Chto Delat?, Knowledge Is Power, 2011, mixed textiles (sewed), vinyl paint, 76 3/4 by 540 3/4 inches. Courtesy Chto Delat? & KOW, Berlin.

Shortly after the noon preview opening of New York's Independent art fair on Thursday, A.i.A. met writer and curator Fionn Meade on the fourth floor of the iconic former Dia Art Foundation building in Chelsea for a walkthrough of the fair. Almost immediately, we ran into New York art advisors Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner, who offered congratulations on Meade's new appointment at Minneapolis's Walker Art Center—where he will be the senior curator of cross-disciplinary platforms—before the conversation shifted to our surroundings.

"It starts with the building," Westreich noted, regarding what separates the Independent from other art fairs. "The dealers respect it and put in an enormous amount of time and effort."

Now in its fifth year, the Independent (through Mar. 9) remains a more modest and manageable alternative to the Armory. This year it features just over 50 galleries and nonprofits, as compared to over 200 at the Armory.

As we walked through the unconventional, open plan booths, Meade was drawn to the enclave reserved for Berlin gallery KOW, particularly a hanging a textile piece by Russian activist collective Chto Delat?. Knowledge Is Power (2011) evokes Russian revolutionary posters as well as motifs associated with the Black Panthers.

"They've done interesting activist work in Russia," Meade said of the collective, whose name means "What is to be done?" He dryly added, "You wouldn't see this at the Armory."

Hearing the unmistakable sound of an artwork toppling over, we turned around to see a KOW staffer picking up a steel rod that, sitting precariously in the middle of a thoroughfare, is part of an interactive sculpture by German artist Franz Erhard Walther. "That didn't take long," said Meade. He turned to another of Walther's sculptures, this one comprising a tall, plywood structure flanked by four more steel rods laying on the floor. We discovered that it was originally shown at Documenta 5 in 1972, and Meade noted that Walther's work blurs the distinction between sculpture and performance.

Next door at Sprüth Magers (Berlin, London), a woman was performing a piece by German artist John Bock, meticulously chainsawing pieces off a wooden mannequin. Meade spotted Bock surreptitiously watching from the other side of the room. "That's what I would do," Meade remarked before being taken with a new work by David Maljkovic. Titled New Reproduction (2014), the mural raises the question of its framing by incorporating visual references to the tools and conditions of its production, such as a strip of Kodak color control patches and clearly delineated torn edges that suggest a kind of collage process. Meade was quick to point out that this extends to Maljkovic's practice as a whole and the way in which he recycles elements of his work. "He's one of the most interesting artists in terms of thinking about his retrospective framing," Meade said.

At Antwerp's Office Baroque, Meade pointed to Michel Auder's video Chelsea, Manhattan (1990, edited 2008), for which the artist filmed people on the street without their knowledge or consent. The video depicts a very different Chelsea from that of today, and Meade explained that "Auder offers a particular sort of voyeurism. It's like an archive in motion. There's a built-in self-periodizing of his own gaze. Along the way you get a cultural imprint you just can't make up."

On the third floor, we headed to the stand of Brooklyn gallery Real Fine Arts, which is tightly packed with paintings. Meade noticed a work by Morag Keil, recently shown in "The Issues of Our Time," an exhibition at hybrid Parisian bookstore and art space castillo/corrales. "The painting stood in for the show; it puts painting in an unusual position, as an afterword or a postscript," Meade said. He's now involved in organizing a follow-up to the Paris exhibition, to be held at New York's Artists Space.

Next door to Real Fine Arts is a joint booth shared by Frankfurt gallery Neue Alte Brücke and Milan's Gió Marconi. There, Meade admired the elegance of young German artist Yngve Holen's set of four identical sculptures, which seductively combines sportswear, the logo of car company Citroën and what appears to be a component of a washing machine. "Neue Alte Brücke is an interesting gallery," Meade said. "It's a good example of a really vertical approach, where the artists have a lot in common and are brought together in a meaningful context."

On the second and final floor, a work by Eva Kotatkova at the booth of Meyer Riegger (Karlsruhe and Berlin), featuring collaged images stacked like dominos on a table, caught Meade's eye. "Her DNA is collage work, which is elaborated into installation," Meade said.

We wrapped things up by discussing the work of Marc Camille Chaimowicz with the gallerist from Berlin's Galerie Neu, who is exhibiting recent work by the French-born artist. Meade returned to the notion of periodization, saying, "He had a way of capturing the political upheaval that was shaping European culture. The period of the '70s is alive in his work because he wasn't strident, and it's allowed back into his work without being overburdened by trying to represent the time."