Abstraction is ascendant at New York’s Future Fair

At the Future Fair, which opened to VIPs on Wednesday (10 May) for its third in-person edition, painting is without question the dominant medium. But what manner of painting—the bright, figurative style that has dominated the contemporary art market for the better part of a decade, or more process-driven abstraction—is up for debate. There are strong examples of both, and plenty of sculpture too, but amid the stands filled with canvases featuring popping portraits, irreverent domestic scenes and stylised art historical allusions, abstract works may invite closer inspection and more sustained interest.

“I’m excited for the pendulum to swing back to abstraction,” says Joey Piziali, the director and co-founder of San Francisco-based Romer Young Gallery, whose stand features works by an intergenerational cohort of “three women at the forefront of abstraction”, as he put it. The presentation spans a fluid and gestural circular canvas by Pamela Jorden, Bird’s Eye (2023), smaller untitled works by Nancy White with interlocking shapes rendered in a more muted palette, and a hard-edged geometric composition in blue and red pigmented plaster by Elise Ferguson priced at $24,000.

Elise Ferguson, Walsh L, 2023 Courtesy the artist and Romer Young Gallery

“Abstraction is so generous, there’s nothing didactic about it,” Piziali says. “Whatever you’re seeing in the work, you’re bringing to it.”

On the stand of Washington, DC-based gallery Morton Fine Art, visitors might see ancient geometries or futuristic architectural schema in works by Eto Otitigbe. His pieces, on view alongside mixed media works by Adia Millett, are actually bas-relief sculptures in the guise of paintings. Each aluminium or Valchromat panel is engraved with a precise geometric structure related to Otitigbe’s public art practice, to which he then applies dyes or acrylic paint.

“I see these as experimental drawings,” the artist says. “They’re all about the push and pull between the rigidity of the engraving and then the way the ink moves across the panel, which I can’t completely control.” His works are priced between $2,750 for the smaller panels and $16,500 for the large diptych anchoring the stand.

Eto Otitigbe, Dr. Nova (diptych), 2022 Courtesy the artist and Morton Fine Art

A different kind of push and pull is at work in the dazzling acrylic, gouache and ink works on paper by Rafael Plaisant filling the walls of New York-based High Noon gallery’s stand, which also features bewitching ceramic busts by Elisa Soliven. Plaisant’s abstract compositions toggle between ancient, contemporary and futuristic forms, evoking traditional scroll paintings and mandalas, Russian Constructivism, psychedelic poster art and science-fiction imagery, among other touchstones.

“Rafael’s practice started out as a fantasy of building the perfect skateboard ramp, which led him to study architecture,” says High Noon’s owner and director Jared Linge, who first discovered the Brazilian artist’s work at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic through the viral #ArtistSupportPledge social media campaign. “At the time his work was selling for $200, which felt like the wrong price.” At Future Fair, Plaisant’s work is still priced affordably, between $1,800 and $3,500 depending on size.

Rafael Plaisant, Proposito, 2023 Courtesy the artist and High Noon, New York

“For a younger fair, Rebeca [Laliberte] and Rachel [Mijares Fick] really care about supporting galleries and showing work at accessible price points,” Linge adds, referring to Future Fair’s co-founders, who have made a supportive financial model and a cooperative spirit cornerstones of the fair.

The fair certainly seemed to benefit from being the first out of the gate amid New York’s spring art market marathon, hosting a buzzy preview the day before Tefaf New York and Independent, and before the auction houses kicked off their major seasonal sales. With 56 exhibitors, some of them sharing joint stands and others showing in lounge-like spaces or open thoroughfares, the fair has an inviting, unpretentious atmosphere that feels all the more welcoming given its location in the heart of Chelsea, a gallery district increasingly dominated by a couple dozen imposing international dealerships.

Or, as one VIP in line for the bar during Wednesday’s preview was overheard putting it: “I feel like Nada, Independent and Untitled had an orgy, and Future Fair is their lovechild.”

  • Future Fair, until 13 May, Chelsea Industrial, New York

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