Boats (2018) by Peter Shire. Photography by Pernille Louf.
Vases (2018) by Gaetano Pesce. Photography by Pernille Louf.
Masks by R Weil, Colette Guéden, Jaque Sagan, and Roger Capron. Photography by Pernille Louf.

Brooklyn’s Newest Art & Design Fair Breaks All the Rules

Object & Thing, an art and design–focused exhibition concept masterminded by Frieze alum Abby Bangser, lands in Bushwick this weekend with a simple agenda: elevate the humble object to high art while easing the financial risk for galleries.

Object & Thing, an art and design–focused exhibition concept masterminded by Frieze alum Abby Bangser, lands in Bushwick this weekend with a simple agenda: elevate the humble object to high art while easing the financial risk for galleries.

Frieze Week is officially upon us—New York City’s creative cognoscenti are preparing, both mentally and physically, to make their annual pilgrimage to Randall’s Island Park for the ne plus ultra contemporary art showcase. The concurrent TEFAF New York Spring, which pops up at Manhattan’s historic Park Avenue Armory, is also on the itinerary. We all know the drill: Six-figure artworks, in general, are nice to gawk at, but most 99-percenters lack the financial means to justify such extravagant purchases. That same logic applies to galleries, if on a slightly different axis. When it comes to fairs, smaller dealers risk financial losses if their artworks don’t sell, while simply not participating results in a lack of buzz—a particularly damaging consequence in the age of Instagram over-sharing.

Abby Bangser, former artistic director at Frieze Americas, diagnosed this troubling art fair dynamic and decided to, well, break the rules. Enter the inaugural Object & Thing, the art-and-design fair that unites 32 blue-chip dealers of design objects under one roof—in this case, a light-filled Bushwick warehouse. Bangser’s motivation is simple: democratize the object while elevating it to high art, sparing galleries of steep dealer costs in the process. (Object & Thing takes sales commissions to eliminate dealer fees.)

To put her plan into action, Bangser tapped an array of top-notch galleries, including Friedman Benda, Hauser & Wirth, and CLEARING, to lend more than 200 objects to the main exhibition. She then enlisted Architecture at Large founder Rafael de Cárdenas, a longtime friend and confidant, for creative direction. They established The Shop, a retail component that features nine international boutiques selling reasonably priced wares—we’re talking less than $100—that are available for on-site purchase. Not to mention an e-commerce platform that showcases each object with descriptions penned by curator Glenn Adamson. It seems like a heavy lift, but Bangser’s breezy savoir faire suggests that hatching her plan wasn’t too much of a hustle. We sat down with her and de Cárdenas to get the full scoop.

(FROM LEFT) Vase (2017) by Yeesookyung through Gallery Hyundai. Girl Mirror (2017) by Katie Stout through R & Company. Photography by Joe Kramm.

Opening day is around the corner! How are things?

Abby Bangser: I’m thrilled! I wanted to launch a new fair experience and an e-commerce platform, and I’m so proud of what we accomplished. Now I’m just eager for the response from visitors!

Tell me about this new fair experience.

AB: I started with a desire to bring together art and design while eliminating the conceptual hierarchy between the two disciplines. Objects seem to accomplish this perfectly—both artists and designers have object-making practices. These works are rarely exhibited in commercial and institutional settings, which tend to prioritize paintings and furniture. It makes sense when considering the scale of exhibition spaces and the financial model behind art fair participation in renting booth space to galleries.

Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, founder of Salon 94 and Salon 94 Design and a member of the Object & Thing advisory committee, advised on how best to structure the fair for gallery participation. We don’t charge galleries a participation fee—we keep a commission on sales instead, ensuring that nearly all financial risk is eliminated for galleries and assumed by Object & Thing as the organizer. We also wanted to provide greater accessibility to art and design for a wide range of collectors—prices range from $1,000 to $50,000—while wares in The Shop fall under $100. Each work in the central exhibition is available for sale on our website, creating even more accessibility.

Boats (2018) by Peter Shire. Photography by Pernille Louf.
Cadeira (2009) by Sonia Gomes for Mendes Wood.

So how does Object & Thing address the gaps within the art and design fair marketplace?

Rafael de Cárdenas: Object & Thing does several things that other fairs don’t. Perhaps the most important is how it situates objects in relation to each other and the audience. We’re displaying more than 200 objects, each placed in dialogue with one another in a way that would otherwise seem improbable in a typical gallery. But we also situate the objects so that each can stand alone.

