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The Independent Art Fair's Jayne Drost on Creating a "Nice Mix"


The Independent Art Fair's Jayne Drost on Creating a "Nice Mix"

Since launching in 2010 at the spacious former Dia building in West Chelsea, the Independent art fair has been an intellectually lively, cross-disciplinary addition to Armory Week, bringing together a finely curated selection of galleries and nonprofits from around the world. Founded by New York dealer Elizabeth Dee and Darren Flook of London's Hotel gallery together with White Columns director Matthew Higgs and co-directors Jayne Drost and Laura Mitterand, the fair is returning this year with 42 exhibitors and an avant-garde new layout designed by Christian Wassmann. Artspace editor-in-chief Andrew M. Goldstein spoke to Jayne Drost about this year's edition, and how Independent fits into the evolving ecosystem of Armory Week.

This is a big year for New York art fairs, with an enormous slew of events opening during Armory Week and then a new fair week springing up in May, with Frieze, NADA NYC, Verge, and Pulse. What is your outlook on the new art-fair landscape?

It's really exciting, because I think the bigger fairs and smaller fairs are all reevaluating how they do what they do. And I think that's a win for everyone involved, from the galleries to the public.

How do you see these reevaluations being put into affect?

Well, I'm not quite sure specifically with the Armory. They hired Noah Horowitz, who I think has been really fantastic, and I'm really curious to see what changes he brings. I think he's a really talented person and a great person for them. And there are also so many new fairs like the Dependent [the cheekily named satellite fair to Independent], which started last year. It's a great group of artist-run galleries and project spaces that do it, and I think that the projects are really interesting and the quality is high. For them, they came up with something that was interesting and exciting for them and I think that's great, and it's interesting for us. I didn't get to go last year but I heard a lot about it, and I'm going to try and go this year.

You launched your fair in March during Armory Week, but in some ways Independent may actually be more spiritually akin to the new May fairs, which embrace the indie vibe much more than the Armory Show and the ADAA fair. Are you considering switching the month? What do you think about the way that the lines are being drawn?

I'm not really thinking of it as strong lines, I guess. I think it's a great thing that Frieze is coming to New York, and I'm very much looking forward to the fair in May. Some of the galleries participating in Independent are also participating in Frieze—Elizabeth Dee being one of them—and both Frieze and Independent have their own unique points of view. The intimate scale of Independent and the flexibility we have to create the architecture around the participants' projects provides the feeling of an exhibition context in a way that is differentiated from the more traditional art fair layout. It doesn't feel as though one is a substitute for the other. But right now we're not making any specific plans for future editions of Independent—we are focusing on making sure that this year's edition is a successful event for the participants and the public coming to see the show.

Is Independent still officially not an art fair, as Elizabeth Dee said when it was launched?

It was never officially not an art fair, but we wanted to take the emphasis off of the art fair part and base it on viewing artworks in a group context, which I think is more important. If you place the emphasis on that side of things, you start to look around you and you say, "Well, if that's the emphasis, then maybe we should do something this way, or if that's the emphasis, maybe we should do something that way." For us, placing the emphasis on the artworks has allowed us to get really creative with how we're approaching different aspects of producing the event.

Have you made any changes in approach this year in light of the city's new art-fair landscape?

We didn't really change any approach. We again tried to invite a group of people, some returning but also some new voices in, which is how we did it the second year as well. We didn't want to make it feel like every time you were seeing the same kind of club, and so we have some new voices that I'm really excited about, like the Third Line from Dubai and RaebervonStenglin from Zürich and 47 Canal in New York. And then we have Maureen Paley and Sprüth Magers and then we have some great galleries on the level of Elizabeth Dee obviously, and then people like Bortolami and Jocelyn Wolff from Paris and Meyer Riegger from Karlsruhe. I think it's a really nice mix of different generations of gallerists. We have some new project spaces we're working with, too, like Creative Growth Art Center from Oakland, which is a really interesting nonprofit, and McCaffrey Fine Arts from uptown, which is one of the most incredible galleries I've ever seen, producing totally fantastic things—what they do at an art fair feels like museum exhibitions. He really specializes in Japanese art from the '60s and '70s, and he's doing a solo project with Jiro Takamatsu with drawings from the early '70s. He consistently does projects with these avant-garde Japanese artists that just feel so fresh and amazing and unlike anything you've ever seen.

So it's really nice to bring in these different kinds of voices. There's a lot of mixing of older generation artists and younger artists. We just try to keep it diverse and think about things from the perspective of the person who's coming to see it, and not just the person who's well-versed in our part of the world. What would they be interested to see, and what are some surprises that you can have as you're going through the space? Our approach to the layout is very much in line with thinking about the experience from all sides, from the gallery side and from the side of the individual coming to see.

Can you tell me a little bit about Christian Wassmann's layout for this year's edition?

