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Elizabeth Dee, New York gallerist and founder of the progressive X Initiative, is preparing for the fourth edition of Independent (March 7 -10). Conceived by Dee, along with Darren Flook of Hotel in London, the Independent has set itself apart by providing a unique platform for commercial galleries and non-profit spaces to rub shoulders.
Smack in the middle of Chelsea, both Elizabeth Dee gallery and the Independent offer weary art lovers and patrons a breath of fresh air from increasingly bombastic, for-profit galleries and art fairs, where VIP lounges and exclusivity have become the norm. Representing an impressive roster of contemporary artists, including Mark Barrow, Philippe Decrauzat and Adrian Piper, Dee is continuing to find new ways to present and support their work. We spoke to her about how Independent first came into fruition, what to expect from the fair this year, and the evolution of the art market.
WW: This year’s Independent art fair, housed in the former Dia Center for the Arts space, opens March 7. How did the idea of Independent come about?
ED: When Independent started in 2009, most of the international galleries of our generation had not participated in the Armory Show or exhibited in New York. The ADAA fair was an American model we admired as an association oriented art fair. With Independent, we felt we could produce something here that was program-driven but with a similar scale.
There had always been a desire to produce a project with our international peers and develop it with our essential needs in mind. At that time, we were crossing paths at fairs in Paris, Basel, Miami, or London and discussing this regularly. Darren Flook and I developed the initial concept for Independent together out of necessity and our interest in keeping New York as a center for our work. We were in Turin at the time, sitting on the art fair jury for Artissima reviewing art fair applications when the idea was born.
WW: Jeffery Deitch described X initiative as “one of the biggest contributions to the New York art community in the past five years.” With Independent you seem to be continuing this sentiment by dedicating this year’s fair to non-profits hit by Hurricane Sandy. Was that an important decision for you?
ED: It was an important decision. Hurricane Sandy was a traumatic moment for New York galleries and especially the non-profit institutions. Dedicating this edition of Independent to the New York non-profits was a natural response. As you know, Matthew Higgs, Director of White Columns, is our curatorial advisor for Independent. He has been extraordinarily involved in the rebuilding effort. It is great to be able to respond and to help support these institutions.
Thank you for bringing up X Initiative. That project enabled us to envision the coexistence of institutions and galleries at Independent. In both X Initiative and Independent, the interaction between for-profit galleries and non-profit institutions is one of its main strengths. Many of the former members of X Initiative are involved in Independent, so there is a natural continuity between the projects.
WW: You promote artists who deal with conceptual, political, and social concerns. Do you think it’s important for galleries to have a social conscience?
ED: Galleries that are program oriented should ask questions rather than answer them in shows and projects. This is the focus of our work at the gallery, to seek out what we don’t yet know and acknowledge moments of recognition with moments of questioning. If we’re not presenting work that addresses genuine questions in this process then we’re not contributing anything to the conversation.
WW: Half of your artists are women and you have spoken in the past of feminism being a critical part to your gallery program. How far have women in the arts progressed since artists like Adrian Piper started making gender infused work?
ED: There should be nothing special about any gallery that mirrors society’s demographics, but that still remains the case, so clearly there are still many injustices.
Adrian Piper is one of the most celebrated and revered living artists. She commands a very large international audience and there is major demand for her work to be seen. Yet, over the years there has been great resistance to her work in the art system. For women addressing issues of race, class, gender, and society, the environment is still unsupportive and unpredictable. Despite all these contradictions I find working in this realm very stimulating. I like the challenge.
WW: Many of your artists do not necessarily make objects that are market orientated. As commercial art changes do you think collectors are becoming more visionary?
ED: I’m confident that artistic innovation leads to evolution in the market. We began co-producing video art, installation art, and performance with artists for gallery and museum projects 10 years ago that, at the time, collectors considered completely “outside of the box.” This work has inspired them to expand their understanding of a collection and has since created major markets for artists that would never have existed previously. The genres of new media, video, and performance are affordable to collectors now but won’t always be. If galleries can rise to the occasion and present these works to a broader audience, we could potentially see a tremendous shift in collecting in the future.
WW:Who is showing this year at Independent that you are particularly excited about?
ED: All of the projects this year are quite strong, but I will highlight a few to give you a sense of the diversity in this year’s edition:
This year Broadway 1602 will feature Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) This exceptional project called “ARTCASH” pushed boundaries in the art world of the early 1970s in New York. The project was not only a creative way of raising money for the media circulation of artists’ projects, but it also provoked questions about the art market in relation to the non-profit self-organization of artists.
Susanne Zander (Cologne) will present a group exhibition titled “The Occult in Art: The Artist As A Medium,” featuring mediumistic works by Thomas Gendenning Hamilton, Margarethe Held, and Agatha Wojciechowsky.
RaebervonStenglin (Zurich) will present a solo show by Jill Magid. Wilfreid Lentz (Rotterdam) will feature and present new works by James Beckett. Thea Westreich produced a publication with Beckett that I am looking forward to seeing at the book launch.
We’re also excited to host DAP for the first time this year with an extensive book selection along with Mousse, Milan, and Bidoun.
Architect Christian Wassmann has been commissioned by Independent to design the roof tent this year, which will act as our common gathering space and a site for conversations between artists, gallerists, curators, and the public.
Elizabeth Dee is founder of Elizabeth Dee Gallery, X Initiative, and Independent Art Fair in New York City. The gallery was incorporated in 2002 as a home for innovative artists working across media and has produced international exhibitions by Adrian Piper, Miriam Cahn (debut), Alex Bag, Eric Baudelaire (debut), Jeff Keen (debut), Ryan McNamara (debut), and Mark Barrow, among others.