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Mildred Thompson Galerie Lelong & Co. Independent 20th Century

Top 5 Presentations at Independent 20th Century 2023

Independent 20th Century Brings a Bit of Soul to the Art Fair Circuit

A lot of fairs get a bad reputation as being somewhat soulless. Harsh overhead lighting and windowless convention centers make it feel like a chore to see so much art. The Independent Art Fair has continued to differentiate itself as a sort of reprieve from the normal art fair viewing experience, and this year’s edition continues to demonstrate how effectively it provides a template for what an exceptional art fair looks like and how it operates.

Independent 20th Century takes place this week in New York, open through September 10. Located at Cipriani South Street, visitors ascend a grand staircase to the building’s second floor, which has been carefully partitioned to provide generous spaces for the 30-plus galleries with the privilege to present. Each booth is remarkable. The scholarship and care with which each gallery assembled these exhibitions is astounding. Given the smaller scale of the fair, dealers have the time and energy to dive deeply into their subjects and share incredible stories about the artists on view.

While almost every single booth at the fair is technically a must-see, we picked a few of our favorite presentations to spend time at this weekend.

Best Booths at Independent 20th Century

Mildred Thompson at Galerie Lelong & Co.

Right at the fair entrance is an exceptional presentation of works by Mildred Thompson at Galerie Lelong & Co. Six nearly square paintings on board depict abstracted forms and comprise the artist’s “Window Paintings,” which were all made in 1977 following the artist’s return to the United States after an extended time in Germany. Following her studies at Howard University, Skowhegan School of Painting, and the Brooklyn Museum School, Thompson applied for a Fulbright Scholarship for the opportunity to work in Europe. Although she did not receive the scholarship, Thompson was determined to study and work abroad, so took it upon herself to provide herself with the opportunity to leave Florida for Germany. Known for her intuitive compositions, made either with paint on canvas or sculptural assemblage wood works, Thompson is an artist whose work continues to inspire and provoke conversation and further examination.

Winfred Rembert James Barron Independent 20th Century Winfred Rembert “Watermelon, Saturday Evening,” 2003, dye on carved and tooled leather, 23 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches, courtesy of James Barron.

Winfred Rembert at James Barron

Equal parts miraculous and heartbreaking is a fantastic selection of works by Winfred Rembert. Born in Rural Georgia in 1945, and worked in cotton fields and peanut farms from an early age. When he was 19, he attended a peaceful Civil Rights demonstration, which turned violent and led to his wrongful incarceration without a trial after he tried to escape to safety. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison, and even served years on a chain gang. Following his release, he moved to New Haven and, with the support of his wife, Patsy, began to record his memories, which led to an incredible series of works on leather, as well as a book, one of the only to receive a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. The booth highlights a series of Rembert’s works, made on tooled leather, and depicts scenes from all moments of his life.

Norman Zammitt Karma Independent 20th Century Norman Zammitt at Karma, photo by Max Lee-Russell, courtesy of Karma.

Norman Zammitt at Karma

Light and Space Movement pioneer Norman Zammitt receives the solo presentation treatment at Karma’s booth, which is coincidentally the artist’s first solo show ever in New York. The works come from the artist’s “Band Paintings” series made between 1973 and 1991. Uniformly framed and all small in scale, these gem-like works reinterpret miraculous events from nature. Made with many layers of paint, these seemingly simplistic compositions are full of conceptual depth. While an overarching methodology formed by the artist coheres the paintings, the works in no way feel formulaic; the spontaneity and intuitiveness of how each color band is decided, and how it relates to the bands above or below, is mesmerizing. The artist, who passed away in 1991, will soon have another solo exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum in early 2024.

Mario de Luigi at Tommaso Calabro

Another perfectly succinct booth at this year’s fair is Galleria Tommaso Calabro’s presentation of works by Mario de Luigi, one of the most well-known artists from the Italian mid-century Spatialism movement. The group, founded by Lucio Fontana in 1947 in Milan, focused on the ways in which traditional artmaking processes could connect with science and the quickly-advancing technologies consuming post-war life. The paintings on view come from de Luigi’s grattage series, made between the 1950s and 1970s and was first exhibited at the 1954 Venice Biennale. Employing a technique of scratching the surface of his paint-colored canvases, the final works are mesmerizing, both individually and in a series. De Luigi, who died in 1980, devoted his life to examining the properties of color, light, texture, and space in his work, and this presentation demonstrates an urgency to continue studying this remarkable artist.

Peter Nadin Off Paradise Independent 20th Century Peter Nadin, Hurricane, 1985, courtesy of Off Paradise.

Peter Nadin at Off Paradise

Not to be missed is Peter Nadin’s booth at Off Paradise, which has its very own room with views out to the East River in the main area of the fair. The Gallery is presenting the artist’s work, View II or The Artist, from 1986, for the first time in three decades, a seminal piece from the artist’s oeuvre that was shown both at his 1987 exhibition at Brooke Alexander Gallery and subsequent retrospective at the Yale Center for British Art in 1992. Alongside this work, they are also debuting a selection of watercolor and pastel works on paper from “Views II,” which he made in 1987 in companionship with the 1986 piece, all of which have not been exhibited since they were made until this fair. It is exciting to see Nadin’s work in this context, and celebrated as the groundbreaking figure who continues to inspire new generations of artists working today.

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