The entire layout is based on an angle of 29 degrees, which is oriented to true north, so in the center of each floor there's a cross configuration of walls that are aligned to this axis, to true north, south, east, and west, rather than the city grid. And, as a result, your flow through the floors is drastically different from last year—it takes you through the spaces in a way that's really exciting. Then on the roof he's continuing that concept by installing a 12-foot-tall cross structure that will mimic the axis of the walls on the floors, and it'll actually have a peephole cut into it so that at night you can see the North Star.

And will there be a lounge or seating area?

Yeah, basically it's a fully enclosed, heated, clear tent, so it will feel almost like being in a greenhouse. And we've invited some publications to collaborate with Independent this year: Mousse from Italy and Bidoun from the U.S. and O2 from France. So they will be up there occupying this cross configuration, interfacing with people about what they do and giving copies out and different things. And we'll also have a café there and a lounge and seating area. So it will be a nice common space for people to hang out if they want to have a drink or just have coffee or sit down for a little while.

Going back to the commercial side, what kind of collectors are you anticipating seeing at Independent this year?

I think it's going to be a really great mix. I've heard that a lot of people are coming into town, and there seems to be really good energy around this week in New York. There are some European galleries that are already in town, and they said that they've had really great responses from their clients and their collectors and have heard that a lot of them are coming to Independent. So I think it will be really positive. Thankfully it doesn't feel as dreary here as it does in Europe right now, so I think that everyone has good hopes for it.

What is the price range for the works that will be on display at the fair?

I couldn't really guess. It's probably from low entry points to things that are much higher. I don't necessarily think we're going to have any Damien Hirsts there. There could be, but I don't think it will be in that category.

I'm guessing there won't be million-dollar works, but will there be anything in the low hundred thousands?

There could be. We don't necessarily know exactly. The galleries will obviously know much better than we will.

Are there any surprises this year that will definitely grab visitors' attention, aside from Christian's layout?

Yeah, there's China Art Objects, and they're doing this massive Pae White mobile that will be hanging from the ceiling. Also, gb agency is recreating this installation by Mac Adams called Blackmail from 1976, which is a pretty large installation that's almost like a dining-room interior and that you'll be able to go through. And then RaebervonStenglin from Zürich, they have an artist named Kilian Rüthemann, and he's doing a sculpture with two tons of salt that I've seen images of when it's been installed elsewhere, and it's just fantastic. It's like a Minimalist sculpture almost, this kind of triangular sculpture of salt that goes against the wall. I can't wait to see it in person.

What kind of new currents have you been following in the art market recently? Are there any trends you've been following internationally or in the United States that you think are relevant to this Armory week?

What I end up following is not really market trends, necessarily. I'm a lot more interested in artists and in the programming side of things, and I think there are definitely programming trends, not necessarily in Independent but in general right now. The New Museum's Ungovernables triennial, for instance, is a great example of a show involving the political in art in ways that are not necessarily thought of as being political art. And you'll probably see some of that in Independent. Slavs and Tatars, which is a collaborative artist group show that shows with The Third Line, is definitely part of that vein.

Will there be any political art on view at Independent this year?

Well, we did a publication here with Mousse magazine that's not political, but it's kind of weirdly political. We collaborated with them on a project where we asked all of the galleries that participated in Independent last year to design an ad that was essentially a new version of a full-page ad for us that we then printed into this limited-edition poster. It was really great, and some of the galleries got really inventive with it, so this year we asked all the galleries to invite an artist that they either represent or they work with to come up with a new logo for their gallery. We actually printed the logos onto stickers that are in this bound sticker book, and some of the projects are just really fantastic, really inventive and creative. It's an interesting idea to think of, because obviously the gallery logo is something that you want to make recognizable but also minimal and fade into the background, because your identity is your artists. So this was interesting to have the artists recreate the identity in a way. It is interesting also in this idea that your brand is your artists but you also have this other face. So when you ask your artists to redesign your face, what does it look like? It was really great. I actually haven't even seen it in person yet because it just got printed, and Mousse is bringing them to New York on Tuesday.

What about Independent? Did you get a brand redesign as well?

Yes, we actually invited Agnieszka Kurant, who is a really fascinating Polish artist, to redo our brand. She's based in Warsaw but she's been doing a residency in New York at Location One for a while, and she actually did the project for the Polish pavilion at the 2010 Biennial. She's somebody that I don't know very well but just got to know her recently, and I thought that she would be really perfect for Independent based on the concepts behind her work. She designed this really fantastic logo that's essentially a date stamp that you would find on a cottage cheese container or something—that kind of blue. And it says, "Use by March 9, 2012." Which is kind of fantastic because that date will be in the middle of Independent's run, so you have to wonder what that means. I don't know, I just thought it was great. We do a tote bag every year, and we have an artist collaborate with us on that so we're printing it on that too.


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