If the Armory Show were cut down to a fourth of its size, moved to a less tedious location, and featured the most dynamic galleries with a mix of emerging and emerged artists, it would look more like Independent.
Now in its second year, Independent hosts 40-plus international galleries. Conceived by gallerists Elizabeth Dee and Darren Flook of Hotel, London, the fair is spread out over three floors of the old Dia Center in Chelsea. It is testament to the mistake made when the non-profit moved out and gave up its cavernous urban space.
The trick to Independent is that it sublimated the commercial side of things by presenting itself as one large group exhibition. Booths were open and bathed in a bright-white paint job and industrial-strength neon lights. Because the selection of galleries was tight, and because there were few clear divisions between booths (galleries spilled out of their loosely defined borders), a convivial atmosphere prevailed.
The first to greet visitors upon entrance to the main floor was the affable Hudson of Feature Inc, whose playful area was dotted with colorful abstractions by Andrew Masullo. The gallerist, who recently moved from Chelsea to the Lower East Side, hadn't participated in the Armory Show since it moved west a decade ago. Looking relaxed in bright ethnic prints and lounging in a chair in a position more suitable for a lazy Sunday than an art fair, he noted how manageable in size Independent was, adding that, "this fair is more realistic."
Upstairs, it was White Columns's second time at Independent. The nonprofit had a successful four-year run at the Armory, but opted out in 2009, shortly after the Merchandise Mart took over (in 2007) and significantly raised the price for a non-profit booth. Xeroxed editions made specifically for the fair by Dan Colen and Ricci Albeda hung salon style on the gallery's only wall. Sold to benefit their ongoing programs, these were some of the most affordable works at the fair ($150–$1,000). Three hours into the opening only a few of the 50 unique "garbage" collages by Colen ($150 each) remained, and they had sold out of Margaret Lee's potato sculptures ($1,000 a piece).
Further down it was Anton Kern's first year participating and the dealer dedicated his booth to sculptural works like Matthew Monahan's skewed totem-figure desk and David Shrigley's cheeky faux-taxidermy puppy holding a sign stating "I'm dead," which, in this context, felt like a jab at how art and commerce intersect at an art fair. Kern was enthusiastic about his debut at Independent largely because he was in good company. "If you're looking for a great group of galleries you're going to find them here."
And—Dia and Armory, pay heed—there was no soul-crushing land-grab given the luxury of plenty of room. Folke Koebberling and Martin Kaltwasser's dissected Saab transformed into two motorcycles at Jack Hanley recalled Duncan Campbell's Delorean in the Artists Space booth last year. Katinka Bock's "Miles and Moments," a masculine ceramic series of tire marks that nearly spanned the entire length of the floor, and Michel Francois's mind-bending magnetic cube at Bortolami Gallery, were among the standouts.
And while booth prices increased slightly from the previous year, the fair's organizers claim that didn't deter anyone from taking part. A few galleries—Bortolami, Gallery Ben Kaufmann, The Modern Institute, Andrew Kreps and Stuart Shave/Modern Art—hedged their bets by participating in the Armory and Independent. Shave, who went with a solo of Ansel Krut at the Armory and, at Independent, a stunning grouping by Los Angeles-based Ricky Swallow, whose delicate, bronze sculptures created a moment of quiet on an otherwise sensory-filled floor, reported strong sales at both venues.
Some galleries, like Milan's Gio Marconi and Frankfurt's Neue Alte Brucke, who both represent Simon Fujiwara, collaborated. Among his three pieces was a witty sculpture that incorporated ephemera from the artist's childhood to re-create memories. When he was 11, his mother took him camping to a nudist colony, essentially "inducing his homosexuality." This experience was relived using a portable picnic table the family brought on the trip, and the remainder of a meal consisting of an apple, a half-eaten sandwich and a long, jarred sausage (which its collector would need to replace periodically). Shared experience, that's what it's all about.
SEE ALL THE EVENT PHOTOS FROM THE OPENING. ABOVE: INSTALL BY RICKY SWALLOW