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This week in New York, Independent Art Fair debuts the inaugural edition of its brand-new fair, Independent 20th Century. Taking place September 8-11 in the Battery Maritime Building at Cipriani South Street, over 30 galleries have come together to show curated presentations by artists that have greatly impacted the past century.
Works by names like Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Francis Picabia (Galerie 1900-2000), Giorgio de Chirico (Nahmad Contemporary), or Joan Miró (Luxembourg + Co.) may be what viewers expect—and will find. But the fair doesn’t aim to serve visitors, viewers, collectors, and curators the 20th century they learned about in art history. It proposes a new lens, one that rewrites the canon, and is shaped by a very 21st-century culture of globalism and inclusivity—from names we know and those we need to know.
There are artists who’ve not yet gotten their due because of issues of access, racism, and misogyny. The fair invites us to get familiar with people like Juanita McNeely (James Fuentes), Chico da Silva (Galatea), Gerald Jackson (Gordon Robichaux and Parker Gallery), Mario Schifano (Giò Marconi), Kate Millett (Salon 94 Design), and Herbert Gentry (Ryan Lee).
Independent 20th Century reflects the current art market that’s evolved since the pandemic and major shifts thanks to the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements. Ahead of its opening yesterday, Whitewall spoke with the fair’s Founder and CEO, Elizabeth Dee.
WHITEWALL: This is the first new art fair launched post-pandemic. What made now the right moment for Independent 20th century?
ELIZABETH DEE: Post January 6, post BLM, post #MeToo, and the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, is an unprecedented moment that I don’t think we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Artists that best reflect a moment often are artists who were prescient of a time that relates to now. I wish more contemporary artists were responding to these issues, and of course, some are. If we’re looking for touchstones culturally and artists that have not gotten their full market potential which is what unites us, we can find this in the artists that are part of the last century and have been crystallized as cultural critics of their moment.
Additionally, Cecilia Alemani’s Venice Biennial really established something Matthew Higgs (Independent Founding Curatorial Advisor) has been observing as one of the most consequential developments over the last decade, what now constitutes “the contemporary” is broadening to include modernism.
WW: What feedback had you been getting from dealers, galleries, curators, and artists, that led you to the initial idea for Independent 20th century?
ED: The idea that we could reframe narratives from the past from parallel social and political times was inspired by the gallerists. There is a generation change happening in our field. It’s now very common for young galleries to tell those stores but market fairs were not giving them the springboard they really needed, it requires more than selling space, it’s a function of hands-on fair collaborative marketing, digital content, editorial, and contexts. For us, it was an opportunity to collaborate in a market that is overinflated at the moment, in my personal opinion, and to do something that felt very meaningful.
WW: How did galleries respond to the ask and focus of this fair? Are they seeing a shift in their own programming? In the interest of their own collectors?
ED: We’ve been overwhelmed with enthusiasm and oversubscribed from day one. A fair today needs to have a strong value proposition for a well-informed audience. A gallery requires that as well. Gallerists are shapers, they create the market or move the market. We supply the rocket fuel for them.
WW: Who are the artists/movements that are getting a closer look at this time, those that didn’t maybe get their due because of the place and time in which they created work?
ED: Indigenous art, Black Abstraction, Latin American and Eastern European art under autocratic regimes, fascism in Italy, the New York avant-garde, European conceptualism, the ‘80s in Cologne Germany, West Coast Light and Space, Chicago Imagism, Dada, Surrealism, Pop, Concrete Poetry—it’s a rich selection!
WW: How do you hope the fair may start to shift the conversation around gaps in art history?
ED: Revisionism in art history has been happening since the ‘90s in academia. I was in college then and that is my starting point for this idea. Museums are now active in catching up to have a truly representative collection of our times. I also think our commissioning of great writing and scholarship in English is doing a great service to the artists who were behind a language barrier. All of this is very urgent, and we can see immediately short-term benefits as well as long-term legacy building.