Facing New Competition, The Independent Mixes It Up


Old mingles with new, East with West, glitz with grit, at the 2012 Independent, which kicks off its third year on Thursday, at the former Dia Center for the Arts building in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. As previously, the fair coincides with the Armory Show. This year’s Independent marks a transitional time for fairs in New York.

Judging by the lineup, and despite an ostensibly revivified Armory, the Independent promises to remain the same cool alternative it has been so far. In the last few years, the exhibition-style fair that bills itself as “by and for gallerists” has managed to attract heavies like Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Hotel and McCaffrey Fine Arts alongside smaller insurgents like New York’s 47 Canal and Bureau, without abundant sponsorships and without charging admission. Architect Christian Wassmann has created a site-specific observatory area and café on the roof, aligned along the earth’s true North-South axis.

New York’s Bortolami and Murray Guy have both left the Armory this year but will be showing at the Independent (Bortolami exhibited at both in 2011). Of the 43 galleries in the Independent this year, 15 are newcomers, including New York’s 47 Canal, London’s The Approach and Los Angeles’s Richard Telles Fine Art.

This year, the Independent faces indirect competition from Frieze New York, on Randall’s Island this May. It’s not quite apples-to-apples: Frieze is a much larger affair, boasting more than 180 international galleries, some of which are in the Independent-like London and Berlin’s Spruth Magers, Gavin Brown’s enterprise and Elizabeth Dee, the Independent’s co-creator. Frieze is already eroding slightly the excitement of Armory week. Satellite fairs Pulse and Red Dot, which for years coincided with the Armory, will coincide with Frieze in 2012.

Though the Independent is roughly the same size it was last year (43 exhibitors this year, compared with 45), several galleries that showed at the Independent in 2011 are at Frieze this year instead, like Paris’s Air de Paris, and New York’s Anton Kern and Wallspace.

Laura Mitterrand, co-director of the Independent, noted there is a greater presence this year of historical works, although the fair remains overwhelmingly contemporary. In particular, she pointed to McCaffrey Fine Art, which will show Japanese artist Jiro Takamatsu’s drawings from the early 1970s; Paris’s gb agency, which will present a 1976 Mac Adams installation, “Blackmail”; and New York’s Untitled gallery, which will feature an ongoing series of carbon-paper drawings and collages by Joshua Neustein, dating to the late 1960s.

“Looking at other artists referencing the last couple of years of the fair, it’s like, let’s go a little deeper,” says Joel Mesler, co-owner of Untitled. “It’s re-highlighting artists who perhaps got passed over, whose language was not only important back then but even has a little more weight today.”   

The historical emphasis isn’t intentional, Mitterrand noted in an e-mail. But she was glad for the context it creates. “There’s a coherence between the historical pieces and their more contemporary counterparts,” she says. “It is quite interesting how some of these works made in the past 30 years look fresh and relevant decades later.”

Two first-time exhibitors represent cities new to the Independent: Labor, from Mexico City, and The Third Line, from Dubai. The cities offer competing versions of the emerging, global art scene: the former, a gritty scene born of violence and cultural renaissance, as found in the work of Pablo Vargas Lugo and Pedro Reyes (indeed, Labor was a hardscrabble pool hall before it was an art gallery); the latter, taut with the tensions between opulence and Arab Spring politics, as evidenced in the figurative ink work of Hayv Kahraman and the mirrored, geometric creations of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian.  

Sunny Rahbar, co-founder of The Third Line, said via e-mail that, though “traditional centers for art in the region, including Tehran, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo, are still very important and still where most artistic production takes place,” Dubai’s role is more crucial today because of its relative stability. “It is in Dubai that most artists from the region can exhibit and promote their works to audiences from the Middle East and beyond.”