Rats to Riches

Kate Sutton on Independent and Armory Week

New York

Left: Bruce High Quality Foundation's Always Be Closing. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Independent cofounder Darren Flook (right).

ON THURSDAY EVENING, the former Dia, now former X Initiative space, in Chelsea witnessed the dawn of Independent, a “hybrid model” or “transparent financial cooperative” (read: fair with benefits) masterminded by, among others, dealers Elizabeth Dee and Darren Flook. Originally, the idea had raised eyebrows—does anything new or of interest in the art world not?—but by the time of the opening, most visitors seemed convinced by the project’s unconventional format and celebrated its dearth of walls, which gave way to an appealing alloverness. (So long as we had something to talk about besides New Museum ethics and Armory economic forecasts.)

“I don’t care if this is a onetime experiment or a recurring event,” participating dealer Maureen Paley said. “I’ve always loved this building and always wanted to show here.” For his part, Flook appeared to have found his calling: “I know what my job is now,” he noted to a friend. Independent made the most of its open floor plan—some even thought it had the feel of a down-and-dirty museum show—and it certainly made for a stark contrast to the claustrophobic, cubicle format of the average fair. “Art fairs typically feel so tight,” curator Ute Meta Bauer noted. “Not here.”

The aesthetic extended beyond the architecture. The four-day event had that young, fresh vibe that satellite fairs aspire to but rarely achieve. Commercial galleries mingled convivially—and, that word again, “democratically”—with nonprofits (White Columns, Artists Space), curated projects and journals (October and Farimani), and razzle-dazzle design-based projects (Moss with Westreich-Wagner). On the first floor, visitors were greeted by a flashy Rirkrit Tiravanija Ping-Pong table, while nearby the now ubiquitous Bruce High Quality Foundation erected one of those giant inflatable rats used in union disputes (and at the climax of An American Tail, as we reminisced with some of the collective’s members). Upstairs, a Jeppe Hein construction of rotating mirrors sent visitors spinning, while Artists Space presented a DeLorean, part of Duncan Campbell’s film Make It New John.

Left: Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer. Right: Dealers Alexander Hertling and Daniele Balice. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Later that night, I ignored text-message reports on the Friedrich Petzel/Christian Jankowski afterparty at a gritty Eastside bar (“The kind of place where the pool players brought their own cues,” according to NuMu curator Massimiliano Gioni), choosing instead to conserve on cab fare and hit the Standard’s Boom Boom Room, where artist Jordan Wolfson and dealers Andrew Kreps and Johann König were celebrating their shared space at Independent. Late on, when the party had dwindled to about ten people, a tall blonde plucked a piece of wood from the fire and proceeded to mark everyone’s foreheads with Lent crosses, adding two additional marks to König for good measure. “Now you’re saved!” she exclaimed jubilantly, before security forced her to return the log to the fireplace.

While she made for a doubtful prophet, the second half of Armory week did bask in a general sense of relief, with the more or less steady sales (not to mention the return of the prodigal sunshine) bolstering moods. As occasional New Yorker Daniele Balice put it, “America is fun again!”

I wasn’t sure about that, but the tone was outright boisterous the following evening at the Balice Hertling dinner, where Seth Price tested out his Gavin Brown impressions—accent and all—while the dealer egged him on. The dinner was held at Yoyo Friedrich’s place, where gallery artist Nikolas Gambaroff rents a room; he merely smiled when guests such as Beatrix Ruf and Clarissa Dalrymple spilled out of the dining area and into the studio space, colonizing the worktables and couches with plates of chicken and couscous and breaking into reserve bottles of Petit Coeur. The studio was at the top of a flight of stairs so long they were positively Potemkin, assuring guests were breathless on arrival and prompting concerns that the trip down might take, in heels, much longer (or worse, much shorter).

Left: Art historian and curator Joachim Pissarro, collector Steve Cohen, and art adviser Sandy Heller. Right: Artists John Tremblay and Seth Price. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Joining a lively crew (including the Swiss Institute’s Piper Marshall, ascotted artist John Tremblay, and Provence’s Tobias Kaspar), we eventually did make it back down the stairs and uptown to Wade Guyton’s former studio space Burning Bridges, where Fabrice Stroun had curated a show of works by Emanuel Rossetti and Balthazar Lovay. Amid projections of glossily marbleized, computer-generated bagels, a rowdy crowd of pretty, young hipsters—Peter Halley in tow—swigged tequila. (I was relieved when genial host Guyton suggested we toast our Tennessee roots with some of his secret-stash Jack. Who says you can’t go home again?)

