The Independent art fair’s “no booth” layout, where there are few walls and visitors can mingle freely, has itself garnered a reputation among dealers. It’s not hard to see why. At the opening of the fair, which runs through May 14 at Tribeca’s Spring Studios, emerging and mid-size galleries showed off their wares as healthy crowds of people moved about, creating a more intimate vibe than is typical at most art fairs.
In the early hours of the opening on Thursday, disgraced art dealer Mary Boone and journalist Anderson Cooper were among the attendees. Cooper stopped by London-based dealer Niru Ratnam’s booth to view works by painter Kimathi Donkor. Meanwhile, New York dealer Nicola Vassell told ARTnews that there had already been several museums vying to buy works by Elizabeth Schwaiger on view in her booth.
As with previous editions, Elizabeth Dee, the fair’s founder and director, said, “Every year we kind of grow this audience exponentially.” According to Dee, the fair expected around 2,000 VIP attendees to attend Thursday morning. “We really choreograph that first three hours carefully,” she said, explaining that giving collectors and dealers the time to have discussions in those opening hours is key.
Twenty-three of the 70-plus participating galleries were staging debut presentations for their artists. Dee told ARTnews that introducing new talent was a focus: “This should be a place that almost mimics a whole day in New York going to galleries.”
Below, a look at the standout showcases.
Beverly Semmes at Kapp Kapp
A new large-scale work by Beverly Semmes, the 65-year-old America multimedia artist whose work often deals with in feminist themes, was the highlight of Kapp Kapp’s booth. Produced specifically for Independent, Glitter Brick Triptych (2023) is a monumental hot-pink triptych made of Ink, velvet, faux fur, glitter, and printed images. Long recognized for challenging notions of craft in her work, Semmes was also featured in a joint booth by Susan Inglett Gallery and Specific Objects, alongside the work of Yayoi Kusama and Lynda Benglis.
D'Angelo Lovell Williams at Higher Pictures
In a solo presentation, D’Angelo Lovell Williams has on view six highly saturated photographs and a group of wall-mounted weaving at Brooklyn’s Higher Pictures. The large-scale images present scenes of queerness, Black life, and relationships, that show variably show moments of intimacy and solitude. In one, a group of people pose nude, entangled together on a bed, whose carmine red sheets match with the curtains hanging almost like a backdrop. In another, an older man peers into an open casket with his back facing the camera, while in a third a younger man faces the camera with his eyes closed, dressed in fishnets with his hands as he stands against a white bathroom door.
Michael St. John and Mitchell Charbonneau at Off Paradise
Off Paradise, a Tribeca gallery founded by Natacha Polaert in 2019, debuted a two-person showcase of works by Mitchell Charbonneau and Michael St. John, who are based in Queens and Massachusetts, and who are aged 29 and 60, respectively. Situated alongside a sculptural installation by Charbonneau featuring empty cans of energy drinks arranged on a small fold-out table and wall-mounted car air fresheners, St. John’s paintings display a man’s body parts. In St. John’s Tattoo (2023) a hyper-realistic painting of a bare man’s chest is overlaid with gesso and pencil and set against a black background made to appear like a filmed still, while in Poke (2022), the artist rendered a severed forearm that’s riddled with open wounds.
Quentin James McCaffrey at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, which relocated to Tribeca from the Lower East Side in 2021, has a showcase of works by three emerging painters: Jordan Kasey, Quentin James McCaffrey, and Willie Stewart. Each artist’s work shares a common theme of depicting domestic spaces. Kasey tightly crops the statuesque bodies in her bold canvases, enclosing them in spaces that could be read as either intimate or claustrophobic. McCaffrey’s subtly rendered wallpapered rooms, presented in the artist’s gallery debut last December, are devoid of figures yet filled with plants, mirrors, and miniature paintings that seem to stand in for missing personages. But it was Stewart, whose quiet still-lifes that draw from Pop art and the Pictures Generation, that stood out.
Savannah Marie Harris, Emmanuel Shogbolu and Ruby Dickson at Harlesden High Street
London gallery Harlesden High Street, which is also devoted to supporting the work of artists of color, has been making waves in the UK art scene for its progressive artist roster, Dee told ARTnews. For its presentation, the gallery had on view works by Savannah Marie Harris, Emmanuel Shogbolu, and Ruby Dickson, all of whom have recently been the subject of solo shows there earlier this year. At first sight, fairgoers were confronted with High Street’s installation being sequestered off by a chain-link fence that had mounted to it a large-scale, black-and-white image that’s held in place by two white sandbags. The image depicts a Black man facing away from the camera, posed against the facade of an apartment building.
Kimathi Donkor at Niru Ratnam
Niru Ratnam, an art dealer based in London started his namesake gallery in July 2020, focuses on artists of color and women. At this fair, he’s brought work by the London-based painter Kimathi Donkor, whose large-scale paintings allude to British history painting, in particular its depictions of colonial-era violence. Donkor’s figurative depictions could also be spotted at this year’s edition of the Sharjah Biennial.
Wendy Park at Various Small Fires
The 37-year-old artist Wendy Park, who joined the roster at Los Angeles’s Various Small Fires last month, has a group of new paintings on view at Independent. Park’s canvases mainly reference her upbringing with Korean-born parents who emigrated to Los Angeles, where they raised a family during the 1980s and ’90s. (The passing of Park’s father in 2019 spurred her to take up the subject.) In the large-scale paintings, Park focuses on household objects, from egg cartons to chopsticks, plastic straws to empty soda cans, all rendered in bright tones. Works like these will be on view in a solo show at Various Small Fires’s Seoul gallery in 2024.
Darja Bajagić at Tara Downs
Works featuring sexualized images of women by Darja Bajagić, Jacqueline Fraser, Marie Karlberg, and Catherine Mulligan were on view in a group presentation by Tara Downs. Bajagić’s art formed the centerpiece. Photos that the 33-year-old Yugoslavian-born artist lifts from the internet and fashion campaigns merge in these pieces: in one, a giant X is mounted on the booth’s wall, which is then overlaid with a UV-printed image of a partially nude woman; the word “ENDANGERED,” which lends the work its title, is written beneath. In another work from 2023, titled Ex Axes – Headless Body in Topless Bar, Bajagić printed an axe with similar imagery that’s mounted to the booth alongside garments with Zara tags that overlaid with printed pictures. Fraser’s assemblages derive from her ongoing series of installations centered around film, while Karlberg parodies canonical male painters like Wade Guyton, Albert Oehlen, and Christopher Wool, and Mulligan’s paintings distort imagery culled from advertising and pornography.