We Schmooze with the Artists and Organizers Behind Katz’s Pop-Up Gallery, “The Space”

A limited-run pop-up gallery and retail shop has opened next to Katz's in celebration of the famed deli's 125th year anniversary. It closes this Friday, so go see it while you can.

  • Photograph by H. Spencer Young
  • Photograph by Ricky Powell
  • Artwork by Rich Tu
  • Artwork by Krystal Persaud
  • Artwork by Kenzo Minami
  • Lighter by Baron Von Fancy
  • Artwork by Young and Sick
  • Artwork by Hyp Inc, and Rich Tu
  • Photograph by Levy
  • Photograph by Ricky Powell

All photos by Kevin Albinder.

Last fall, the famed Katz’s Delicatessen in NYC opened a pop-up gallery called “The Space,” featuring art and apparel inspired by the legendary restaurant. This week is your last chance to see the exhibition (it closes Jan. 31st), so you better run quick to 203 East Houston Street before it’s too late. We recently stopped by to find out more regarding what the show is all about.

“Food is art,” says Jake Dell, the third generation-owner of NYC’s most legendary smoked-meat purveyor, Katz’s delicatessen. Dell’s grandfather bought into the restaurant back in 1988, but the storied deli has been open for 125 years.

“This is a museum that sells food,” Mr. Dell said while gesturing around his storied deli. “It’s a cultural artifact.”

So it makes sense that in October of last year, when the Tim Horton’s next door to Katz’s went out of business, Dell and his crew decided to use the space as a pop-up gallery/retail shop, in celebration of Katz’s 125 year anniversary.

Emma Riley, a longtime friend of Mr. Dell’s, curated the works currently on display at the gallery, dubbed “The Space.” For this anniversary show, she featured a group of artists with a range of styles and levels of experience, but she made sure they were all true locals.

“They’re all New Yorkers”, said Ms. Riley. “Either born and bred, or live and breathe here, work here, create art here.” The artists were urged to create something that expressed their connection to the Lower East Side, as well as to Katz’s.”

“This is a museum that sells food,” Mr. Dell said while gesturing around his deli. “It’s a cultural artifact.”

The collaborators came to Riley through a number of channels; some were old acquaintances through an art collective she’d worked with, and some—as in the case of famed hip-hop photographer Ricky Powell—reached out to her, eager to participate.

For many of the participating artists, the project was personal. Parsons-trained artist Kenzo Minami says Katz’s has always felt essential to the fabric of New York. Before moving from Japan, his associations with the city included “Bob Dylan walking down West 4th street, Bill Evans playing at Village Vanguard on Sunday, and Woody Allen as Alvy Singer quietly judging Annie Hall ordering a pastrami sandwich on white bread with mayo.”

The iconic Katz’s signage—a beloved landmark of the Lower East Side—features prominently in many of the works on display. Meanwhile, prolific New York City artist and illustrator Rich Tu focused on the classic Word War II deli slogan, “Send a salami to your boy in the Army”.

Design company HYP-INC contributed several whimsical prints inspired by Katz’s iconography.

The art project Young & Sick contributed a canvas depicting a salivating Chasidic Jew, complete with a thick beard, black hat, and peyot. The painting was purchased by the comedian Jerry Stiller (also known as George Costanza’s dad on Seinfeld.)

Riley, a California transplant, forged a connection to delis when she was regaled with tales of pastrami piled high on rye as a child, by her New Yorker artist parents.

The above photos, which show the artists’ Katz’s-inspired work at The Space, were contributed by Katz’s manager Kevin Albinder. Go check out the exhibition while you still can while you still can, and don’t forget to pick up a pastrami on rye before getting back on the train. 

The Space: 203 East Houston Street (open everyday from 11am–8pm)

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