The next morning I made a quick stop at former Gavin Brown director Alex Zachary’s debut space on West Seventy-seventh Street. The gallery may rub shoulders with neighbor Michael Werner, but the space assumes its uptownness cheekily, with pastiche panache. (Dank carpeting, check. Bathroom with tub and bidet, check.) I caught a bit of Ken Okiishi’s entertaining update on Woody Allen’s Manhattan and then sped off to the ADAA fair. A decidedly older crowd filled the chairs in the stately aisles, munching on sandwiches or self-consciously scanning suites of Kippenberger drawings. “Oh, it’s lovely, all those pensioners!” dealer Vita Zaman agreed. “It’s like you’re in Lausanne or something. Such a wonderful suspension of chic.” On my way out, I ran into art adviser Sandy Heller and collector Steve Cohen, both boasting MoMA stickers on their jackets, a reminder that I was running late for the installation-in-progress VIP preview of “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present.”

At the museum, Abramovic was midperformance on the second floor, while those with the proper papers were given special access to the retrospective’s “dress rehearsal” on the sixth floor. There, a smattering of impossibly fit young men and women re-created five of the artist’s older performances (Imponderabilia, for which visitors have to squeeze through a pair of naked people, being a favorite). I considered hanging around for an intriguing-sounding panel on “re-performance” with exhibition curator Klaus Biesenbach (and Martha Rosler, Francesco Vezzoli, Janine Antoni, and curator Jens Hoffmann), but four days of couscous and gallery-grade Prosecco was beginning to take its toll, and I decided to try to get in a nap (or at least a full meal) before the evening’s openings.

Left: Artist Wade Guyton, curator Fabrice Stroun, and artists Balthazar Lozay and Emanuel Rossetti. Right: Dealer Maureen Paley. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

The nap, of course, never happened. Instead I went to Artists Space to get a better look at Duncan Campbell’s documentary and then to the Swiss Institute, for Tobias Madison’s “Hydrate+Perform,” a Vitamin Water–inspired set of pseudoscientific, business-lobby-like sculptures subtly restaging the sponsor’s advertising campaigns. There was also a selection of artist books by Andro Wekua, which I pored over with curator Clare Staebler.

The two institutions held a joint afterparty in a “Neighborhood Watch” shindig at downtown eatery China Chalet—“the best bar mitzvah ever,” according to adviser Joe Sheftel, who stood surveying the back room and its green-lit mirror ball. The giddy, junior-high feel (Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants”—really?) took a Gregg Araki–style turn when the music abruptly cut and a girl wearing (only) pink pumps, pink socks, and tiny yellow running shorts took the mic. Her name was No Bra, which spoke to truth in advertising, and she spewed a set of songs that ranged from biting to baffling (an exchange of casual boasts between art-world friends escalates from “I ran into David Blaine at Opening Ceremony” to “I caught syphilis once in Top Shop”). I tried to avoid making eye contact with Michael Stipe, who stood to the side, occasionally sending out appreciative smiles. If the preparty had promised a night of teenage kicks, things got decidedly Euro after the concert, driving the crowd of New Yorkers and friends to the other section of the bar, where I spotted Darren Flook, Michael Portnoy, Sarina Basta, Negar Azimi, and Pati Hertling amid the booths. During those fleeting moments, America did indeed seem fun again.

Left: Dealer Johann König and Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár. Right: Swiss Institute's Piper Marshall with artists Craig Kalpakjian, Josephine Meckseper, and Richard Phillips and the Swiss Institute's head of development, Leonie Kruizenga. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Left: Artist Jordan Wolfson (left). Right: White Columns's Amie Scally and Matthew Higgs.

Left: Dealer Isabella Bortolozzi. Right: Artist Eve Sussman with dealer Ed Winkleman.

Left: Dealer Stuart Shave. Right: Jake Miller and Emma Robertson of the Approach.

Left: Artists Ann Craven and Peter Halley. Right: Artist Mika Tajima.

Left: Moss's Franklin Getchell, art adviser Thea Westreich, Ethan Wagner, and Murray Moss. Right: Swiss Institute chair Fabienne Abrecht with H.E. Ambassador Christoph Bubb. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Left: MoMA's Christian Rattemeyer and dealer Stefania Bortolami. Right: Elizabeth Dee and others watch a Ryan Trecartin video at Independent.

Left: Curator Sarah Gavlak. Right: Renwick's Leslie Fritz and Megan Marrin.

Left: Artist Julia Dault. Right: Dispatch's Gabrielle Giattino (left).

Left: Artists Arlen Austin and Einat Amir at Volta. Right: Artist Ylva Ogland.

Left: Rodeo's Sylvia Kouvali and NADA's Heather Hubbs. Right: Artist Jennie Ottinger and dealer Kimberly Johansson at Volta.