In a Charged Moment, the Independent Art Fair Keeps It Cool
You can find works you'll love, priced as low as $750.
The sun was beaming so strongly into New York’s Independent art fair during Thursday afternoon’s preview that both dealer Jay Grimm and New Museum director Lisa Phillips were spotted wearing sunglasses indoors. A wall of west-facing windows let the artworks on the sixth floor bask in sunlight coming in over the Hudson River. The art could have been wearing sunglasses too. Independent, now in its eighth year in existence and second year in the chicly loft-like Spring Studios ( normally a venue for fashion shoots), is just that cool.
And while the talk at the fair was often about the troubling national picture, with the news about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recusal from any investigation of Russian election-meddling ricochetting through the opening day, the artistic atmosphere was a buoyant contrast to that displeasing reality. Pleasure of various kinds was the order of the day, from the bright, airy setting to the discovery of unknown young artists and the reintroduction of elder statesmen and -women. Political art is here too, but mostly of the fun or suavely aestheticized kind.
Even navigating the space is pleasant. Fairs are often organized in deadening aisles and numbing booths; Independent, in keeping with its identity as a dealer-founded fair established by New York’s Elizabeth Dee and London’s Darren Flook, sets up the architecture to echo the gallery setting.
Herewith, find six of my favorite artworks at the fair, from the fun-loving to the frisky.
Andrés Eidelstein at Karma (New York)
I will wager you have not heard of this twenty-something artist, who studies economics in Buenos Aires and started making porcelain polymer sculptures just last year; after all, this is the first public showing of his work. Revel in his tiny figurines of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton alongside a burning limousine—an image from Inauguration Day anti-fascist protests. Between them, suggesting the bracing oddness of Eidelstein’s project, sits Clifford the Big Red Dog, of children’s book fame. Nearby is a tipoff to another of his inspirations: A several-inch-long version of Ugo Rondinone’s Magic Mountains.
Eidelstein gets a lot of his ideas from Instagram. Seeing Rondinone’s massive sculptures in miniature alongside Yoda with a lightsaber, Miss Piggy, Michelangelo’s David, and a Louise Bourgeois spider, all of them the same scale, provides a particularly satisfying illustration of what’s by now a commonplace: once all these icons are submitted to the flattening format of the social feed, they’re all the same size.
Also easy to love: they’re priced at just $750. That’s not a typo.
Disko Girls at Delmes & Zander (Berlin)
“We saved this work to show it here, even though the seller brought it to us last year,” Susanne Zander told me, saying that the fair’s brainy audience is the perfect fit for these sexy, colorful drawings by an anonymous artist known only as Disko Girls. Their discoverer came upon them in an attic in the ’90s in Germany and held onto them until now.
Priced at $1,260 each, the drawings typically focus on one or two female figures, often nude, in poses that suggest magazine spreads, sometimes tending to fashion, sometimes to the more prurient variety. The drawings offer at once the shock that so much Outsider art contains—of a previously inaccessible worldview—and another instance of the discoveries that Independent is known for.
Topical and emotional subjects like the death in police custody of the African-American woman Sandra Bland and the dozens of fatalities that resulted from the fire at San Francisco’s Ghost Ship artists’ colony provide the substratum for these understatedly gorgeous works by Portland artist Ellen Lesperance, priced at $13,500 each.
The bottom layer of the imagery is made from cyanotypes of flowers that form a memorial for the deceased; atop them, Lesperance paints geometric designs inspired by imagery of Amazonian women as they were depicted on Greek pottery, with all the associations they bring—strength, fearlessness, woman-centered societies.
Lesperance, who’s an activist herself at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, where students and faculty have been in open revolt, thus shows how subjects that inspire activism can be abstracted into works that wear their emotional heft with subtlety.
A smiling Dan Graham and a slightly more somber Robert Barry, two giants of the New York Conceptual art landscape of the 1970s, peer out from a 1975 photograph by Warsaw-born Romanian-French artist André Cadere, taken during his first sojourn to Manhattan. They’re standing on a New York sidewalk, near where Cadere was displaying one of his trademark sculptures, his barres de bois rond (round bars of wood), in what he thought of as a public exhibition of work he hoped could live equally well in the street as in the gallery—a need many artists have felt all the more in the decades since. Priced at about $30,000 for a set of 30, they show Cadere’s bright-hued sculptures in a gray, run-down New York.
Only about 180 of André Cadere’s wooden bar sculptures survive, says an entry on Tate’s website (he died at 44). The several works here, which lean against the wall and combine a limited set of colors in repeating combinations to engage with systems (but include deliberate errors), are available at prices ranging from about $100,000 to $630,000.
Few fairs would be complete these days without some light-hearted, interactive work, and here you see the author goofing around with a $45,000 guitar sculpture—thankfully, I learned the price only later—by English artist David Shrigley, known for his disarmingly funny, self-effacing work. (Londoners, fresh off the Brexit vote, might have taken some comfort in his Fourth Plinth sculpture, Really Good, a cartoonish hand with a distended digit making a thumbs-up gesture.) These guitars are designed by the artist and fabricated by professionals; each comes hooked up to a small amplifier but has only one string. (Unclear whether that makes it harder to go up to 11.)
There’s also a handmade gong, priced at $40,000; a staffer at a neighboring gallery joked about a Pavlovian response each time she heard it, thinking that the sound marked the end of her shift. If that’s too rich for your blood, you can buy drum heads printed with various slogans for just $5,000, or drawings for $3,000.
Eighty-five-year-old painter Alice Mackler’s ceramic sculptures have taken critics by storm, earning love from critics like Roberta Smith in the New York Times and Anne Doran in Time Out when Schuss debuted them at this very fair in 2014, and from collectors like Zoë and Joel Dictrow. It’s easy to see why; these diminutive female figures are crafted in ways that would probably cause traditional potters to turn up their noses, but her painterly application of glazes brings out real personality in each. Priced at just $8,000 to $10,000, they include a lovable woman with an orange coif and another whose upstretched yellow arms, joined at the hands, combine with her colorful body to turn her into something like an Easter basket.
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