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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

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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.''

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.

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