“Viewer discretion advised: graphic sexual imagery,” reads some floor text that nobody seemed to notice or bother to read this afternoon as they entered Mendes Wood DM‘s booth at the Independent, where the São Paulo gallery is showing phallus-filled textile works by the Brazilian artist f .marquespenteado. But really, that text would have been equally valid at the entrance to each floor of the fair, because this year’s Independent is capital-S Sexy.
The booth of works by marquespenteado is among the fair’s strongest. The artist’s raunchy textile pieces incorporate unconventional materials like plastic baskets, PVC thread, and rubber curtains to depict sexual encounters and strange devotional scenes — in one, a woman carries a giant golden penis through a wintry landscape — in a style that evokes traditional Japanese woodblock prints. They are not, however, the most explicit works at the fair.
That distinction belongs to New York nonprofit White Columns, which has devoted one of its walls to a rotating selection of small, black-and-white drawings by Anthony Ballard. The works resemble delirious erotic comics, with fragments of naked bodies and orgies playing out across tight constellations of bubbles and screens. Ballard, who died in 2008, was long affiliated with Fountain Gallery — a space devoted to the work of artists suffering from mental illnesses — during his lifetime, and he will have a solo show at White Columns in June. In sharp contrast to the quasi-religious mood of marquespenteado’s sex scenes, Ballard’s works suggest a landscape littered with grinding bodies.
Also on the third floor, Barcelona-based gallery NoguerasBlanchard has a selection of small drawings and a large painting by Anne-Lise Coste. While the painting features the outline of a nude body in gentle, airbrushed hues, the untitled drawings showcase a playful, animal sexuality, with inter-species sex scenes rendered in child-like crayon compositions. Monkeys, dolphins, dogs, cats — all the anthropomorphized beasts wear huge grins as they go at it.
On the second floor, things are a little more subdued. My favorite booth of the whole fair, belonging to Puerto Rico’s Galería Agustina Ferreyra, houses Adriana Minoliti‘s installation “Playground,” which incorporates soft sculptures, a shaggy pink rug, small drawings, and large silkscreen-on-canvas paintings. In the latter, ambiguously gendered cyborgs made up of geometric forms explore each others’ colorful bodies in domestic settings sourced from 1970s interior design magazines. Minoliti achieves her goal of scrambling the heteronormative codes of conventional home decoration with infectious fun. Also on sale in the booth is a zine version of a special issue the artist once pitched to the Argentinian edition of Playboy that was, predictably, rejected. Priced at $10, it’s the most bang for your buck you’ll get all Armory Week.
While the sexually charged works on the Independent’s second and third floors are decidedly queer and polyamorous, those on the fourth floor are intensely heterosexual — often to the point of parody. Parisian gallery Praz-Delavallade is showing the mixed media paintings and sculptures of Joel Kyack, among them the hilarious “Lumber Mill” (2015). In it, the water hose of a cartoonish, painted fireman feeds into a water bottle in a vintage fitness poster that is splashing water on a sopping wet female model. The poster’s faux-girl power slogan, “Working Women,” only adds to the humor of the piece.
Another satire of vintage sexism comes in the form of the late Marjorie Strider‘s not-so-bas relief “Come Hither,” from 1963, which is the literal and figurative standout in Broadway 1602‘s booth. Her outrageous riff on Roy Lichtenstein’s helpless Pop art damsels provides a welcome touch of overt sexual politics in a fair that often feels overly formal and apolitical.
For a more unironic deployment of sexual imagery, stop by the booth of Berlin gallery BQ, which is full of works by Dirk Bell created, Wayne White-style, on thrift store paintings and, in one case, on a leather jacket. The silhouette of a nude woman, painted in white on the back of the coat, is enveloped by the outlines of two large hands. It’s by far the least sexy and most macho of the Independent’s many, many works featuring erotic imagery. Luckily it’s outnumbered by more provocative works that make this seemingly clean fair feel enjoyably dirty.
The Independent continues at 548 West 22nd Street (Chelsea, Manhattan) through March 8.