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The 15-Year Culture of Independent Art Fair

Elizabeth Dee and Matthew Higgs. Credit: Interview Magazine

The Independent Art Fair took place from May 10 to 12. Amid New York’s busy art fairs in May, the Independent has been called a “breath of fresh air.” Founded in 2010 by Matthew Higgs, Elizabeth Dee, and Darren Flook, the Independent Art Fair is now in its 15th year. The founders wanted to create a fair that functioned as a de-hierarchized exhibition, as opposed to fairs organized around blue-chip galleries.

In keeping with this idea, unlike most fairs where exhibitors are selected through an open call, the Independent’s curatorial team selects participating galleries by invitation. With a policy of inviting new galleries and lesser-known artists each year, the Independent has earned a reputation for discovering new artists over the past 15 years.

This year, 33 of the 88 participating galleries are new to the fair. The fair’s artists range from those who have exhibited at prestigious institutions around the world to those making their first debut at the New York art fair. The Independent is also characterized by its lack of reliance on an established clientele and has consistently cultivated new audiences.

The Independent’s fair model has been a major influence on subsequent art fairs in New York, including Future Fair and 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. This year, the Independent celebrated its 15th anniversary with “15×15: Independent 2010-2024,” a group exhibition for sale during the fair. The exhibition invited artists who have made a significant mark on the fair over the past 15 years, including Nicola Vassell Gallery’s Uman, whose work sold for $100,000 at this year’s fair.

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