For a city that cyclically re-invents itself, it seems fitting that its premier art fair is also constantly in flux, experimenting with new formats and trying to define its voice. This year, the fair organizers teamed up with architects June14 Meyer-Grohbrügge & Chermayeff to design a “quieter, cleaner, more structured look,” as described by fair director Maike Cruse. In past iterations, galleries often struggled with the fair’s raw modular walls, made from scaffolding, or abandoned the use of walls altogether to show installation based works, making it hard for visitors to tell where the display structures ended and artworks began.
The challenge was answered with a concept based on corners. Cruse explains, “We developed the idea from the artist’s perspective of what works well in presenting their work. We wanted to create the feeling of moving freely from space to space like walking through a museum.” Tall and narrow cross-sectioned walls were positioned in grids, offering unique, outward facing corners for individual gallery presentations. Furthermore, for a fair that has traditionally focused on solo artist displays, the new format opened the possibility to create curated booths with up to four artists—should a gallery purchase four corners.
As opposed to typical fair booths, which attempt to recreate the intimacy or atmosphere of a white cube, this open plan leaves no place to hide. Navigating the space felt like bouncing around in an oversize game of jacks. From any angle, multiple presentations can be seen all at once across the exhibition hall, each a gallerist’s valiant effort to prove their artists’ value to the world. Reflecting on the experience, the 1987 classic film Dirty Dancing comes to mind: the stout and handsome dance teacher Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) grabs the hand of his talented protégé Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) in the midst of a summer ball, pulling her away from her family table and stating, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Abc, like any other fair, is a courting game of display and networking. Although it may seem counterintuitive at first, the new layout works to the artists’ benefit. Works were not pushed into corners but rather expanded out from them, forcing the viewer to move in closer and commit focused attention such that the visual competition in the background disappears from view.