Compared to the rodeo that is The Armory Show, Independent New York is like a yoga retreat (almost). After spending seven years occupying the Dia building in West Chelsea, the fair made its debut at an airy, light-filled new home atop Spring Studios.
‘The Dia space was great because it was a New York institution and it had so much history, but it seemed interesting to start from scratch in a place like this,’ says Independent creative advisor Matthew Higgs, who was showing the surrealist ceramic vessels of the retired dentist-turned-artist Bruce M Sherman alongside drawings from Gerasimos Floratos (of drug dealers, tourists and other characters he met working at his parents' deli) in White Columns' seventh floor perch overlooking the city and half of the fair. ‘For us, it was just an opportunity to rethink the fair, because every time we do the fair the architecture changes, the layout changes, the exhibitors change.’
Independent got some help from Jonathan Caplan, the architect behind Project-Space, who addressed the soaring ceilings, flood of light and resounding theatre of the space with a simple grid that feels more familiar to bigger fairs. ‘It's definitely different to the more eccentric architectural spaces; there were more sitelines, so for the first edition in this new space we wanted to put in something more classic and let the building be more of the story,’ says Higgs. ‘Then in the summer, the rooftop will be finished and it's the largest roof terrace in New York City, so we can use that going forward as well.’
On the sixth floor, Independent co-founder Elizabeth Dee showed 24 red and green paintings by Philippe Decrauzat in a raised quadrangle that created a zoetrope experience with a breath of fresh air in the form of one canvas-sized window onto the city below. Below Dee, Stuart Shave/Modern Art displayed three of Yngve Holen's imposing illuminated sculptures made from disarticulated scooter headlights. Meanwhile, Maccarone brought out five washed oil canvases of cars by Nate Lowman (one of a late model Lexus sporting a ‘YAYO’ license plate), Gavin Brown got a little messy with the help of Karl Holmqvist, and David Kordansky went minimal with Evan Holloway's painted enamel sculptures, on the heels of a massive solo spectacle at the dealer's Los Angeles gallery.
Down on the fifth floor, Venus Over Manhattan brought out a series of early, never-before-seen drawings by Peter Saul from the collection (or should we say storage unit) of his late dealer/patron Allan Frumkin. Highlights include Saul's Human Concern, 1969 and Sex Boat, 1961. ‘These are all jewels for the Peter Saul collector,’ says Venus Over Manhattan director Anna Furney, noting that even Saul was taken aback by the display, having not seen the works for decades. A few booths down, the Lower East Side's ascendent gallery JTT was making a splash with a video installation (atop a sign from a body shop in Brooklyn) and two collaged paintings by their Philly-born multimedia star Borna Sammak.
‘He takes hours of footage and collages it together in a way that you don't see the loop, but it's also like a painting as well,’ says gallery founder Jasmin T Tsou, pointing to a massive Sammak painting acting as a static image beside the hypnotic 30-second video. ‘These are all decals from t-shirts that he ironed so many times that it looks stiff. This is a particularly thick area because he has five layers of plastic ironed on.’
Before leaving, a trip through the first floor Independent Projects space proved equally refreshing. To wit: Thomas Locher's imprinted plastic PLAY works at Silberkuppe, Mira Dancy's neon canvases at Chapter NY, and the raved about Native American still-lifes of Becky Suss at Fleisher/Ollman were all hits.
‘We're not looking to be a multi-national corporation, we're looking to keep the conversations with our galleries very vital, keeping the presentation first. We want to be working with our artists everyday, not going over fair applications,’ says Dee, who has been traveling to Belgium every month for the debut of Independent Brussels inside the six-story space of a former museum owned by the city, which will host 20 more galleries than New York. ‘It's not a one fair town anymore, but it's a healthy eco-system and it's a good time to be in New York.’
Even better to be independent in New York.