Independent Art Fair 2014

Brienne Walsh and David Everitt Howe on why Independent is so much cooler than the Armory

Indpendent 2014, installation view. Photo: Tom Powell Imaging

Independent has always seemed like something of a misnomer. How is it 'independent' exactly? Isn’t this fair’s exhibitor list full of the same pretentious types as other fairs? It doesn’t look like the Miami Beach Convention Center, that much is true, but a helping of natural light, historic building features, and a top-notch architectural design doesn’t mean that it isn’t, still, an art fair with the same aim as other art fairs. Which is, namely, to make money. Independent just looks sexier doing it. And who doesn’t like sex?

ArtReview contributors Brienne Walsh and David Everitt Howe certainly do. They schlepped through Independent pretending not to see everyone they saw at the Armory while trying to understand why Independent is so much cooler, and more pleasant, than the Armory.


1. Everything was tasteful at Independent. People were wearing dark colours and perfume that smelled like it could only be purchased at some insidery boutique. “Isn’t this so much better than the Armory?” was the first comment everyone seemed to be making when running into friends. But that’s like saying, “Isn’t this beautifully appointed Alexander Wang store so much better than an airport duty free lounge?”

2. When I first arrived, it was early afternoon, and a warm light suffused the galleries’ installations. Stefan Müller’s paintings, which were hung over the windows in Nagel Draxler’s booth, appeared luminous – abstract compositions redolent of Cy Twombly. Later, before I left, I visited Müller’s paintings again. The light had fallen, and they looked like dirty burlap.

3. At first glance, Gavin Brown’s booth was the most intimidating, given that stanchions cordoned it off. These turned out to be a work by Nick Relph, the white stanchion belt woven by the artist. Inside the rope line stood the artist Frances Stark, who was more than happy to tell us a little bit about her untitled work, which consisted of photographs printed from her Instagram feed. “In the art historical world, I’m a somebody,” she said. “But on Instagram, I’m a nobody. I have only 100 followers.” When asked why that was, she mused. “I’m a poet. I’m not a fucking superstar like Beyoncé.” She was a superstar at the Independent though: in wedge sneakers and a leather jacket, she was selling images that she has already given away for free.


1. Not to burden the point, but it amazes me how difficult it could be to get information on anything. Yes, many of the dealers were just too busy talking to the only people who matter at art fairs: collectors, obviously. But on the whole, the booth minders seemed either clueless or just crass in their attempts to size up who was worth their time. At Maccarone, when I asked the handsome-ish dealer on hand if he could provide a checklist, he told me, a little contemptuously, “I can be your checklist.” Wondering whether that was white-glove service or debasing insult, it nonetheless raised the question of what else he could be for me. Pool boy? Plumber? An unholy tryst in the night? I was feeling rather uptight, and the options, seemingly, were endless!

2. While it was, admittedly, a preview, I was actually impressed with the fair’s intimate scale. Many of the exhibiting artists were on hand, which proved helpful when their dealers were drooling over dollars. As Brie noted, Frances Stark was charming as she idled at Gavin Brown. Apparently John Bock was in the room too, at the Sprüth Magers booth, where a woman tore into Bock’s statue of himself with a chainsaw. Daniele Balice was chatting away at Balice and Hertling’s corner, Janice Guy was at Murray Guy’s section, and Matthew Higgs was just kind of lurking around looking stressed out.

3. What about the work, you ask? The work? Well, it was all very tasteful – maybe too much so. There were a lot of throwbacks. Michael Werner Gallery’s Hans Arp statues being a notable example, as were the Calder-inspired mobiles on display. With its string of eyeballs and abstract shapes, the large mobile at Andrew Kreps channelled a Bataille-like surrealism. Pae White’s colourful mass of delicate paper cut-outs at Kaufmann Repetto looked like something I might have made in pre-school (not a compliment). Again, often more impressive than the works was the natural light: it flooded in and cast strong shadows, such that the space itself struck the highest note.