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.
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.