Young artists explore heritage, identity and healing at the Independent Art Fair


New York’s very first Art Week is in full swing. From May 5th to 12th, the city will be packed with local and tourist art lovers as four major art fairs and over 20 museums, galleries and auction houses host countless events and programs. The Independent Art Fair, which opened to the public today, returned to Spring Studios in Tribeca for its 13th edition with an exhibition of over 65 emerging and mid-tier exhibitors. While galleries are expected to show themselves at their best at an art fair, Independent felt innovative and diverse – a snapshot of some of contemporary art’s most exciting talent.

heritage and identity

This year many exhibitors have chosen to show works by young and emerging artists who explore personal and collective heritage and identity in both figurative and abstract form. At the Nicola Vassell stand, three large, colorful paintings by the self-taught Uman exuded an intoxicating energy. Uman was born in Somalia and grew up in Kenya and Denmark before moving to New York. Using rich, vibrant colors and compositions that oscillate between figuration and abstraction, her work explores this diverse cultural heritage as well as the fluidity and spirituality of gender.

Nearby, moniquemeloche has a standalone booth featuring portraits of black figures by Harlem-based artist David Shrobe. Combining a range of rich textiles, paint and ink with mixed elements such as wood, photographic prints and precious stones, Shrobe creates layered, textured works that rethink the history of classical portraiture as a tool to represent the elite. He draws inspiration from his family and neighborhood in Harlem, as well as art history references, to depict black archetypes absent from portraiture.

Devin N. Morris, whose mixed media paintings are on display at the Deli Gallery booth, reinterprets traditional systems and American life. Through dreamlike scenes in composite frames, Morris explores themes of innocence, acts of kindness, and racial and sexual identity, particularly male interactions and the experience of being both black and queer.

healing through art

While much of the art of the past two years has touched on themes of isolation, healing emerges as a popular theme in this issue. In a welcome departure from the predominantly two-dimensional work of other stands, Derek Eller Gallery brings a stunning yarn and mixed media sculpture by Michelle Segre. Standing over 10 feet tall, Orbit of Haggis (2020) dominated the booth. Resembling a giant dream catcher, the work references Segre’s interest in art as a vehicle for connection, transformation, and healing. Attached to the black, woven structure is a large, rock-like sphere, painted a vivid, almost electrified blue.

Another highlight of the show is the display of mixed media relief paintings by Ruby Sky Stiler at the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery alongside a cotton and corduroy quilt by Carey George of Alabama’s historic Gee’s Bend, a celebrated group of Black women who have been quilt makers for generations caught the attention of the blue-chip art world, exemplified in Hauser and Wirth’s dedicated exhibition earlier this spring.

Vanessa German. Photography courtesy of Kasmin Gallery and Independent.

At Clearing, Marguerite Humeau explores the medicinal properties of plants with an elegant gold sculpture of an exploded poppy. As part of her ‘Energy Flows’ series, the work references the ancient doctrine of signatures theory that some plants resemble the effect they have on humans. Humeau’s poppy rests like a sleeping head with seeds bursting like a web of dreams.

Artist, poet and activist Vanessa German is no stranger to art as a form of personal and social healing. She often uses her art to question the impact of historical and current injustices, racism and sexism. In her work, on display at Kasmin’s booth, German presents small, figurative sculptures made from a variety of found objects and materials, including seashells, earrings, braids and keys.

creative growth. Photography courtesy of Creative Growth and Independent New York.

An art fair that gives something back

After two turbulent years for people around the world, this year’s edition was infused with a spirit of charity in the form of three non-profit booths selling lower-cost artwork to raise funds. RxART, an organization that works with some of the biggest names in contemporary art to bring art to hospitals, features works by Loie Hollowell, Derrick Adams and Harold Ancart. The stand also features a playful pink installation by Nicolas Party, which ties the space to the artist’s project at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Artware Editions is raising funds for The Coalition for the Homeless and is presenting its Artist Plate Project, bringing iconic artwork from artists such as Joel Mesler and Carmen Herrera to tableware. Across the mezzanine, Creative Growth, a non-profit organization that supports artists with developmental disabilities, displayed a selection of vibrant, abstract works by Nicole Storm. Exuding a palpable energy, Storm’s practice has a performative element that derives from her process of creating it while in constant motion, not in a studio but as it moves in its daily life.

While art fairs are notorious for draining visitors, Independent was refreshing and inspiring. The works on display told stories, questioned stories and invited the viewer to ask questions other than “Is this available?”.

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