Art and design fairs often provide a platform for emerging designers—Design Miami has long commissioned installations for its entrance, and Frieze New York’s serpentine tent gave a serious boost to the career of SO-IL, to name a few. But this year, the Independent Art Fair took a risk, hiring a couple of untested young collaborators to design the exhibition spaces at its New York fair, which opens today and runs through March 9.
The fair, founded by art dealers Elizabeth Dee and Darren Flook, is known as a cool, less fussy, but well-turned-out alternative to the massive Armory Show, which takes place at the same time. Galleries are chosen by referral, rather than an application, with an emphasis on mounting exhibitions as much as selling art. Now in its fifth year, the Independent is held in a former warehouse that was once home to the Dia Art Foundation. To temporarily partition three floors of open space into separate display areas for each of the fair’s 56 galleries, the organizers turned to Andrew Feuerstein and Bret Quagliara, who met as undergraduates at the University of Colorado, Boulder and went on to work together at New York-based Leven Betts Studio. The duo also collaborates on their own work, and through a friend who was until recently a director at Dee’s gallery, they landed the gig to design temporary partitions for the Independent, their first commission.
Feuerstein and Quagliara based the fair’s parti on the tangram, a puzzle in which you arrange a given set of seven geometric shapes into a predefined silhouette. They designed wall configurations based on sharp triangular components for each floor of the building. (The arrangements defined small, medium, and large spaces to accommodate the square-footage-based fees for renting a booth.) The designers then customized the formations to accommodate the work that each gallery planned to show. “The idea is that everyone gets a distinct space but you’re still part of a whole,” says Feuerstein. “You feel like you’re still part of an overall aesthetic.”
While most art fairs offer dealers space in monotonous cubic stalls, Feuerstein and Quagliara’s design allows the Independent to have a more open configuration. The walls cut diagonally across the cast-in-place concrete building’s beams, defining sightlines between galleries and letting natural light from the north- and south-facing windows enter the deep space. “Where two angled walls disappear in perspective at the same time, you can see two different galleries exhibiting on what would appear to be the same plane,” says Feuerstein. “The walls have trajectories leading you into a gallery and then spilling you out.”
At a preview yesterday, the effect of the architecture was subtle. It stays, as it should, out of the way of displaying—and selling—art, but it also delivers on the promise to create a refreshingly unified experience of moving from gallery to gallery, and the quietly unique scheme by two unkonwn designers makes a strong first impression.