Who says art has to hang on a white wall? Alexandre de Betak, the namesake of the design firm Bureau Betak, has designed many things—museum exhibitions (he's designed them at institutions like MOCA Los Angeles and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs), the backdrops for fashion shows (he regularly does the scenography for brands like Dior and Rodarte), and more, but he's never done an art fair booth, until last week, when he unveiled the stand he created for Galerie Gmurzynska's booth at TEFAF New York at the Park Avenue Armory.
The TEFAF committee granted Galerie Gmurzynska a coveted place in the fair in the Colonel's Room, which greeted visitors at TEFAF's entrance. A fusion of things influenced the booth's design, which was in the form of a grid composed of lines of LED lights—a signature mark of Bureau Betak—and thin cement board. The only thing De Betak left uncovered was the space's ceiling. "It was a mix of Brutalism, and minimalism and modernity," said De Betak. "The idea was to basically enhance very important art in a completely different manner than usually done, and daring."
The results are Tron meets Modernism. On the left, a large-scale abstract work bursting with energy by Roberto Matta provides a nice interplay with the concrete walls, thanks to its matching grey backdrop. On the right, visitors experience a photograph of Christo's stunning 2005 installation "The Gates," where the artist and his late partner, Jeanne-Claude, lined Central Park's paths with vibrant saffron banners that pop against De Betak's walls. Next to it, a cigarette sculpture by Pop artist Tom Wesselmann makes one think of a cigarette against pavement. The room also displayed works by Fernand Léger and Joan Miró. "You can actually collect and show very important art in a very daring environment — not just on a white wall — and it actually enhances it," said De Betak. "It also gives it a modern meaning. Some of these art pieces you'll have seen before, but they read completely differently."
The highlight of the room, no doubt, was the reflective cube that De Betak installed in the back of the room. Its mirrored sides interact with the art. It gives an Yves Klein piece a new form, adding lines to it through its frame, and splitting it in half in the cube's reflection. The mirrored cube also provided ideal selfie material. A secret revolving door at the back of the cube gives VIPs access to a private room that showcased series of works by Russian avant-garde master Alexander Rodchenko. Its reflective ceiling gave way to another vantage point. "In the glass you see the reflections of the grid, and when you move you see something completely different," said De Betak.
The booth itself was unlike anything else at TEFAF and it gave fairgoers a new way to observe. No wonder why it attracted the likes of Marc Jacobs, Valentino, and Raf Simons. "It's an installation in itself that's hopefully highlighting and enhancing — in a different manner — the artwork," said De Betak. This isn't the first time the Swiss gallery mixed new and old — Galerie Gmurzynska has a history of combining innovative exhibition design with master works, like it did last summer in its Zurich space, where it merged the late Zaha Hadid's design with the work of Dada-era artist Kurt Schwitters.
See just what it took to transform the period room at the Park Avenue Armory into the De Betak-designed space in this time-lapse video: