An Expansive Art History at the Independent Art Fair

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For its second edition, again at the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street in Manhattan, the Independent 20th Century art fair — a spinoff of the contemporary-art-focused Independent — offers as dense a selection of top-shelf art as you’ll find this week. There are Warhol portraits (Vito Schnabel Gallery) and Picasso drawings (Perrotin), sure. But there are also tooled and dyed leather “paintings” by Winfred Rembert (James Barron Art), a solo presentation by the painter Peter Nadin overlooking the harbor (Off Paradise) and a number of historical artists rarely shown in New York or in the United States. As you’d expect from a high-end fair this rigorously curated and this small — just 50 artists showing in 33 booths — the exhibits are long on painting, the easiest medium to sell. But there are also sublime Southern Washoe style baskets by Louisa Keyser (Donald Ellis Gallery) and a group of spectacular early-20th-century totems from Vanuatu (Venus Over Manhattan), among other sculpture. What follow are the booths that particularly caught my eye, but the decisions weren’t easy. Getting in will cost you $45 at the door, but the information-chocked Online Viewing Room is free.

It’s not surprising that Ed Baynard (1940-2016), a painter experiencing a posthumous career upswing, was also a graphic designer. The acrylics and watercolors in this decade-spanning presentation make vases, bowls and gracefully springy flowers look as sharp as paper cuts. But they aren’t quite flat. Detailed rose petals, in one untitled 1978 piece, float atop dark green stems with such precisely observed droops that they’re almost still quivering. As much as they recall wallpaper or woodblock prints, their effect is most like a silent garden seen through a pane of glass.

This is a dense three-person presentation of work from the ’60s and ’70s by the feminist and activist artists Camille Billops, Vivian Browne and May Stevens, all of whom were involved with the downtown gallery SOHO20, founded in 1973. There’s something very satisfying about the almost whimsical rage in Browne’s oil on paper “Little Men” series, but for me the booth’s highlight is Billops. A delicately drawn nude glowers in a chaotic landscape filled with backward cursive writing in her four-part etching series “I am Black, I am Black, I am Dangerously Black,” while “Madame Puisay,” a glazed earthenware chair with another nude drawn on it, is a transfixingly weird combination of sharp edges and wobbly lines.

Edith Schloss’s posthumous 2021 memoir, “The Loft Generation,” was a light but singularly delightful artifact of the time this German-born artist and writer, who lived in New York from 1942 to 1962, spent among the midcentury Abstract Expressionists. Her painting, appearing here in three quirky still lifes and a yellow, palimpsest-like landscape, is the same (it is hung alongside a broader selection of paintings by Loren MacIver). Schloss’s leaning vases, floating polka dots and an inexplicable little pencil-drawn elephant all glow with so much self-possession and charm that they can’t help but magically brighten your day.

Wanda Pimentel (1943-2019) lived in Rio de Janeiro and was associated with the Brazilian New Figuration movement. Though she’s recently appeared in a pair of group shows, these eight paintings — which include examples from her “Envolvimento” series (1968-1984) and “Path to the Superhuman Tie” series (1965-66) — constitute her first American solo. It won’t be her last. Her tightly constructed geometric interior scenes, as rich with color as advertising posters, split the difference between the industrial and the domestic. Add some female feet or toes at the edges and you have art for art’s sake wrapped around a briskly cutting edge of social commentary.

Coming ahead of a retrospective at the Barnes Foundation, this presentation of eight small canvases offers a chance to get acquainted, or reacquainted, with the otherworldly women and girls of the Parisian painter Marie Laurencin (1883-1956). With powder-white skin and black ovals for eyes, pictured against vague backgrounds of gray and smoky pink, her willowy subjects evoke ghosts, or fairies, or porcelain, or Japanese masks. But they also, somehow, look fully human and individual, and Laurencin’s palette and unusual style carry as much information about her models’ feelings, and their social setting, as her drawing does.

I almost walked past a group of what the Italian Spatialist Mario Deluigi called “grattages,” monochromes this Milan-based gallery said are making their debut in New York. They’re easy to misunderstand — they can look like upholstery — but fortunately some instinct pulled me back and I discovered that they’re almost shockingly gorgeous. Covered in intricate networks of tiny white scratches, they offer starscapes, cave drawings, the glowing wool of primordial sheep, and patterns reminiscent of calligraphy or circles of dancers à la Matisse.

In the early 1960s, the Italian artist Sergio Lombardo made a series of political silhouettes by tracing photo projections of figures like Kennedy or Khrushchev onto paper or canvas with industrial black enamel. (He called the series “Gesti Tipici” or “Typical Gestures.”) Pointing, scowling or gesticulating, the familiar faces in this presentation by a Roman gallery are at once larger than life and less than human; often, the eye-catching white of a collar or cuff is the most expressive detail. But aside from “Rockefeller,” who’s as syrupy as an oil slick, the faces all catch the light with rough, zigzagging brushstrokes.

These ambiguous, multilayered silver prints are from the early career of the German photographer Sigmar Polke (1941-2010). In the black and white “Untitled (Dr. Feelgood),” a man in a striped jacket holds a “Dr. Feelgood” poster demurely in front of his face. The image repeats once, rotated 90 degrees — or seems to. In fact, the man has lowered the poster in the second iteration and is grinning, as if to say, “Pay attention, buddy! Wake up! You’re dreaming!” The gallery has also brought Polke’s battery-powered “Kartoffelmaschine / Potato Machine — Apparatus Whereby One Potato Can Orbit Another,” one of an edition of 30.

Independent 20th Century

Friday, Sept. 8 — Sunday, Sept. 10. Cipriani South Street, 10 South Street, Manhattan; independenthq.com.



POST AUTHOR: Will Heinrich

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