Artists are famously ambivalent about showing up at art fairs. John Baldessari once likened the experience to that of a kid walking in on his parents having sex. But showing one’s art at them is de rigeur. Fairs—evolved from bazaars stocked with secondary-market material to, now, meccas for the new—are an integral part of the art ecosystem. In recent years, some have sprung up that try to improve on the trade fair model. Independent, founded by Elizabeth Dee and Darren Flook in New York in 2010 and since expanded to Brussels, is one such fair. A “curated” event, it is clubbier and more intimate than most art fairs—booths tend to blur and blend together, and the art leans toward the cool and critically lauded. This year’s hometown edition, at Spring Studios in lower Manhattan in March, features some 45 international galleries and institutions. In its ideal state, as identified by co-director Alix Dana, “Independent incentivizes the creation of ambitious projects by encouraging artists and galleries to take risks.” For this installment of Habitat, ARTnews visited the studios of New York artists—all of them in Brooklyn—making new work for the fair.
For the past two years Landon Metz has been painting in an East Williamsburg studio—big, cold, and bright in the early hours of a bracing winter day. “Fairs are a necessary component of my practice,” he said, “but my hope is that they don’t alter my work in the slightest.” The result, on view in the booth for the Oslo-based gallery VI, VII: spare, graphic canvases on which bold shapes seem to hover and float.
“It’s important that the work has a life before and after the fair,” Anna Betbeze said about a series of textile paintings and burnt-wood sculptures she has been making over the past several years. In time for a visit, she made her way to Williamsburg from Connecticut, where she teaches at Yale University. Some of her sculptures had been forged farther away—in her hometown of Columbus, Georgia—but they found a place with the New York dealer Jay Gorney for the fair.
In Bed-Stuy, in a studio with a backyard just a few blocks from where he lives, Derrick Adams worked on more than a dozen paintings to show with Tilton Gallery at the fair. Related to his “Deconstruction Worker” series, the works are “stylized representations of my daily encounters and from watching people walk down the street,” Adams said.
At her studio in an industrial stretch of Greenpoint, Nikki Maloof evoked the notion of a tranquil sanctuary in multi-paneled works. “I wanted paintings to create an environment,” she said of the art to be shown by Jack Hanley Gallery. “The idea of a moth-infested porch seemed like the perfect fit.” Among the inspirations for her choice of format: Northern Renaissance altarpieces and Japanese screens.
In the heart of Williamsburg, Katherine Bradford immersed herself in paintings of swimmers in various states of action and repose. “I make as many paintings as I can and rely on Canada”—her gallery since last year—“to edit them,” she said. Some of the paintings have origins in a studio in a big mill building in Maine, but work otherwise happens in a neighborhood space she has inhabited since 1985.
“I wanted to make sculptures that relate more to the head than to the body,” Zak Kitnick said in his workspace in the sprawling building complex of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “I wanted to create a space to project oneself into, around, and through.” The resulting work, to be shown by Clearing gallery, pairs such desires with inspiration from historic bunkers in Normandy and ’50s-era telephone tests at Bell Labs.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of ARTnews on page 48 under the title “Fair Thee Well.”