Having just closed the doors on its fourth edition in NYC this past Sunday, 10 March, Independent once again received much praise for their curatorial approach to the often stale art fair format, emerging from the shadow of the massive Armory Show. Once again back in their original location at the old Dia building in Chelsea, the 2013 edition featured more than 40 galleries and non-profit institutions from 14 countries, showcasing the work of both new and known artists.
"At Independent we let the content of the participating galleries' presentations shape the architecture and design of the project, rather than fitting the work into preconceived spaces typical of a more traditional art fair format," Independent co-director Jayne Drost Johnson told us. "There are curatorial considerations that are also taken into account when planning the layout of the project that are not typical of most fairs, so the project feels more like a collective exhibition." While such an approach is a common goal for similar shows, we were able to see how they achieved their mission after physically experiencing the space. This genuine method has led Independent to develop a reputation for being pleasantly "light," both in terms of art subject matter and space layout.
This lightness stems from an airy environment that encourages exploration. "It allows the art to stand on its own in a space that feels open and free, rather than contained to a 3-walled white cube," says Johnson in regards to the unconventional architecture of the space. "It also helps visitors—whether collectors, curators, artists or anyone interested in art—feel more comfortable about asking questions and spending time with the work. It creates a feeling of collaboration and collegiality between the galleries themselves. Breaking down the walls creates a feeling of inclusiveness for everyone involved."
While each of the three floors could easily consume a full day's time and energy, we found particular interest in a few unique pieces both big and small. In contrast to the often acutely pretentious neon sentiments displayed ubiquitously throughout other art fairs these days, artists Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan's big box sculpture seemed perfectly playful. On show thanks to The Modern Institute gallery of Glasgow, the colorful piece welcomed fair-goers to the third floor. The lighthearted message begs the question of whether art must always convey the deepest motives or some kind of artistic crusade.
Raising eyebrows were Björn Braun's finch nests on show from Germany's Meyer Reigger gallery. Once abandoned in the wild, each of the small bundles was rescued, then embellished by the birds with an array of colorful ribbon and thread provided by Braun. In this way the artist creates without physically touching his work until completion, making beautifully thought-provoking work through an unconventional process.
With an open mind and forward-looking eyes Independent continues their effort to humanize art fairs. Visit the Independent website to see a comprehensive list of participating gallery and institutions and make sure to mark your calendar for next year. For a closer look at the show and more pieces that caught our eye see the slideshow.
Unless otherwise noted all images by Tom Powel Imaging, Inc., courtesy of Independent. Björn Braun's nest image by David Hanauer courtesy of Meyer Riegger.