Independent’s Spring Edition Demonstrates the Market’s Turn Toward Diverse, Thoughtful Work Over Trophies

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As New York continues to barrel through a two-week marathon of fairs, auctions, and events, moments of reflection are hard won. In the wake of its presentation at Spring Studios May 11–14, Independent has issued its 2023 Market Report, which outlines key takeaways that offer clues to where the market is headed more broadly.

Distinguished by its curated, invitation-only model, the fair saw a marked uptick in attendance and sales this year. Twenty-five percent of the booths sold out completely, double the amount from the 2022 edition. The highest reported transaction was $150,000, which was the selling price for sculptor Richard Van Buren’s historical installation (1969/2023), consisting of resin and fiberglass works dangling like talismanic feathers from Garth Greenan’s booth wall.

While the major auction houses are seeing a dip in sales for multimillion-dollar trophies, it appears that interest in more accessibly priced works is the sweet spot for both seasoned and new collectors. Independent has carved a niche for itself within the crowded fair landscape as a source of discoveries, whether by emerging ultra-contemporary artists (defined by Artnet News as artists born after 1974) or by artists of the 20th century who were passed over because of their race, gender identity, or access to the prevailing establishments.

As institutions and individuals take stock and reassess what had previously been cemented as art-historical canon, “the market is leading, or sometimes following, some of the evolving value questions that set criteria for change,” observed Independent founder Elizabeth Dee in the report. “Much of this important and time intensive work is a partnership between gallerists, curators, and collectors that can be accelerated by or be a result of a strong exhibition at Independent.”

Don and Mera Rubell with Michael St. John at Off Paradise. Courtesy of Off Paradise.

Don and Mera Rubell with Michael St. John at Off Paradise. Courtesy of Off Paradise.

Epitomizing the dialogue between works by artists of different generations was the dual-artist booth “Michael St. John and Mitchell Charbonneau: Two Minutes to Midnight” at Off Paradise. Gallery founder Natacha Polaert told Artnet News, “I was very happy to approach the presentation as a standalone exhibition with its own narrative and title that had a short but mighty run of four days. Four good days.”

VIPs including the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Max Hollein, Don and Mera Rubell (early collectors of St. John), and critics Walter Robinson and Jerry Saltz flocked to the presentation. The centerpiece was 28-year-old Charbonneau’s alarmingly realistic (2023), a cast-resin sculpture including Monster energy drink cans strewn atop a table, which Polaert said confounded attendee Don Lemon and delighted an unnamed artist who quipped that “the Whitney should acquire the whole piece for their lobby and confuse everybody.”

Installations of mixed media works by Michael St. John and Mitchell Charbonneau, Independent New York, courtesy of Off Paradise © Michael St. John and Mitchell Charbonneau.

Installations of mixed media works by Michael St. John and Mitchell Charbonneau, Independent New York. © Michael St. John and Mitchell Charbonneau, courtesy of Off Paradise.

Polaert kicked off the day with the sale of St. John’s painting (2022) for $17,000, and The entire booth sold out. Collectors Barbara and Howard Morse, of the New York-based Morse Contemporary Art Foundation, acquired the folding-chair sculpture (2023) by Charbonneau; a trustee of the Brooklyn Museum bought his painted bronze (2022), and Vincent Fremont took home (2023).

At Magenta Plains booth, works by the late experimental filmmaker and artist Stan VanDerBeek capped off a triumvirate of presentations around the city focused on 1960s Surrealist-inflected collages, which were the foundation of his radical animated films.

Stan VanDerBeek, <i>Untitled</i> (1964). Courtesy of the artist, Magenta Plains, and Independent New York.

Stan VanDerBeek, Untitled (1964). Courtesy of the artist, Magenta Plains, and Independent New York.

“We are seeing an extraordinary reaction to a Stan VanDerBeek moment in New York right now,” gallery director Olivia Smith told Artnet News, pointing to his 1960s films running at the Canal Street gallery; his seminal on view as part of the exhibition “Signals: How Video Transformed the World” at the Museum of Modern Art; and the handmade collages on the stand at Independent. The gallery sold six collages for $20,000 each, with one placed a major institution, Smith said. “VanDerBeek’s ideas around visual velocity and immersive image networks predicted how we consume media today.”

The enthusiasm for thoughtful presentations was echoed in Nicola Vassell’s solo show of the American painter Elizabeth Schwaiger, which featured new works inspired by the artist’s time at the Robert Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, Florida, and the damage it sustained by Hurricane Ian in 2022.

“We fielded a tremendous amount of interest and placed all of her paintings with new and known collectors, some institutional,” Vassell said. “Elizabeth applied a strong conceptual bent to her work and Independent was, as usual, a robust boutique experience.”

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