Back to Basics

Linda Yablonsky at Independent and Philippe Parreno at Gladstone

Left: Artists Adam McEwen and Sarah Morris. Right: White Columns director Matthew Higgs. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

ARMORY WEEK IS BEHIND US. Art Dubai and Art Basel Hong Kong just ahead. So is MiArt, Art Brussels, and Art Cologne.

Forget the inner drummer. We now march to the circadian rhythm of fairs, even though a certain homogeneity has settled over them like a net. We know what we’re going to get before we see it. Places may change; faces hardly ever. Can fairs satisfy a longing for the sublime or do they only serve the needs of people who don’t have the time or inclination to see art parked anywhere but in their portfolios? Does art benefit from merchandising or suffer?

Consider the Independent, whose seventh edition opened with a VIP preview on Thursday, March 3. It was supposed to be an alternative. Small of scale, personable, and comprehensible, if not cutting-edge, it gave us a neighborhood market for the gallery equivalent of mom-and-pop shops. “It’s still a boutique fair,” said dealer Nicky Verber during the opening at its new digs at Spring Studios in TriBeCa. “But it feels different,” he said. “Maybe because the place doesn’t have a history.”

Left: Dealer Nicky Verber. Right: Dealer Pedro Mendes and collector Andy Stillpass.

Not an art history, anyway. Founded at the former Dia in Chelsea by dealers Elizabeth Dee and Darren Flook, the Independent first announced itself as a “curated” fair, almost a protest against the engorging Armory Show and its numerous satellites. A few dozen dealers from the UK, Europe, and New York presented their wares within a nontraditional, open-plan design that gave the enterprise a funky exoticism. Last year, the building was sold to a development company that didn’t care about art. The founders, who were already planning a sister fair in Brussels—it debuts next month—had to move.

They landed in a former cigar factory where developers did everything possible to remove any trace of the past that might have given the building some character. The architect Jonathan Caplan, who has done well by several art spaces, put up solid dividing walls, two to a gallery. With the help of daylight pouring through massive windows on each floor, the design retained the openness of the original maze, but it also swept away the chaos. “It looks like fucking Bloomingdales,” said one usually optimistic collector. She wasn’t the only one to say so. “Bras, girdles, foundations,” another shopper cracked, as the elevator doors opened on six.

I didn’t have a bad experience, not by a long shot, but the warmth was gone, the sense of possibility—the idea that you could literally stumble over an artwork that might horrify or charm you, maybe both at once. Everything here was so tidy! The Mousse and Printed Matter bookshops were still in residence—on a couple of tables in the sixth-floor lobby—but the café? Oy. At the old Dia, it had benefited from a rooftop location near the books. Here, it was crammed into a suffocating interior room.

Left: Artists Douglas Coupland and Michael Stipe. Right: Dealer Maureen Paley.

Dee and Flook are not to blame. This is the world we live in—sanitized, commercial, and impersonal. Nevertheless, during the placid preview, the Independent still felt homey and, well, independent, almost like a regional startup with engaging personnel. The best spot was in a garret-like mezzanine on the seventh floor, reachable only by a staircase from the sixth. Verber’s Herald St shared the space with Karma, White Columns, and Artists Space—a nice mix of commercial and nonprofit. Colorful, and very comfy, chairs by Katy Stout attracted early attention at Karma. Ceramics by Bruce Sherman took the cake at White Columns, which overlooked the mall on the floor below.

At the Modern Institute booth, Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, an active collector of apartment-size art, eyed two paintings by Haley Tomkins. Unable to decide between them, he happily nailed both. Maureen Paley was doing “extremely well,” she said, placing a Wolfgang Tillmans and cast gourds by Paulo Nimer Pjota in “very good collections.” Kerry Schuss, Jack Tilton, Hannah Hoffman, and David Lewis all spoke to connoisseurs on the fifth floor, where Jay Gorney and Derek Eller had mined a cache of Karl Wirsums, hard by Venus Over Manhattan’s display of drawings by Peter Saul, and the raucous sculptures and wallpaper at Martos. Yet a civilized quiet pervaded the air, not excitement, even on a ground floor reserved for open-eyed first-timers like Chapter NY, Mitchell Algus, and Silberkuppe.

Maybe the only real alternative was to go back to the source—to individual galleries. That evening, one could pick from shows in Chelsea that surveyed work by Robert Barry (at Mary Boone), Ivan Chermayeff (at Pavel Zoubok), James Nares (at Paul Kasmin), or Adam McEwen (at Petzel). The effect was like seeing the movie you were watching on an airplane unspool on a wide theater screen.

Left: Artists Space director Stefan Kalmar and MoMA curator Stuart Comer. Right: Collector Beth Swofford and dealer Toby Webster.

Nares had built on the success of his extraordinary slo-mo film Street, with only slightly faster but equally captivating video portraits of friends like Jim Jarmusch, Amy Taubin, Hilton Als, Douglas Crimp, and Walter Robinson, among other rogues seldom displayed on gallery walls. The crowd at the reception was like a New Wave reunion that brought out Pat Place (a former bandmate of Nares’s in the original Contortions), Christopher Wool, Amos Poe, and Glenn O’Brien (another portrait subject).

