With more than 60 galleries participating, the Independent art fair in New York opened to VIPs on Thursday morning. The fair, known for its sleek presentations by midsize and emerging galleries, was well attended during its first few hours, and dealers reported early sales. This year, Independent, which runs through Sunday, May 8, has returned to its home at Spring Studios in Tribeca, one of the four anchor fairs for the newly launched New York Art Week, which has also partnered with museums, galleries, and auction houses throughout the city to align their programming.
Below, a look at the best art on view at the fair.
Devin Troy Strother at Broadway
The Los Angeles–based artist Devin Troy Strother is showing a suite of new paintings and sculpture that respond to the 2020 controversy surrounding the postponement of a Philip Guston retrospective. (Initially delayed until 2024, a largely unchanged version of the show has just opened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.) Coming a few months after the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the world in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the decision centered around works by Guston that included images of figures donning the hoods of the Ku Klux Klan. Some claimed that the decision was ill-advised, given that museums were essentially underestimating their viewers. Strother’s work in part takes up this reading.
In Quiet Riot (all works 2022), Strother depicts a mass burning of KKK members and Confederate flags, while in The Visit (My New Favorite Painting), we see two Black figures looking at a painting of a lynched Klan member held by another Black person, perhaps Strother himself. Recurring through these works is a lit cigarette, which features prominently in several of Guston’s works, most notably his iconic 1969 work The Studio, in which a hooded artist paints a self-portrait. In Strother’s self-portrait I Love Living in the City, we also see him in the studio taking a drag as he stares at a canvas of a cityscape. In front of him is a messy table of paints, globs of which protrude from the canvas.
Rachel Carey George and Ruby Sky Stiler at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
A lovely intergenerational pairing comes from New York’s Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, which is showing a work by Rachel Carey George, who, before her death in 2011, was based in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, which is home to a celebrated community of Black women quilters. (The gallery works directly with George’s granddaughters to ensure that the money from the sale of her work returns to Gee’s Bend, which is still one of the poorest communities in the country.) At the center of George’s quilt is an alternating pattern of black-and-white triangles intercut with strips of navy; around the border are various floral prints and one rainbow print. Shown on a low plinth, the quilt is mirrored by wall-hung works by Ruby Sky Stiler, who presents several interior portraits with various geometric shapes forming their composition. Both artists’ work has to do with domesticity and in a way acts as an index of familial relationships.
Yu-Wen Wu at Praise Shadows Art Gallery
In 2011, the Boston-based artist Yu-Wen Wu looked up how she might walk from Beantown to Taiwan, to visit her ailing grandmother. She had looked up airline tickets, but they were astronomical. At the time Google Maps was still in its infancy, and so the site compiled and returned detailed results about how she could walk the continental U.S. and then kayak from the West Coast to Hawai’i on to Japan and finally to Taipei. (Google now will say it can’t find the route.) The 11,749-mile journey was estimated to take about 155 days and 5 hours. Wu saved these directions as a PDF and has now translated them into the format of a landscape scroll that reads from right (Boston) to left (Taipei) that is displayed on a table and comes with its own lined scroll box. Part of a strong showing by the young gallery Praise Shadows, which was established in Boston in 2020, the piece, like all work sold be the gallery, is able for purchase via the blockchain-based art-selling platform Fairchain.
Reverend Joyce McDonald at Gordon Robichaux
Now in her early 70s, Reverend Joyce McDonald has long been under-known, but she has been lovingly attended to by the arts nonprofit Visual AIDS, which preserves and supports the work of living HIV+ artists and those who have been lost to HIV/AIDS. McDonald took up art-making after her HIV diagnosis in 1985, as part of an art therapy program. Displayed on the table are several of McDonald’s sculptures from throughout her careers. Having first begun making her small-scale portraits in air dry clay, shaping them not just with her hands but also with an electric fingernail file, among other tools, the artist has recently begun making glazed and fired ceramics. The works all mine McDonald’s own lived experiences of having been an intravenous drug user and sex worker, and then having a spiritual awakening and becoming an ordained minister in the Church of the Open Door in 2009. This grouping is an excellent primer for the artist, who is set to have her first museum show at the Bronx Museum next year.
vanessa german at Kasmin
A stunning booth comes in a suite of new sculptures by multivalent artist vanessa german at Kasmin, who will have her first solo show with the gallery in September. These humanoid sculptures bring together vast assortments of objects—tiny shoes, flowers, beads, candles, buttons, shells, glass bottles, keys, boots—for a maximalist effect that is deeply satisfying. An accumulation of the objects that she has gathered over the years, the works are at first glance striking from a purely formal view. Upon closer inspection, they reveal the various deep meanings they carry, unfolding as commentaries against racist stereotypes and Black women and as memorials to those lost to police violence. It’s all a reflection of grief, love, strength, memory, and much more from german’s personal histories, which she poignantly offers up for their potential universality.
Uman at Nicola Vassell Gallery
For its booth, Nicola Vassell Gallery has three stunning paintings by Uman, who joined the gallery’s roster earlier this year. Born in Somalia, raised in Kenya and Denmark, and based in New York, Uman’s canvas synthesize the various cultures in which she’s lived: the East African desert, the cold Nordic environs, and the urban landscape of Manhattan. Her paintings are also deeply grounded in the artist’s love of Arabic calligraphy, a style she is also skilled in. The works on view toe the line between figuration and abstraction, and dazzle because of it. Among the works on view here is the touching Matthew Higgs Planted Some Seeds (2022), honoring the White Columns director and Independent cofounder who gave Uman her first solo show in New York, in 2015. The seeds planted by Higgs and now Vassell have clearly borne beautiful fruit.
David Shrobe at Monique Meloche
Artist David Shrobe was born and raised in Harlem in the home that his family has owned since the late 1800s, when they were among the first homeowners in Harlem. These assemblaged canvases feature rich textiles, frames, and other objects that he finds near his studio, also based out of the family home. These remarkable mixed-media canvases, in which textile and paint meld to create stunning portraits, look to provide viewers with a portal to another world, an alternative history of sorts populated by Black people who exude an air of regality, beauty, and joy.