It is unusual to discuss an art fair’s atmosphere, unless in the context of one’s own claustrophobia. It is often difficult to find to find the moments of grounded viewership that the art in question actually deserves. Describing Independent’s atmosphere, then, is essential to describing its difference. Spread across four floors of Tribeca’s Spring Studios, the space is airy and most essentially open, as walls separate but do not enclose each gallery’s display. This year, collectors, critics, gallerists, curators, artists, and enthusiasts gathered and mingled. Large windows filled rooms with white clouded sunlight, just a handful of blocks from the river; some artists even chose to include site specific work that brought the vista inside, such as Samara Scott at London’s Sunday Painter. Her sculptures – plastic covered tubs of opaque liquid and found detritus—have an almost landscape like quality, as the color schemes of daily consumer objects sink in the watery container and appear to melt, plastic becoming watercolor. The long narrow line of color facing the window was built by Scott on site with local materials, in response to the wintery view from the highest floor.
Nearby, White Columns showed a small selection of Rhoda Kellogg’s collages and paintings, with titles written in loose pencil on the wall alongside. Kellogg, who died in 1987, was a child psychologist who collected over two million drawings by children, between two to eight years old, and began making her own work inspired by this idiosyncratic archive, though this work was never shown in her lifetime. The paper works are focused, simple, but buoyant. A certain light-heartedness, both in the work and its presentation, filled the room. Five strides away, Joel Mesler, also at White Columns, painted quick seated portraits of beaming visitors, for an accessible $250 a pop. When I walked by, the couple he was painting kissed hastily between brushstrokes.
At Maureen Paley, an astonishing wall of small works by Paul Thek, Esther Pearl Watson, Felipe Baeza, and Wolfgang Tillmans framed a larger soft focus portrait by Kaye Donachie, a sad clown in tender blue tones. All the work felt close at hand, scribbled down, finished by dinner, yet each piece’s content was undeniably cosmic. Thek’s cartoon heart in a sling shot on lined note paper perfectly balanced some of the louder, more show stopping pieces in the room. The delicacy of the curation was palpable, and the combination of works evoked emotional response.
Karma also went with work that was somewhat quieter but just as profoundly resonant, with a collection of Gertrude Abercrombie’s surrealist paintings. No bigger than your head, her work has none of the bombastic absurdity of more famous surrealists. Rather, these paintings pause on a moment in shadow and make it dream-like through attention alone: a blue door, a white jug, a pink folded glove. The colors emerge hesitantly from a dark scene, a cat turns around an unexpected corner. These works necessitate a certain stillness, and it was good to see visitors take time with them, circle back, discuss, and linger.
"On the first and final floor—most visitors were encouraged to view the fair from top down—Company Gallery presented Emily Sundblad, artist and co-director of Reena Spaulings Fine Art, whose hyper-colorful oil on linen paintings harkened back to the playful rigor of the work on the seventh. Technicolor orchids, zebra print gloves, and floating text combined to make a surprisingly intimate portrait of everyday fantasy."
Installation View of Company Gallery, Photography: Étienne Frossard
At Chapter NY, Adam Gordon’s paintings were larger in scale, but matched in hushed exactitude. Firmly photo-realistic, yet slightly out of focus, the paintings show mundane, familiar landscapes: an empty parking lot in autumn, the back entrance of an industrial looking building, a room with no furniture, sunlight slanting across a door. Again, this is a surreality bestowed only through deep concentration. Hannah Black at Arcadia Missa also took hold of visitor’s sustained attention with one of the only video works on display, aside from the remarkable Gretchen Bender in the room directly above. Black also presented an interactive sculpture, where visitors shredded a text piece, the remains accumulating throughout the day. The work ran parallel to Black’s show Beginning, End, None at Performance Space NY, just as Bender’s special project at Independent coincided with her retrospective at Red Bull Arts New York.
On the first and final floor—most visitors were encouraged to view the fair from top down—Company Gallery presented Emily Sundblad, artist and co-director of Reena Spaulings Fine Art, whose hyper-colorful oil on linen paintings harkened back to the playful rigor of the work on the seventh. Technicolor orchids, zebra print gloves, and floating text combined to make a surprisingly intimate portrait of everyday fantasy. This combination of blithe experimentation and sharp poetics defined this year’s collection of galleries and artists. As I left on the first day, singular pieces echoed, but it was their arrangement and integration that stuck with me through the weekend. By Sunday, relationships between works that I never would have anticipated presented themselves. Despite bringing together such a wide range of artists, Independent nevertheless encouraged a discursive space between them. This lit up each piece, cast in the glow of their peers.
A. G. Wollen is an art writer in New York City.