New York’s May art fairs: tackling the contemporary unease and a new need for alternative realms
May 27, 2023
New York in May is one of the key moments in the art world. With two weeks of non-stop fairs, events, gallery openings and auctions, the city offers plenty of opportunities for collectors and art lovers to discover new names and identify the latest trends in contemporary art. Collectors this season seemed to be more drawn by artists who are able to tackle the sense of human identity and expression in more universal terms.
Works which dealt with the contemporary unease of individuals' body and soul had a very tangible presence around the fairs in New York this year. Many younger artists seemed to address a need for different paradigms of connectivity by tapping into the realms of imagination, ancestral wisdom, spirituality as well as metaphysical and allegorical narrations suspended in time.
Here is a list of the most interesting young and emerging names spotted around New York’s Independent Art Fair, Frieze New York, and New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA). These artists stood out through their solid and more universal narratives about human identity, translated into a genuine approach to their art that had already transcended any cultural/gendered specificity.
Independent Art Fair
Connor Marie with Lubov, New York
In her work, Connor Marie (b. 1992) wittingly plays with the power of beauty and seduction, nestled between pleasure and threat. At first glance, her paintings seem to depict pretty girls looking at the viewer, but a more prolonged stare will reveal something threatening, almost demoniac, barely hidden within their magnetic eyes. In other instances, some inner torment emerges from her art, mutilating the faces and causing them to morph and fluidly dissolve in the paintings as ghostly omens or hallucinatory presences.
With a knack for making girlishness alarming despite its prettiness, Connor’s art often takes the form of paintings that are as much aesthetically pleasing as they are deeply disturbing. Made of “makeup and mud,” of their strengths, and of their power to seduce, Connor Marie’s women ultimately reveal how in beauty lies a threat of either vulnerability or pitilessness. Akin to contemporary chimeras or mermaids, the paintings by this artist immediately bewitched collectors, resulting in a practically sold-out booth for Lubov at Independent New York.
Jeremy with Peres Projects, Berlin, Seoul, and Milan
Peres Projects’ booth at Independent Art Fair stood out with its surreal and mysterious island of pinkish and blue tones, setting a fitting scene for the New York debut of young Swiss painter Jeremy (b. 1996). With an enigmatic use of saturated color paired with the bewilderingly sober or neutral expression of his characters, Jeremy investigates the expansive and fluid nature of queer and non-normative identities. The artist is able to infuse a sense of timelessness into his largely allegorical scenes, enhanced as they are by a rich set of heterogeneous references ranging from Ovid (Roman poet), Georges Bataille (French philosopher) and Italian Baroque to Captain Harlock (fictional character with an individualist philosophy of life) and German Expressionism.
Fundamentally, Jeremy is interested in the essence of what makes our bodies human: how far can a body be stretched, pushed or manipulated, and still be considered human? The question is posed by the artist through the lens of queerness, positing a future where we are all both one and the “other.” More than a set of determined physical attributes, the body becomes a space where political, allegorical and biological contradictions are renegotiated through a perpetual metamorphosis of the self, heading ever more towards inclusivity.
Grace Carney with P·P·O·W, New York
P·P·O·W at this year’s Independent presented a duo show, bringing together works by Jessica Stroller (b. 1981) and Grace Carney (b.1992) by juxtaposing their technical approaches and highlighting their shared interest in the physical and emotional experience of the gendered female body. Carney’s abstractions are characterized by intense, almost aggressive gestures along with a visceral use of colors.
Standing in front of her paintings, one can perceive the movement of tormented, haunted bodies within the space of the canvas and the murkiness of the paint. This becomes even more clear in her drawings, where entangled limbs and contorting musculature explore the physical experience of the human body, blurring the lines between anger and love, aggression and submission, movement and confinement. The results are densely layered compositions that appear both bodily and abstract.
Frieze New York
Liao Wen with Capsule Shanghai, Shanghai
In Frieze’s Focus section, Capsule Shanghai presented an unsettling but highly engaging solo booth of anthropomorphic wood and resin sculptures by young Chinese artist Liao Wen (b. 1994), winning the booth the Focus Stand Prize. A series of fragments of body parts were propped up around the space in seemingly uncomfortable positions, frantically twisting to express the critical state of the mind that eventually reflects on the body. Meanwhile, on the walls, smaller works inspired by ancient Roman anatomical votive statues materialized easily neglected bodily activities such as breathing, excretion, and vomiting through poetic sculptural language.
All of Wen’s works are made of lime wood, which is traditionally used in marionette puppetry, which the artist was able to learn about during her time in Czech Republic. Both psychologically and physically intense, these sculptures mimic a body in conflict with both its surroundings and inner self. Wen seems to undertake a lucid investigation of how we perceive the body's presence in everyday life, exploring how it can function as a channel for revolt or introspection, or as a genuine signal of torment and discomfort.
Naudline Pierre with James Cohan, New York
For this year’s Frieze New York, James Cohan reserved the entirety of its booth for the stunningly fantastical visual world of Brooklyn-based artist Naudline Pierre (b. 1989). Reminiscent of Pierre’s recent solo exhibition at the same gallery, the Frieze presentation showcased a new body of work characterized by the predominant use of brilliant yellow tones. The artist reinvents references to Renaissance and Baroque paintings, merging in her Haitian identity and Caribbean spirituality to conjure new possibilities of utopian and spiritual realms.
Situated between personal mythology and intimacy, alongside canonical narratives of devotion, these bright works bring in special energies expressed by allegorical and celestial figures floating and dancing in a magical dimension. A flamed-shaped sculpture in the middle of the booth seemed to function as both a portal and an energy fulcrum, creating a sensory and symbolic dialogue between the paintings and the space.
New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA)
Alicia Adamerovich with Pangée, Montreal
For this year's edition of NADA, Montreal-based gallery Pangée displayed a duo presentation of works by Alicia Adamerovich (b. 1989) paired with Élise Lafontaine, who both share an exploration of spiritual and mystical realms through fantastical, abstract compositions. The fascinating work of Adamerovich, in particular, tends to slip into a mysterious metaphysical dimension, where nature comes to life in a revelation of its silent energies and universal order. All of her art originates from the artist’s deep connection with nature.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, the artist always found in the forest a secure place of regeneration, solace, but also atonement. Adamerovich eventually visualizes in her work an alternative ecosystem where all living beings, seem interconnected, united in some holistic universal order which preexists and transcends any anthropocentric attempt at a dualist description and objectification of nature as something separate.
Yvette Mayorga with David B. Smith Gallery, Denver
What toys such as dolls houses and fairytales have in common is their function as metaphorical and allegorical devices to playfully prepare children for the complex societal dynamics they are bound to experience in adult life. The art of Chicago-based artist Yvette Mayorga (b.1991) works in a similar way. Her alluring pink pieces presented by David B. Smith Gallery at NADA are at the same time visually seductive, playfully narrative and dense in historical and cultural references as well as layered with socio-political claims. Eventually, they function as igneous visual traps that make the works attractive and accessible for the viewers while forcing them to confront stories of societal inequality and surveillance experienced by the artist as a first-generation Mexican-American.
Recurring references are made to Rococo, a period of unparalleled wealth and decadence in which the artist identifies similarities with today. Mayorga is already receiving wide institutional recognition. Her first solo museum exhibition is currently on view at The Momentary, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art until October, and she has another exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum opening in September along with a big public commission for Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to be revealed in the following months.