Future is yet another New York City art fair trying to shake things up. The show, launched in 2020, draws a younger, hipper crowd than the city’s higher profile exhibitions, and Wednesday night’s VIP opening felt decidedly more casual and less expensive than other inaugural fair events. A total of 57 galleries from 20 countries made an appearance at this year’s iteration, including more established shops. The result is a show that finally does away with one of the worst aspects of art fairs — galleries displaying their loudest works in an ever-escalating bidding war to usher visitors into their booths. Instead, Future’s works are quieter and more thoughtful.
In a corner booth, Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, a 45-year-old gallery in Chelsea, exhibits two artists’ series of calming paintings. “She’s a very meditative, thoughtful person,” Assistant Director Abbie Knight said of artist Arielle Zamora. The paintings, which appear self-explanatory but reveal themselves as one looks closer, are made from a joint compound (drywall mud), which Zamora carves and then paints.
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Zamora’s works are paired with paintings by Maeve D’Arcy, whose approach is also meticulous and even verges on obsessive in his application of thousands of tiny dots and lines. Larger objects draw the marks together — sun-shaped orbs, mountain-shaped ovals, and horizon-line foregrounds.
Nearby, Kates-Ferri Projects, a gallery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is showing a series of paintings by Kevin Sabo titled Maison Sabo (2023).
“They’ve always been very ‘drag-y’ — playful and fun-looking and paying homage to the great, vast world of gender expression,” the artist, who was hanging out near the booth during the fair’s opening, told Hyperallergic. “And that feels more relevant than ever right now.”
Sabo lives in Richmond and has been making these paintings for three or four years. Virginia has recently witnessed an influx of anti-trans bills that have become all too familiar in legislatures across the country (the state’s were recently struck down). Part of Kates-Ferri Projects’s booth includes a series of sculptural butterflies that Sabo made in collaboration with trans youth in Richmond. The proceeds from their sales will be donated to the He She They and We nonprofit in Richmond. By 6:30pm on opening night, the butterflies had all been sold, and six of Sabo’s paintings had found homes, too.
“They’re almost like a militia of drag queens or army of queens who are unapologetically saying, ‘We’re here, we’re unmovable and regardless of all of these laws that are trying to be placed by transphobic governments and states,’” said Kates-Ferri Projects co-founder Natalie Kates. “It’s important for us to show representation and to make sure we don’t go backwards: To make sure those voices aren’t snuffed out, to make sure the queer community is here, to make sure the trans community is heard.”
Future’s booths are crammed into the medium-sized Chelsea Industrial event space, which is marketed as a rental for “galas, fashion shows, brand activations, and corporate events,” according to its website. The walls jut out at strange angles, making the rooms feel like a maze. Sometimes a single gallery has work across disconnected walls and the attendant is nowhere to be found. It’s not exactly easy to navigate, but it’s a welcome break from the awkwardness of the linear rows of booths typically found in art fairs. Future debuted with a profit-sharing structure in which its exhibitors would split 35% of the proceeds for its first five years, though the co-op model is no longer in place; the fair reportedly did not start making a profit until last year.
To the side of the crowded central space, Brooklyn’s Mama Projects presents Laura Berger’s 2023 series of desert paintings. The works are sometimes sun-soaked and other times drenched in nighttime darkness. They all share a dreamlike quality.
Independent curator Dana Notine, who worked on the presentation, talked about how the actions of the transparent figures relate to their isolated desert setting.
“It’s about what your brain does to cope with intense stress and how you get these intense moments of desire and pleasure,” Notine explained. “Bodily pleasure, emotional, connections with other people, the ideas that get brought up when you lack the things you need.” She described their settings as something like a “Star Wars planet — recognizable, but also a liminal space.”
Other booths are smaller and scrappier. The Brooklyn gallery Rocket Science has a tiny space toward the back of the show that exhibited work by artist-owner Maria Petrovskaya and Horacio Quiroz, the latter of whom created a reflection on the Aztec god Ōmeteōtl, a two-part deity made up of husband and wife Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl.
Future also includes a handful of special curated projects, one of which was a collaboration between Black Women in Visual Art, a consultancy and professional development network for Black women, and Dashboard, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that creates public and private exhibitions. The exhibition is delightfully titled clutch AF.
“It really highlights Black joy and also Black women who are doing their work joyfully,” said co-founder of Black Women in Visual Arts Daricia Mia Demarr. She pointed to Ashley Buttercup’s paintings of people in bedrooms and living rooms — making out, holding each other, and laughing.
“These are the emotive parts of the work that we are trying to show here,” said Demmar. “Just joy and happiness and glee, which we feels sometimes is underrepresented when we’re talking about the Black experience.” The project’s centerpiece is a tapestry titled “Black Madonna; Mother and Child” (2016).
“A mother holding her child — what could be more ‘clutch’ than that?” Demmar said.
Future Fair is on view in Chelsea through Saturday, May 13. Tickets run at $45 for the general public and $32 for students and seniors.