How do you tell the history of 20th century art and when does contemporary art actually begin?
This September, the Independent Art Fair launches Independent 20th Century, a new annual fair exclusively for works created between 1900 and 1999, hoping to offer new and perhaps unexpected perspectives on the past – and therefore the present.
The inaugural edition, co-organized with the fair’s longtime curatorial advisor, artist Matthew Higgs, is shaping up to be a promising kaleidoscope of 32 galleries featuring 70 artists, including 22 focused single or dual artist presentations, as well as dedicated in Commissioned special projects The fair.
So why narrow your focus to the 20th century? Higgs believes that reappraisal of the recent past is one of the most important curatorial developments of our time, noting both the significant number of deceased artists selected by curator Cecilia Alemani for the current Venice Biennale and in the latest edition of MoMA PS1’s Greater New York survey, which is “typically ultra-contemporary,” he said.
“It’s an elastic notion of what constitutes the contemporary that is very compelling,” continued Higgs, who believes this re-examination of what constitutes the past began with Documenta 10 in 1997. “She was instrumental in introducing the idea of the ‘retrospectives’ of retrospectives,” he said.
As for debuting in September, Higgs has a few presentations he’s particularly looking forward to. “One of the most interesting exhibitors is a new non-profit organization called Soft Network, which uses the zeitgeist to collaborate with artists, estates and foundations,” he said. Soft Network features the work of Haiti-born American artist Paul Gardère (1944-2011). Gardère was educated in New York City before returning to live and work in Haiti between 1978 and 1984, where he began juxtaposing Haiti themes and symbols with imagery from the Western art canon.
He also looks forward to Diane Rosenstein’s solo presentation dedicated to Los Angeles-based artist Joe Ray (b. 1944). The African-American artist began his career in the 1960s after serving in the Vietnam War and immersed himself in the burgeoning Los Angeles art scene. “He was a freshman from CalArts in 1973, mentored by Nam June Paik and John Baldessari,” Higgs noted. Ray was also a founding member of Studio Z, a collective of black artists engaged in performative action in Los Angeles. Ray’s early works include translucent sculptures incorporating plastics and cast resin as part of Southern California’s movement of light and space, but Ray never limited his practice to one medium, exploring photography, sculpture, painting and performance.
Among other promising offerings, the Vito Schnabel Gallery will become Francesco Clemente’s lesser-known “Dormiveglia” series of nine monumental paintings from 1998. The works are more than 10 feet tall and depict fragmented goddesses standing on the pinnacles between sky and sea or land, sometimes merging with animal forms or the elements. The title of the series comes from an Italian expression for the state between sleep and wakefulness, dream and reality. These cryptic, metamorphic visions are reminiscent of the symbols of the tarot, and speak to Clemente’s longstanding interest in the arcane and sacred, which predates the proliferation of these themes in art today.
Higgs said that Independent has long focused on the breakdown of traditional hierarchies between emerging and blue-chip galleries, and that the new fair’s re-evaluation of what is contemporary furthers that ethos, while also providing a platform for new galleries that would normally would not have suited the May issue of the Independent.
“We have a real opportunity to initiate conversations between works from the early 20th century, works from the post-war period and then works from the more recent past. This breaking down of the idea of the historical and the porosity of what constitutes the contemporary is very exciting,” concluded Higgs. For those who may not be able to attend the show in person, Independent 20th Century is continuing to do so Messe embraces a hybrid model and opens online on September 1, a week before the physical fair. The content-rich digital platform will also feature 15 new editorials that provide detailed historical and scholarly perspectives on the works on display.
Independent 20th Century will be held September 8-11, 2022 at the Battery Maritime Building in Cipriani, South Street, New York.
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