Still Independent, and Still Exceptional

by Martha Schwendener

Justine Kurland, Independent Art Fair

The New York Times


Coming up in the ’90s, “independent” (often shortened to “indie”) signaled culture that was maverick, authentic and relatively low budget. It meant movies that weren’t Hollywood-blockbuster types and music not released on corporate record labels. And while art didn’t necessarily follow the same ethos, or economic model, the Independent Art Fair, founded by fellow Gen-Xers Elizabeth Dee and Matthew Higgs, kind of felt like it did.

This year, its 12th, is no exception. Still keeping an eye out for overlooked and underrepresented galleries and artists, the Independent is featuring 43 galleries and approximately 100 artists, with lots of women, nonwhite and a few self-taught artists. The quality of the work is exceptional and ranges from painters right out of art school to artists long known to collectors and museums. Solo and duo booths are the norm, making the fair feel like a series of small exhibitions rather than a commercial bazaar. There is also an online component up through Sept. 26, with videos, podcasts and interviews.

And yet, lodged in the Cipriani South Street, inside the Battery Maritime Building, the Independent could hardly be called edgy. More Sundance than the garish Oscars, it’s an exceedingly pleasant way to re-enter the art world after being battered by hurricanes, politics and pandemics. Here are some highlights.

Justine Kurland at Higher Pictures Generation

Justine Kurland is known for her dreamy, enigmatic photographs of girls and women — and later, people occupying quiet evocative landscapes. Here, she has dismantled her library of photography books and made collages that are often funny and provocative. Given that the canon of photography — like painting — was filled with many white men photographing women’s bodies, she has literally reconfigured the canon. In one collage, the name “Lorena” is spelled out: that is, Lorena Bobbitt who cut off her husband’s penis, if you need the association with women, scissors, and patriarchy spelled out for you.