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Seasoned visitors to the world’s art fairs are well used to the familiar format of a big hall divided into individual booths, each housing one gallery. But a new fair called Object & Thing, which will have its VIP opening on Friday May 3 in Brooklyn, intends to disrupt not just this long-established mode of presentation but the system of selling too.
“Everything is on consignment from all 32 galleries who are participating,” explains Abby Bangser, the fair’s founder. “And we will be in charge of the display.” A mix of art and design, the prices will range from $1,000 to $50,000. Once the VIP day is done, the entire fair will be buyable online.
The layout of Object & Thing has been devised by its artistic director, the Manhattan-based architect Rafael de Cárdenas, as a field of bespoke tables of varying heights. “That’s bespoke, as in, we had to keep the price down. Though I have to say they are deceptively elegant,” says Cárdenas of the results, made of sturdy cardboard columns and birch ply tops. On these he will arrange every piece, irrespective of which gallery they are from. “We’ll have incense burning in the Evan Holloway incense burner from David Kordansky, and Saipua [Brooklyn’s own ikebana expert] will be doing arrangements in the Gaetano Pesce vases from Salon 94,” he says.
Among these, the O&T staff will meander with iPads on which to make sales: more like an Apple store than an art fair. Should you want more information on exhibits, that will be found on the website, where the craft curator Glenn Adamson (ex-director of New York’s Museum of Art and Design) has written short interpretive texts.
“There is as much small-scale, liveable, usable work by artists as there is less functional work by designers,” says Adamson. “Just writing the texts, I got a real sense of convergence between disciplines around domestically scaled objects.”
There is, for example, an armchair by the Brazilian Sonia Gomes at Mendes Wood, an artist known for mixed-media sculpture. “It’s a reflection of how people are collecting,” continues Adamson.
The venue is 99 Scott, an early-20th-century brick-built warehouse, which reopened in September 2017 as a location for edgy fashion events and tastefully urban weddings as well as cultural happenings around food and wine.
Such hipsterish baggage will certainly help to define the identity of the fair, along with Scott Avenue itself, on the border where East Williamsburg and Bushwick meet, a street with a newly opened branch of Lower East Side restaurant Mission Chinese, a destination vintage clothing store and a meadery called Honey’s. Yes, a meadery.
The new thinking behind Object & Thing is as much a response to the economics of the art fair, as a way of fashioning new aesthetics conditions or breaking down the boundaries between art and design.
Booth rental, especially at brand-leader fairs such as Frieze and Art Basel, is incredibly high, and then there are the costs of having a fleet of staff available throughout a fair’s duration, who might also require accommodation and food. These expenses limit galleries to bringing the work that can turn the most profit.
At Object & Thing, all the gallery has to do is get the work (exclusively three-dimensional objects — there is no wall work on show) to the venue, and Bangser and co will do the rest. Although she will not disclose the commission that she will take, Bangser says it’s in line with standard gallery rates.
Abby Bangser was the artistic director of Frieze New York from 2014 to 2017. She knows the territory, and clearly has some friends in the right places: the gallery line-up is impressive for an untried experiment, and includes top New York design galleries R+Co and Friedman Benda, as well as blue-chip art dealer Matthew Marks. This gallery is sending in one of the more expensive consignments: $45,000 sculptures by the British artist Rebecca Warren.
There are also galleries from further afield — Seoul, São Paulo and London, for example. Andrew Hamilton from Glasgow’s Modern Institute, who shows at all three Art Basels and three out of four Frieze fairs, says he was attracted by the idea of external curation, as well as the fact that he didn’t have to find any extra staff.
“And as a gallery we’ve always been interested in the bridge between practice. We show artists like Martin Boyce and Martino Gamper who cross the divides.”
Hamilton will be sending along some charming vases by Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan — miniature versions of the huge orthogonal animals shown last year at Coachella. At $1,000-$5,000, and usable to boot, this is art that will definitely find a home at home.
May 3-5, object-thing.com
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