In 2010, Olivier Babin was sleeping on a sofa at night and struggling by day as an artist when he decided to empty out his studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He would give up making work of his own and turned the space into an art gallery, Clearing, which now operates in Brussels, Brooklyn and, as of this fall, Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Today the gallery represents some of the most in-demand new talent, such as Korakrit Arunanondchai, as well as established figures, like Huma Bhabha.
“We started from the bottom because we were at the bottom,” says Babin, who is from Belgium. Although he chose Bushwick for practical reasons—“there’s definitely nothing else anywhere else that we would have been able to afford”—it had the unexpected benefit of putting him in close proximity to fabricators and artist studios, and also afforded him more space than other neighborhoods. Working alongside so many young artists, he began to pluck talent early from graduate schools, as he did with the painter Sebastian Black, who was a student at Columbia University when Babin first visited his studio in 2011. A few months later, they did their first show together in Bushwick.
“People were kind of in and out of the space,” Black says. “Olivier made lots of strong coffee and there was a ton of snow outside which never seemed to get plowed. I don’t know why, but everything, including stomping through the snow, felt like just the right amount of informal for me.”
Babin has been gradually expanding Clearing ever since, turning it into a rare example of an artist-founded gallery that has real influence. In 2014, he moved the Bushwick gallery into a space five times its original size, also on Johnson Avenue. Then, earlier this year, he moved his Brussels gallery from a townhouse to a 5,400-square-foot space on Avenue Van Volxemlaan. He christened the new gallery with an exhibition of monumental sculptures by the late Austrian artist Bruno Gironcoli, whose estate he recently began representing. Additionally, on September 7 Black opened a show of new paintings in the Brussels gallery. “We decided let’s work together on a basis deeper than project to project and that’s how it’s been ever since,” Black says.
Babin has barely had time to catch his breath, he announced yet another expansion this fall: an office and public showroom on the Upper East Side, handily located between the Carlyle Hotel and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “That’s an entire new world that is opening for us,” Babin says, “and on the good days we will get to eat lunch in the park.”