Last year, I wrote that “despite the chaos, it's difficult to see the Dependent as anything but a success.” This year, I'm willing to go a bit further: The Dependent Art Fair was, hands-down, the most interesting, highest-quality fair in town.
This might come as a surprise; after all, the Dependent, set in the third-through-eighth floors of a Comfort Inn, had no farm-to-table cafe, no champagne of any sort, and, shockingly, no VIP lounge. More dealers were wearing t-shirts than suits. It didn't even have a film program.
What it did have was art: tons of it, too much of it sometimes, spilling out from bedside drawers and window ledges and bathroom sinks. In some rooms, like the impenetrable Bidouin wunderkammer at RECESS Gallery, there was no space left for the viewer; the gallerist had pulled up her chair in the hallway, looking like the door staff at a haunted house.
The best booths used the cramped setting to their advantage. At Regina Rex, a superb pair of Dave Hardy sculptures, made of mattress foam blocks and carefully-angled panes of glass, rested uneasily on the hotel's twin beds; they looked a bit like a Tempur-Pedic demonstration, with the tottering wineglass swapped for an alien architecture. Foxy Production went further, inviting Michael Bell-Smith to put together a site-specific installation in their Queen-sized room. The result—a pair of framed Getty Images photographs and subtle wall decals—was clever, but would have been easy to overlook if not for the contact sheet-like collection of images of hotel rooms, attached to the bathroom door; the work as a whole may have been more site-specific than good. We only noticed when we got home that the Dependent's hotel last year—the Chelsea Sheraton—had been straight-facedly decorated with almost identical stock art.
The most fitting booth of all was at CANADA; there, Michael Mahalchick and another performer recreated John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 Bed-In, robbing the demonstration of its force by offering it for one night only. The iconic signage—“Bed Peace”, “Hair Peace”—hung just above the bed, with sly additions off to one side: “Occupy Bed”; “Peace Bros”. We're not sure what the point of the piece was, but it worked well in the context of the fair- not least because of the surprise, noticeable in every visitor, of suddenly walking into a hotel room that seems occupied. It's a good trick for hotel fairs—Kenya Robinson had a similar performance at the Dependent last year—because the location gives it the force of reality; Christian Eisenberger's similar sleep-in at Teapot's Armory booth, by comparison, nearly disappeared amidst that fair's hubbub.
Some booths, of course, took a more traditional route. Reference Gallery, of Richmond, brought an airy image-object sculpture by Artie Vierkant that looked absolutely sublime propped against the window, along with a motorcycle painted in the fashion of Barnett Newman, by Jon Rafman. The bike is the first sculpture anyone at AFC had seen by Rafman, and it worked- a fact which may actually be something of a problem for the artist. Looking at the tricolored motorcycle, resting improbably in all the seriousness that solidity confers, the print series it was based on began to look weak; we hope this isn't Rafman's last foray into sculpture.
Vierkant was also offering—as a free takeaway—a series of poorly-printed, lightly-Photoshopped installation shots of his last show at Reference, an idea that sounds terrible but actually produced some of the best work in the fair. Since Vierkant's image-objects are essentially Photoshop strokes materialized, even the very slight modifications made to the photographs were enough to create doubt that the show existed at all; one looks at the prints, then back to the window-sculpture, just to make sure that it's an object from our world and not Adobe's. Bits of surface damage, caused by the printers at Fedex, added another, less dubious layer of reality and objecthood to the slightly falsified images of real image-objects. It was an ecstatic accident. I took three.
The rest of our notes and highlights in caption form, below.