Independent New York delivers resilience, poignance and power

Independent New York delivers resilience, poignance and power

As Armory Week gets underway, we zoom in on the art fair shaking up the scene with its intellectual vibe

New York is a markedly resilient city. In spite of the postponement of events globally, Armory Week kicked off in rude health this week with art fairs and public exhibition openings proceeding largely as scheduled. Although the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the city remains relatively low, at Independent New York (6-8 March 2020), elbow nudges appear to have usurped fist bumps as the greeting of choice.

Independent founder and CEO Elizabeth Dee had an optimistic outlook, noting that the fair was being vigilant about the situation and wanted ‘to make people confident about coming together’. Certainly, there are few fair settings more appealing than the lofty, light-filled environs of Spring Studios, where Independent unfolds across four floors.

‘It’s difficult to go deep, and to go wide – curatorially speaking – but we have achieved both,’ explains Dee. ‘We have a high proportion of solo and duo exhibitions (between 40 – 50 among the 64 exhibitors), so the galleries are making a commitment. But we have also gone wide, with a record number of presentations by Latin American artists, and artists of colour, who identify with the African diaspora but who aren’t necessarily African-American.’ The result is an offering unusually focused for a fair, while eschewing the traditional model of sterile booth configurations and largely forgettable presentations.

Mons (11), 2019, by Jesse Harrod, cotton, acrylic, aluminium. Courtesy of Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia

This year, perhaps due to the recent news of a certain disgraced Hollywood mogul’s criminal conviction in New York, the work of female artists seemed to carry an increased sense of poignancy and power. Marianne Boesky Gallery made its Independent debut with a solo presentation of ceramic sculptures Cairo-born artist Ghada Amer, who is known for using craft techniques traditionally mastered by women to explore female sexual independence. Also brilliant is a new self-portrait of Gillian Wearing styled as the Mona Lisa at Maureen Paley, while Anne Libby subverts corporate symbols of power and control at Magenta Plains.

Independent is also a fair where galleries think big – literally. At Rachel Uffner, the colossal figure-like sculptures of Bianca Beck loomed over us, punctuating Spring Studios with a flush of fluorescent paint. The neon theme continued over at Berlin-based Peres Projects, where the gallery team was found wheeling and dealing from blazing orange furniture designed by Finn Meier – a jarring visual counterpoint to Richard Kennedy’s solo presentation of paintings and a new video work mounted on a silver foil-covered walls. And Jesse Harrod quietly awed at Philadelphia’s Fleisher/Ollman Gallery with her colourful cotton works.

‘The invite-only fair makes a point to refresh 30 per cent of its roster each year – and this forward-looking ethos is also mirrored in collaborative initiatives, such as a special presentation with Object & Thing of object-based works, new to Independent this year. ‘This is more than just a fair – it’s a philosophy, it’s a point of view, it’s a broadening of what’s seen, it’s an embracing of voices that need tone part of the conversation, part of that consensus,’ reflects Dee. ‘It’s a place for knowledgeable collectors to feel even more knowledgeable.’ §

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