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Where a visitor can see some of the choicest art; A guide to New York's refreshing out-of-the-way galleries

By Theodore F. Wolff / September 21, 1982

New York

Some of the best galleries in New York are rather small and somewhat out of the way. Not everyone knows of them, for they very seldom hold spectacular exhibitions, or push what is ''in.''

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Their opening receptions, if they hold any, tend to be quiet affairs with only the artist, a few of his friends, and a handful of serious collectors in attendance. The art is discreetly and tastefully hung, with good lighting and clearly printed labels. And the atmosphere is relaxed, with the viewer made to feel comfortable and under no pressure to buy.

Unimpressive? Perhaps, but these are the galleries where some of the choicest Old Master and contemporary works of art can be found. Where an exquisite Degas pastel will hang next to a Redon floral and beside a Cezanne drawing. Where Grosz and Schiele watercolors occupy one wall, and choice German Expressionist oils another. And where one can find superb smaller works by anyone from Schwitters, Picasso, Burchfield, or Dine - to the most talented of recent art-school graduates, or old-timers trying for a comeback.

And if the art in these galleries is exceptional, so, by and large, are the men and women who own and operate these establishments. Some have scholarly backgrounds with advanced degrees in art or art history and with many years experience working for museums, universities, auction houses, or other dealers. Others have worked their way up from inside the gallery business and have a deep insight into art-world attitudes, ethics, and skulduggery.

All, however, have two things in common: a profound fascination for art and a consuming desire to spend the rest of their lives surrounded by it.

As a result, the galleries these individuals operate serve as oases of calm and certainty in the midst of art-world hassle and hype. I have discovered, over the years, that they are the ideal places to find a moment's peace and quiet while making my gallery rounds. In addition, many a dreary day has been immeasurably brightened by an invitation from such a dealer to enter his back office to view and to hold a particular treasure that has just come in.

Most important of all, however, these dealers are often generous and dependable sources of information on everything from determining a particular work's authenticity to sharing historical data on an art movement's early years - or to establishing the value of a rare and unusual piece. All they generally ask in return is that the interest expressed by the visitor be genuine (not necessarily with a purchase in mind).

And individual and collectively, these galleries are well worth a special visit. In quality and number, such a group could be found only here, and they therefore contribute a great deal to making New York the special city for art that it is. Among the most consistently worthwhile and dependable of these galleries are the following.

Associated American Artists (663 Fifth Avenue). The place to go for original prints from the 15th through 20th centuries, but most particularly American prints from 1900 to 1950. AAA's knowledgeable staff is as courteous to novice collectors looking for something under $100 as it is to a specialist looking for a rare Durer.

Aldis Browne Fine Arts (1018 Madison Avenue). Also deals in prints, but concentrates on classic examples from the 19th and 20th centuries. The visitor should not be surprised, however, if he finds an occasional Rembrandt or works by other great earlier masters on its walls.

Carus Gallery (872 Madison Avenue). Very much like a small museum filled with outstanding examples of German Expressionist and Russian avant-garde works on paper. The quality of the art shown here is consistently high, and the gallery's carefully selected exhibitions are always worthy of both public and scholarly attention.

Davis & Langdale Company (746 Madison Avenue). Specializes in 19th and 20 th-century English and American works of art, including exquisite 19th-century English watercolors, recent paintings by younger Americans, and the work of Lucien Freud.

Forum Gallery (1018 Madison Avenue). Run by Bella Fishko, one of the great ladies of the art world and one of the most ardent and consistent champions of American representational art during the years it was considered reactionary and irrelevant. Her ''stable'' of artists includes ''old-timer'' Raphael Soyer (who has been with her for 21 years) and relative newcomer Gregory Gillespie.