Art Market

6 Artists at Independent 20th Century That Expand the Art Historical Canon

Justin Kamp
Sep 8, 2022 11:47PM

Installation view of Independent 20th Century, 2022. Photo by Alexa Hoyer. Courtesy of James Fuentes, Salon 94 Design, Ryan Lee, Galatea, and Independent New York.

This week, as The Armory Show once again whirs to life, roving crowds of collectors will descend upon the Javits Center. A more narrowly focused, intimate affair will coalesce in southern Manhattan: On September 9th, the Independent Art Fair opens its inaugural 20th-century edition at Casa Cipriani in Battery Park, highlighting artists and programs that span 100 years of creative production.

“Independent 20th Century is a fair with a mission to unearth the stories of the avant-garde through the eyes of a rising generation of contemporary gallerists,” said Elizabeth Dee, co-founder and CEO of Independent Fairs. “We worked collaboratively with gallerists that are next generation to formulate a fresh take on historical work, both from the canon and outside it, that is reflective of today’s moment.” With this wide-ranging approach in mind, Artsy set out to find the artists whose contributions to art history deserve a closer look.


Salon 94 Design presents work by Kate Millett, a pioneering feminist writer. Her multifaceted art practice suggests an intriguing overlap between her participation in the Fluxus movement and the writing and activism that made her one of the leading theorists of second-wave feminism. Salon 94 Design’s booth features a number of Millett’s minimalist erotic ink drawings of female forms, but the real stars here are the off-kilter sculptural works from her “Fantasy Furniture” series.

The “Fantasy Furniture” works appeared at Millett’s first solo show at New York’s Judson Gallery in 1967. At the time, the artist was living downtown and working alongside Fluxus artists such as Yoko Ono and George Maciunas. Her wry, uncanny pieces Bed (1965) and Blue-Eyed Marble Box (1965) meld anthropomorphic elements with domestic structures like beds, coffee tables, and cabinets. They feel like precursors to Millett’s landmark 1970 critique Sexual Politics as they explore how the personal becomes implicated—even imprisoned—within larger societal structures.

The “Fantasy Furniture” offers an integral link between the iconic performances of Fluxus artists such as Ono and Carolee Schneemann and the larger feminist movement. Millett’s work helps create a continuum between Fluxus’s absurdist social satire and the blossoming feminist revolution that spilled beyond bohemian downtown art scenes and onto streets and campuses across the world—due in large part to Millett herself.

Venus Over Manhattan presents stunning transcendental landscape paintings by Joseph Yoakum and Richard Mayhew that favor personal encounters with the land over the traditional perspectives and grandeur of Romanticism. The dual presentation urges a reappraisal of 20th-century landscape art.

The self-taught Yoakum took real locations as his subjects. He often named his works after notable natural landmarks, twisting those vistas into surreal, sometimes nonsensical topographies. His mountains and rivers often appear knotted, folded, or otherwise displaced in the picture plane. Yoakum’s idiosyncratic formalism has already begun to win institutional reconsideration—including a major 2021–2022 show that traveled to MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Menil Drawing Institute. All this attention cements his status as an outsider artist whose resolute strangeness eventually transformed into a remarkable style of its own.

Richard Mayhew, Untitled, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Venus Over Manhattan.

Mayhew’s incandescent watercolors, on the other hand, offer a more emotional approach to landscape painting. Mayhew—who studied with the Art Students League and was a founding member of the famed Spiral Group—calls his magma-flow paintings “mindscapes” and claims that they are spiritual evocations of places rather than straightforward representations.

Viewed together, the artists’ works affirm that American landscape painting is more experimental and expansive than most art history textbooks suggest. Landscape isn’t just a realm for naturalists or outsider artists, but fertile proving ground for serious explorations in color and form.

Chico da Silva

Chico da Silva, Sem título [Untitled], 1974. Photo by Ding Musa. Courtesy of Galatea.

São Paulo–based gallery Galatea’s beguiling booth hosts vibrant, shimmering works on paper by Chico da Silva, a Brazilian artist of indigenous descent who was active throughout the mid–20th century. With commanding textures and gestures, Da Silva’s paintings depict a finely wrought universe of fish, waterfowl, and mystical creatures like mermaids. The artist originally drew his work on the sides of houses in his hometown. He used organic materials like charcoal and natural dyes before transitioning to the paper and gouache of the works on display; the powerful strokes and bold color choices of his original format persist even at this more intimate scale.

Da Silva’s expressionist cosmology runs counter to the spare conceptualism of Brazilian Neo-Concrete artists like Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, who became avant-garde icons of the country by the 1960s. It also defies the paternalistic, racist notions of “naive” artistry—an outlook proffered by one of Da Silva’s earliest champions, the Swiss critic Jean-Pierre Chabloz, who called Da Silva “gloriously primitive” and “divinely illiterate.” Works like Agua viva e piranhas (late 1950s) or Batraquio e Besouros (late 1950s) suggest Da Silva’s complex and coherent pictorial legacy, which is deeply rooted in the broader ecological and folkloric aspects of the artist’s personal and social worlds.

Juanita McNeely’s large-scale paintings of feminine ecstasy and anguish, on display at James Fuentes’s booth, are a must-see. Works like Woman’s Psyche (1968) and Pulled into Center (1990s) submerge the viewer in a visceral, corporeal world of striking primary colors and shades of pale flesh. McNeely’s paintings revel in bodily pleasure and pain: Childbirth and menstrual blood are common motifs, as in the mythic panels of Woman’s Psyche, and the figures in On the Edge (early 1970s) and Pulled into Center appear electrified by some strong, if ambiguous, sensation.

McNeely’s paintings connect to a broader feminist canon—it’s easy to link them to Judith Bernstein’s explicit expressionism and Joan Semmel’s vibrant, fleshy figurative canvases, for example. But her work also continues older expressionist traditions: See the shades of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s elongated forms in Woman’s Psyche, or the Francis Bacon-esque phantasms that frame Pulled into Center. McNeely’s work adds a feminist exemplar to a long, traditionally masculine history of art about heroic, existential pain.

Lee Quiñones, installation view in Ross+Kramer’s booth at Independent 20th Century, 2022. Photo by Silvia Ros. Courtesy of the artist and Ross+Kramer.

Ross+Kramer’s booth focuses on the work of New York–based graffiti artist Lee Quiñones, a stalwart of the city’s 1970s graffiti wars. The gallery’s presentation gathers a range of materials documenting Quiñones’s practice, including large-scale spray-painted works on linen, smaller giclée prints, and sketches for his train-wrap murals.

The booth, along with an accompanying essay by Piper Marshall, places Quiñones within an ecosystem of Lower East Side artists and activists such as Martin Wong and ACT UP. The group focused on representing their neighborhood’s demographics and advocating for local political change throughout the final decades of the 20th century. See Quiñones’s 1984 diptych The Long Prayer, which the artist painted amidst the relentless redevelopment and privatization of the Reagan era. The piece suggests housing struggles, with its cadre of imposing warplanes over a concrete hovel. In her essay, Marshall writes that the artist also contributed to Your House is Mine, a 1993 publication that was tied to the Lower East Side housing protests of the day.

In this context, Quiñones’s graffiti transcends its expressionist aesthetic, becoming a vital, public-facing tool of grassroots defense and education against corporate redevelopment and gentrification. It’s a necessary reminder of the value of public legibility in the context of an art fair, and indeed in the art world at large.

Justin Kamp