeca. Courtesy of Mendes Wood DM.

Duman, 45, believes the pandemic has led to a shared vulnerability and a “dropping of the guard” that has “affected the way we engage with indoors,” he said. “Young galleries today want visitors to feel comfortable and even hang out.” He believes that white cubes and their stereotypically distant energy (a trait associated with Chelsea’s warehouse format) are now evolving into more welcoming spaces whose programming – and design – this reflects and invites the public to linger longer.

“We put a big table and some stools in front of the gallery for people to hang out at Mendes Wood DM,” he pointed out, “and a bench in front of a window at Helena.” The second part of Mendes Wood’s Tribeca section DM, also scheduled to open this September, will have a backyard patio adorned with plants.

“Juilia Wachtel: Fulfillment” at Helena Anrather’s new premises on the Bowery. Courtesy of Helena Arathers and the artist.

Duman’s big break came in 2014 when he was introduced to Richard Prince by the artist’s former studio manager. The Pictures Generation artist was quick to commission Duman to convert a four-story, 11,000-square-foot industrial building in Harlem into his studio. The following year, Prince again challenged the architect to design his foundation in upstate New York, a 5,000-square-foot exhibition and storage space located on 250 acres of land.

This relationship would continue to pay off. A board member of the Noguchi Museum happened to be a Prince collector and suggested that Duman’s company be included in the select few invited to propose projects for the museum’s art and archives building in 2016. Office Koray Duman won the competition and is creating a 5,600-square-foot, single-story brick building that will also include a research room and storage areas. (The project is located next to the historic studio of polymath minimalist Isamu Noguchi and has been shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Most recently, when the Martos Gallery needed help displaying Bob Smith’s intricate box constructions for the summer exhibition Bob Smith: Art Remains A Witness To A Life, a close mutual friend from the late artist’s estate put them in touch with Duman. The architect proposed some sketches, including a cabinet of curiosities and a snake table, for the exhibition of around 40 sculptures that the artist created mainly in the 1980s in response to the AIDS crisis. The mutual agreement between Koray and the exhibition’s curator, Bob Nickas, was for a set of stainless steel bases inspired by the tables Smith designed for his own exhibition in France in 1968 – a fitting homage to the first exhibition of this body of work in France three decades.

This wasn’t the first time Duman had taken on the role of exhibition designer: in 2015 he designed a Frieze exhibition stand in London for Amie Siegel’s solo presentation with the Simon Preston Gallery. However, the architect’s first flirtation with the New York art world was to volunteer with the non-profit organization Creative Time and erect their Anthony McCall installation on Governors Island in 2009.

Duman moved to the United States from his native Turkey in 1998 to pursue a master’s degree in architecture from UCLA. After graduating, Duman worked for five years at Frederick Fisher and Partners in Los Angeles, which oversaw the design of various cultural projects across the country, including the renovation of MoMA PS1.

“When I moved to New York in 2005, my portfolio was heavily art-related projects, so naturally I started helping young galleries, mostly in the Lower East Side,” explained Duman. One lesson he learned working in the city was to embrace the reality of existing architecture. He approaches gallery design as “a balance between working around the constraints of space and how the gallery wants to be perceived,” he said.

Historical elements such as columns or tin ceilings are features that Duman emphasizes and resists the generic white cube designs that are so common. He’s also keen to take on unconventional ideas when galleries have them, like when the Bowery’s Arsenal Contemporary asked him to avoid the typical back office for an open table and front desk. “The important question is to create space for meaningful exhibitions in an often irregular structure,” he said.

The Lower East Side has been Duman’s primary focus of life and work, and he has a deep affection for the downtown scene. “The scale is much more human downtown and the informality feels less threatening,” he said. “Galleries can be more in-between and experiment.” His involvement with the area has always been along those lines, such as the collaboration between Madey and Duman, who eventually relocated his firm to the gallery owner’s former premises. Setting up an architectural office in a former showroom led to “second floor salon sessions” where the two art and design friends invited for casual chats.

Art Remains A Witness To A Life, an exhibition of Bob Smith’s work at Martos Gallery. Image courtesy of Martos Gallery and the artist’s estate.

The series is another outgrowth of Duman’s community-based approach to the art world. Through these get-togethers, for example, he has connected Protocinema founder Mari Spirito to the Lower East Side organization The Clemente, where the Istanbul and New York-based nonprofit arts organization recently hosted a group show entitled Now That We Have Established A Common Ground. ”

Duman was more than happy to help, even if it wasn’t with one of his designs. “I like my role of being a help to artists,” he said, “supporting them with my time or finances to make their ideas come true.”

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