Photo credit: Object Studios. Courtesy of the artist and Anton Kern Gallery, New York / © Julie Curtiss.

From Contemporary Surrealism to Queer Photography, 6 Highlights of the Independent

The sort of art fair that critics happily attend even when not contractually obligated to do so.

by Scott Indrisek
Mar 7 2019, 2:31pm

Photo credit: Object Studios. Courtesy of the artist and Anton Kern Gallery, New York / © Julie Curtiss.

New York’s overwhelming week of art fairs is upon us. If you’re allergic to the manic crowds and unwieldiness of the Armory Show, you’re certainly not alone--so don’t feel guilty about skipping that whole affair. Head downtown instead to the Independent, with its tight roster (only 65 exhibitors) and airy, sunlit space in Tribeca. It’s the sort of art fair that critics happily attend even when we’re not contractually obligated to do so. While there’s plenty to see (including Peter Hujar at Maureen Paley, and Martine Syms, presented by ICA London) here are 6 artists well-worth lingering over—and collecting.

Julie Curtiss at Anton Kern Gallery

Photo credit: Object Studios. Courtesy of the artist and Anton Kern Gallery, New York / © Julie Curtiss.

The young French painter, based in New York, explores an eccentric assortment of obsessions: hair, food, hands, and oddly cropped snippets of the human body. She draws readily from past traditions and movements--Surrealism and the Chicago Imagists chief among them--but is never simply recycling the past. “This is what a Surrealist would paint in the 21st Century--because Curtiss just is one. ” says Brigitte Mulholland, director at Anton Kern Gallery. (The gallery recently signed the artist; her debut solo show there opens April 25.) “She's timeless in a way, almost painting and operating from another era, but she exists in this one. It's all coming from who she is: fundamentally clever and talented; quirky, wacky, and hilarious.”

David Byrd at Fleisher/Ollman

Courtesy of Fleisher/Ollman, Philadelphia and the David Byrd Estate. Photo: Tom Gorman.

While Independent is ripe with buzzy young artists-on-the-rise, one of the fair’s hottest tickets might be a selection of work by a largely unsung painter who died in 2013, at the age of 87. Byrd deftly captured landscapes and enigmatic figurative scenes, mostly inspired by what he saw as a nurse at a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York. They’re hushed, though sometimes sinister. Alex Baker, Fleisher/Ollman’s director, praises Byrd’s ability to find “the strange in the everyday, the everyday in the strange.” If you’re in town for the fair, don’t dare leave without seeing a doubleheader of the artist’s work, on view concurrently at White Columns and Anton Kern.

John Edmonds at Company

John Edmonds, The Hero, 2018, courtesy of Company and the artist.

The photographer, a graduate of Yale’s prestigious MFA program, has said that he’s “interested in the slippage of portraiture--the moments of failure in performing a self and the truth that this reveals.” His images possess a sense of mystery and ambiguity; faces are often obscured, or hidden entirely (as in his series “Hoods,” inspired by the killing of Trayvon Martin). Company is bringing three works by Edmonds from his “Tribe” series: empathic, eroticized portraits of men, practically glowing with a delicate, sensitive warmth.

Genevieve Gaignard at Monique Meloche Gallery

Genevieve Gaignard, She's So Articulate, 2018, Collage on Panel, 30 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery.

With poise, sass, and a dash of camp, Gaignard’s wild photographs and installations spring from her own experience as a multiracial artist in America. She’s best known for body-positive self-portraits in which she adopts various personas--from shy nerds in cat sweaters to devil-may-care divas. Her Chicago-based gallery, showing at Independent for the first time, has dedicated its booth to artists who were previously included in the “F-show” series at the Studio Museum in Harlem (in addition to Gaignard, that includes talent like Rashid Johnson and Nate Young). “The piece we are including juxtaposes varied elements: vintage wallpaper, images culled from vintage issues of Ebony, Jet, and Life magazine, and other found objects,” says gallery director Aniko Berman of the work they’re bringing to the fair. “It’s at once a new direction and a continuation of Gaignard’s well-known staged photographs and installations exploring race, class, and domesticity."

Fiona Banner aka the Vanity Press, at Barbara Thumm

Fart Carpet 2019. Paint on carpet. 133 x 196 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Barbara Thumm.

This British artist loves to demolish tidy categories. As part of a performance series organized by the David Roberts Art Foundation during Frieze London, she deconstructed the stereotypical fashion show--turning its cliches into something abstract, and eye-opening. Elsewhere, Banner is known for entertaining dual passions for both literature and military history. A strange combination, to be sure, but one that results in witty and erudite sculpture: salvaged helicopter tails covered in words, or jet-plane nose cones projecting from the wall like comical breasts. At Independent, she’s also presenting a series of painted carpets, including one that messily breaks down the etymology of the word “fart.”

Kate Newby at Cooper Cole

Wild owns the night, 2019, Assorted clay and collected glass, Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Cooper Cole, Toronto.

"While art fairs are typically thought of as strictly sales-based platforms, we often choose more challenging works to present,” says Simon Cole, director of Cooper Cole. (He jokes that this might make him a “bad capitalist,” but it’s “an important way for us to make a statement and hopefully generate interest from institutional collections and more forward-thinking private collectors.”) At Independent, the gallery is challenging audiences with sculpture by New Zealand-born artist Kate Newby, known for oh-so-subtle interventions with simple materials: twigs, twine, stones, bricks drilled with holes. At Independent, Cooper Cole is bringing works that include Swift little verbs pushing the nouns around, a “chime” that consists of 18 dangling, imperfect strands of bronze.