1-54 Takes New York
by Brianna Beckham·
Installation view of 1-54 Art Fair NY. Courtesy of 1-54
The past week saw another big art week in New York. Frieze NY returned to The Shed for the fairs 10th edition in the city, and Volta New York made a return after a brief hiatus due to the pandemic. The largest fair dedicated to art by the Black diaspora also returned to New York after a two year hiatus and came back bigger and better than ever. 1-54 Art Fair first started in London, then expanded to Marrakech, Paris, and NYC. It is a unique fair that has spearheaded the ascent of African Contemporary Art over the past several years. While interest in African Art has increased in the market with more exposure and sales, the major art fairs still overlook artists and galleries who represent the African diaspora.
This is why the founder of 1-54, Touria El Glaoui, saw a need to create a fair that held Black art with the same care and standards of their white peers. The fair prides itself on carefully curating a selection of some of the top emerging talent from the diaspora. In previous years, this fair took place in Lower Manhattan and Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. This year, Harlem became 1-54’s new home.
Harlem has a rich history and ties to the arts in the Black community. It is home to many Black galleries, art centers, and artists. It felt very fitting to have the fair in this culturally rich neighborhood in a magnificent converted church, Harlem Parish. Walking through the booths inside the church, it felt slower paced which inspired more of a community atmosphere than other fairs. What was also unique about this fair was its programming. Many art fairs have programs and events that coincide with the fair to have collectors and art lovers mingle and interact with each other around the city. 1-54 did the same, but had special programming centered around Harlem. It reinforced the fact that Harlem is still a creative force in the Black community. These programs weren’t meant for just socializing, but were also created to educate participants on thriving Black spaces and to celebrate the people who are keeping these spaces alive.
instalaltion view of Fridman Gallery booth with work by Dindga McCannon. Courtesy of Fridman Gallery LLC
Several booths stood out at the fair. There were great presentations from New York based galleries such as Long Gallery, a Black owned art gallery based in Harlem, Fridman Gallery, and Andrew Kreps Gallery. There were also presentations from new and emerging galleries with amazing booths with emerging and established artists alike. Cierra Britton Gallery, founded in 2021, had a group presentation with the artists Jewel Ham, Bre Andy, and Lewinale Havette. Each artist has a unique relationship with skin tone: Jewel Ham’s figures were bright red and pink, Lewinale Havette’s figures oozed in blue tones and Bre Andy’s figures existed in a gray scale. When artists paint figures in a different color scale in contrast to the typical Black skin tones, it removes the judgment and stereotypical attachments on race and Blackness. The figures are captivating as the viewer's gaze moves along the booth and sees that each figure is acting out leisure and confidence in a colorful dreamy state.
(From left to right) Jewel Ham 'wusah', 2022 Oil in canvas 40 × 30 × 1 in/ 101.6 × 76.2 × 2.5 cm, Jewel Ham, 'i know that's right', 2022 Acrylic and colored pencil on canvas 46 × 46 × 1 in/ 116.8 × 116.8 × 2.5 cm. Courtesy Cierra Britton Gallery
Bre Andy, 'Posted', 2018 Charcoal and pastel on paper 66 × 30 in 167.6 × 76.2 cm Courtesy Cierrra Britton Gallery
Hannah Traore Gallery (HTG) is another new gallery that was founded in 2022. The gallery has a commitment to celebrating artists who have been marginalized from the traditional narrative and this philosophy was showcased at the booth. HTG had a solo booth of works by Renee Cox, which celebrated the iconic and pioneering artist. Renee Cox is most known for her controversial and genre bending photography from the 90’s. In the booth, the viewer is taken back in time through her very earliest pieces next to some of her most recent works. In her early works she used photography to flip the script on traditional European narratives and photography practices. Displayed next to the older pieces, the viewer is taken to the present where Cox showcased recent photographs she took on an iPhone with digitally rendered backgrounds. As an artist, Renee Cox is always pushing the boundary of photography by exploring new technologies to convey important issues and questions.
Renee Cox, 'Video Wave', 2021. Courtesy of Hannah Traore Gallery
Renee Cox, YOMAMADONNA AND CHILD, 1994. Courtesy of Hannah Traore Gallery
Not only were there great New York based galleries represented at 1-54, but there was also an array of international galleries and artists that don’t normally get recognition in the United States. Galerie Number 8 had a solo presentation by the Berlin based artist David Uzochukwu. The artist presented amazing all-encompassing digitally rendered photographs that present Black people in water, which highlighted the connection between the slave trade. Other highlights included works from galleries Foreign Agent that is based in Switzerland, Gallery 1957 based in Ghana, Galerie Dupont from Paris and many others who represented their home countries at Harlem Parish.
David Uzochukwu, 'Styx' (2020). David Uzochukwu courtesy of Galerie Number 8
Over the years, Touria and her team have cultivated a community with each fair. It is unlike the fast paced, materialistic fairs that we see so often. When attending 1-54 you get the sense that every person and artist at the booth is very proud to take part in history as the atmosphere feels more relaxed and open. As the interest and curiosity for Black artists continues to grow, fairs like 1-54 will become more important to educate viewers and to celebrate hardworking and talented artists and galleries from around the world.
Brianna Beckham is an art lover, artist, and arts professional based in New York City. Ever since she took an art history course in 2018, she has been passionate about sharing and telling stories from Black artists. Some of her favorite topics of art to explore are Black abstraction and the history of Black modernism. She currently works at Hauser & Wirth and is excited about working with other talented artists and passionate people who love art and culture.