AB: Our focus on objects is unusual—we’re not aware of other fairs that exclusively spotlight objects. These smaller-scale works usually don’t receive exhibition space either due to physical constraints within a booth, or because pricier artworks (typically paintings or furniture) take priority to make fair participation profitable. We are also not presenting pretty decorative, functional pieces. These are challenging sculptural works that are both beautiful and conceptually driven. The works may or may not be functional. We’re working at the intersection between art and design.

How does the show navigate this intersection?

RDC: In one very simple way: it doesn’t acknowledge a distinction.

AB: We’ve achieved a balance between working with contributing galleries who identify as both art and design programs. The works are presented together in one space, as Rafael says, without distinction.

In terms of the works on display, what can we expect?

RDC: There are works from Françoise Grossen, Peter Shire, Ricky Swallow, and Sonia Gomes, among many others Some are furniture, others are more sculptural. Ultimately, each object can be picked up and moved around. Objects have a different presence from wall works, often a greater immediacy. You live with them and around them in a more intimate way.

Furniture by Green River Project. Photography by Pernille Louf.
Vases (2018) by Gaetano Pesce. Photography by Pernille Louf.

Abby, how did your experience as Frieze’s artistic director influence your ideation and curation of the show?

AB: I learned how fairs function as a space for the community to come together. Frieze does an incredible job of setting an agenda for the contemporary art zeitgeist and becoming a place where that community congregates. This takeaway has been crucial in building Object & Thing—I can’t wait to see the art and design communities gather together in one place.

That’s an interesting point. I’ve been hearing more and more about a growing attitude of “fairtigue”—i.e., fair fatigue—that was perhaps felt strongest during this year’s surprisingly lean Armory Arts Week. How does Object & Thing address this mindset?

RDC: It’s a collection of thoughtfully curated objects in a sunlit setting. It’s not overwhelming. It can be absorbed.

AB: I think the experience, particularly navigating the central installation, will feel much more like visiting a biennial or a large-scale museum exhibition. You won’t see aisles of booths. Rather, this a thoughtfully curated selection of works with one unified vision. As Rafael says, the scale is just right to not overwhelm visitors.

In your opinion, how do the art and design spheres struggle with accessibility? How can we improve?

RDC: This fair is separate from art-world politics. It’s quite democratic.

AB: Often, collectors have limited access to a gallery’s works until they build a relationship with the owner. It makes sense—galleries that are building artists’ careers and have limited works to showcase in public and private collections. Object & Thing sells works to those who express first interest during the preview. Anyone can acquire the works, too. We’re very transparent about pricing.

How did this collaboration unfold?

RDC: As friends and like-minded people, we were already having these kinds of conversations. It was very organic. Abby invited me to participate as artistic director and I jumped at the opportunity.

AB: I’m grateful that Rafael took on this role. He has an inspirational vision for art, design, and wider culture. He’s someone I greatly respect.

Masks by R Weil, Colette Guéden, Jaque Sagan, and Roger Capron. Photography by Pernille Louf.
Sensual Sculpture (c. 1980) by Beate Kuhn through Jason Jacques Gallery.

Aside from Bushwick Open Studios, I haven’t seen many design fairs venture into the neighborhood. What factors went into choosing the venue?

AB: My friend Molly McIver and her business partner Wells Stellberger established 99 Scott. I like their events and consider Object & Thing part of this community. Also, one essential component was being in a light-filled space. There’s a rawness to the building that enables each work to exert itself. I was also attracted to the combination of indoor and outdoor space—we have an 8,000-square-foot garden, which will host our food pop-ups as well as an installation of furniture by Green River Project.

How else is the show engaging with the neighborhood?

AB: Bushwick abounds with creative energy! We’re blocks away from CLEARING, one of our contributing galleries, and Mission Chinese Food recently opened around the corner, where it’ll preview its lunch menu. Onsite, Brooklyn-based restaurateur Andrew Tarlow will have a pop-up of Marlow & Daughters.

What do you hope visitors take away from Object & Thing?

AB: Objects, for one! [Laughs] But most importantly, a renewed sense of discovery and appreciation for how objects can elevate day-to-day life.

Object & Thing runs May 3–5 at 99 Scott in Brooklyn.

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