An Embarrassment of Style at the Independent

The Independent is a stylish affair. Carefully curated and relatively small, it can always be counted on to look good, but this year its style is in overdrive. Occasionally it’s pinch-hitting for substance, mere showiness with nothing behind it. Sometimes, as in Ruby Neri’s bravura ceramic sculptures in the fair’s special 15th-anniversary ““15×15: Independent 2010-2024” exhibition, at Spring Studios in TriBeCa, visual pizazz hits a kind of critical mass, becoming substance in itself. Most often, though, these 172 artists showing with 89 exhibitors are taking big swings in lots of directions — severe abstraction, obsessive figuration, decaying sneakers — so that making a list of standouts was nearly impossible. The following eight booths are more like a personal playlist to get you moving around the floor. (Note that there are no booth numbers.) But don’t forget to explore the corners, too, where you’ll find Margot Samel showing trompe l’oeil paintings by Olivia Jia; the Houston-based publisher and gallery F selling F. Richard Coldwell’s dystopian art-world novel “Lies From the Flies on the Wall”; and “Moby Dick” with drawings by Alex Katz at the Karma Bookstore. )


Three large square oil paintings by Kate Spencer Stewart could almost pass for dark brown monochromes. Step closer: They’re actually a rich, bloody maroon, speckled with flickers of cardinal red and long streaks of bright, toxic green. With silent composure and whispering depths, they’re a thought-provoking contrast to the inventive landscapes of Michael Ho next door at the Shanghai gallery Vacancy.

The Turkish filmmaker Kutlug Ataman’s “Mesopotamian Dramaturgies/Journey to the Moon” is a single-channel video in which a voice-over describes a sequence of mostly black-and-white photographs. It tells the story, at once hopeful and cynical in a magical realist sort of way, of a small town in 1950s Turkey, its collective imagination sparked by a politician’s speech, trying to send a minaret to space with balloons. The implicit question is, “Are any of us really capable of democracy?” A dozen acrylic and graphite drawings of birds by Sutapa Biswas, accompanied by her video “Magnesium Bird,” make for a piquant counterweight.


For me, the fair’s most memorable event will be the American debut of the Polish photographer Tomasz Machcinski (1942-2022), who started dressing up in character and shooting thrilling, dangerous and vital self-portraits in the early 1960s. His astonishingly emotive and variable face, as everyone from Gandhi to Hitler as well as numerous men and women sprung only from his own imagination, has to be seen to be believed. Machcinski’s self-portraits are presented alongside a strangely beguiling trove of Polaroids of women on TV by Tom Wilkins (1951-2007), also enjoying its first American showing. Jointly presented by New York’s Ricco/Maresca and Christian Berst Art Brut from Paris.

Five graceful canvases by the painter Ryan Mrozowski make up the first appearance at the Independent of this hip gallery from Reykjavik, Iceland. To two of his signature paintings of orange-tree foliage, dense but delicate meditations on what it means to commodify sensual pleasure, Mrozowski adds a few orange half circles floating freely on top of the green leaves. The effect is like a magician’s very dry wink at the end of a well-executed trick. In three diptychs that the artist calls “split paintings,” more foliage is alternately grayed out to call forth a haze of understated questions about perception, binocular vision and the bicameral mind.

Jessie Henson uses an industrial sewing machine to apply closely set lines of thread to paper that she then adorns with metallic leaf. The process both causes the paper to buckle and fixes its buckling in place, making every sculptural, sensual, sometimes tortured-looking undulation an integral part of each piece. Altogether the work offers a compelling combination of texture, eccentricity and discreet subversion of art-historical categories. Even the most jaded art-world intellectual should feel comfortable enjoying the pretty colors, most of which Henson seems to have borrowed from a private cache of vintage shag rugs.

The hundreds of little oblong dots that cover Glenn Goldberg’s paintings evoke textiles, Australian Aboriginal art, and stick and poke tattoos, among other things. But mainly what they do, in this joint presentation from the Angeleno gallerist Chris Sharp and the London gallery the Approach, is disrupt your ability to read the works as figurative, as abstract or even simply as whole compositions — instead each canvas is a complex ledger of distinct decisions about color and pattern. It makes sense that despite the sparrow-like silhouettes inhabiting all six pieces in this exhibit, the Bronx-born artist, as quoted in the galleries’ publicity materials, says, “There are no birds in my work.”


Susan Te Kahurangi King is well known for her lucid, sinuous pencil drawings of cartoon characters. Often they look impossibly perfect, like projections of professionally animated dream images — even when the characters are crammed into one half of an otherwise empty page. It’s an illuminating treat to see this lineup of odder and less finished examples of this New Zealand artist’s work, shown here to contextualize one larger work. Donald Duck trips into an ironic riverine fate on one sheet of paper stained with grease; on another, a graphite gray Tweety Bird with enormous eyes stares at the viewer, frozen in space, maybe flying, maybe falling.

This Chinatown gallery brings four intense works by Magnus Maxine, each presenting a dense paper pulp surface, colored with oil paint, layered over a page or full spread of The New York Times. The two larger pieces, which feature a heavy pink cross and a circular arrangement of rays, are by far the strongest. But all four seem to have been made not so much by building on top of the day’s news but by ripping it away to reveal the rougher, more primal world of half-formed signs and symbols that surges underneath.


May 10-12, Spring Studios, 50 Varick Street, Manhattan;, $45 for a single day pass.

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