There is a pathetic story of a man from Connecticut who, a few years ago, took his Porsche to be repaired in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, only to find that an art gallery—and a big one, too—had usurped the space where his garage had been. What’s more, in the very spot where the jack-lift had raised his car for servicing, there stood a hefty installation by Tony Smith. The man was out of the loop. He hadn’t realized that his Chelsea, a place of garages, repair shops for upscale autos, taxi gaseterias, tire fixers, and huge warehouses, was morphing into an art arena where modishly dressed art dealers, doers, and buyers rubbed elbows with grungy mechanics groping the innards of cars and trucks.

For about a decade now, Chelsea, located on the far West Side of Manhattan, stretching roughly from 13th to 30th Streets between Ninth Avenue and the West Side Highway, has been the “new” art district,...

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