People at Petzel were confused at first by the airport-security-like trays on tables at the gallery’s entrance. But they were actually graphite sculptures that led into the installation of large, undiscernible black structures. “That’s exactly what the IBM supercomputer looks like,” the artist said. Its shadowy presence was quite threatening—as, in their own way, were McEwen’s four wide-screen images of Manhattan’s tunnels, traffic improbably absent from each. I thought at first they were screen prints, or charcoals. Nope. They were printed on sponge. In the project room, game viewers climbed to the ceiling on a shuddering industrial staircase, its zigzag shape echoed in a plywood frame cut as a letter K. For Kafka? K-Mart? Kool? McEwen’s response: “You choose!”

Those who chose to accept invitations to dinner alighted in SoHo at what McEwen had told his family was “a cheap, tawdry bar in a bad hotel with river views and loud music.” Who wouldn’t want to go to that party? People did. The bar wasn’t that sleazy, but it was awfully cheap. No mixed drinks. Hell, they didn’t even stock tomato juice. Dinner? A couple dozen sliders were set out on the bar. Cocktail tables had cheese squares and a few grapes. But the view was as advertised. Very nice.

Left: Artist Philippe Parreno and Culture Shed director Alex Poots. Right: Curator Piper Marshall and artist Rachel Rose.

Stomachs grumbling, some people left early for dinner at home, or elsewhere. Others stayed to drink and dance. Glancing at my watch, I went to the Hotel Americano, where Kasmin’s guests were only just finishing the appetizer course of a seated dinner that filled the dining room with shining eyes, smart talk, and good hair.

Nights in New York are always young, but I think it was mainly out-of-towners who made off with die-hard locals to the Thursday night afterparties: Tolga’s Fair Club in the Americano basement, and the White Columns/Gavin Brown disco at Santos Party House. They must have been good. On Friday evening, when I got to the opening of Haegue Yang’s exhibition at Greene Naftali, some of the several curators examining her anthropomorphic woven-straw sculptures were still nursing hangovers.

Artworks provided a handy wakeup call for brains in need of sustenance, and the deep-sea blue of the walls in another room, where silvery folding-blind sculptures hung in the air like flying fish, were inordinately peaceful. It was quiet at Barbara Gladstone’s West Twenty-First Street temple too—not because no one was inside, but because everyone was sitting in darkness, watching a new film by Philippe Parreno, Li-Yan, partly shot right here, in Long Island City. Its projection was remote-controlled by microorganisms inside a bioreactor uptown, in Gladstone’s white-on-white townhouse gallery on East Sixty-Fourth, as they anticipated or responded to the climate and movement in the gallery.

I have no idea how it connected galleries in very different parts of town, because I hadn’t been there yet, but I do know that making the show had required the assistance of scientists, and that people coming from there spoke reverently of the colorful, helium-filled fish balloons swimming through the air.

Left: Filmmaker Amos Poe and artist Christopher Wool. Right: Dealer Jose Martos and artist Michel Auder.

Perhaps we’re all thinking about our climate, and pollution, political as well as environmental. Conversation at the three long tables set up for a rather elaborate dinner—at the Garage, a vast rental space near the Armory Show piers—inevitably turned to the presidential campaign, meaning Donald Trump, and Hillary versus Bernie. Mostly Trump, demagoguery and entertainment.

This was Parreno’s first show in New York with Gladstone, and the gallery went all out, flying Arnold & Henderson over from London to cater for well over a hundred people. They included a heavy complement of curatorial power—Hans Ulrich Obrist, Stuart Comer, the Walker’s Fionn Meade and Pavel Pyś, Tom McDonough, Tom Eccles, Chrissie Iles, Alex Poots, Simon Castets, Beau Rutland, Massimiliano Gioni. Clearly, Parreno is an intellect’s taste. Joining him were other ’90s-generation artists, like Sarah Morris, Matthew Barney, T. J. Wilcox, and Liam Gillick; a smattering of collectors (Ethan Wagner and Thea Westreich, Beth Swofford, Andy Stillpass, Mary and Rebecca Eisenberg); and a current generation of artists, represented by Rachel Rose and Ian Cheng.

“How incredibly exciting this is,” said Obrist, in the first of three toasts, this one aimed at Gladstone. Gillick spoke of his long admiration of and friendship with Parreno before giving Barney, whose studio is in Long Island City, an encouraging nudge. “Queens,” he said, raising his glass, “has never looked better.”

Next morning, it was back to business.

Left: Artist Haegue Yang. Right: Artists Pat Place, James Nares, Elliott Puckette, and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.

Left: Curator Pati Hertling with artists Travis Boyer and K8 Hardy. Right: Dealer Kerry Schuss.

Left: ICA Boston curator Dan Byers and MoMA curator Yasmil Raymond. Right: Filmmaker Rachel Reichman with film critic Amy Taubin and art historian and curator Douglas Crimp.

Left: Curator Debra Singer and artist Dave McKenzie. Right: Dealer David Lewis.

Left: Artist Ian Cheng and dealer Pilar Corrias. Right: Dealer Derek Eller.

Left: Artist Anthony McCall. Right: Artist Liam Gilick and art historian Tom McDonough.

Left: Artist Nicola Tyson and Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal. Right: Artist Piero Golia.

Left: Dealer Susanne Vielmetter and Artadia executive director Carolyn Ramo. Right: Dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn.

Left: Chef and restaurateur Margot Henderson. Right: Bard CCS director Tom Eccles and Serpentine Gallery curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Left: Dealer Felipe Dmab. Right: Dealers Michel Ziegler and Dominic Eichler.

Left: May Space founder Keene Kopper. Right: Dealer Brendan Dugan.

Left: Dealer Bree Zucker and artist Rodrigo Hernández. Right: Dealer Alexis Johnson.