The inaugural edition of the contemporary art fair focused on digital artworks based on photography took place at the Javits Center (NY) in early September and is already one of the most significant annual events on New York’s artistic calendar.
More than one-third of the fair is dedicated to individual presentations, providing an excellent opportunity to discover emerging artists while also delving deeper into the works of renowned photographers. In addition to the works displayed by exhibitors, PHOTOFAIRS New York featured a series of special projects, including large-scale installations, a robust lecture program, and an annual award for exhibiting artists, established in partnership with 21c Museum Hotels—an enterprise founded by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, contemporary art collectors, and now one of the largest contemporary art museums in the United States.
“It is a great joy to provide a space dedicated to showcasing the dynamism of image creation and celebrating photography, which is at the heart of our visual culture,” said Helen Toomer, director of PHOTOFAIRS New York.
The debut edition of PHOTOFAIRS NY welcomed a highly curated group of international exhibitors, including renowned photography dealers, interdisciplinary contemporary art galleries, and organizations at the forefront of emerging technologies.
In addition to thematic and collective exhibitions, more than one-third of the event was dedicated to individual artist presentations. Highlights included photographs, prints, and video works by Adama Delphine Fawundu, a New York-based artist whose practice explores themes of indigeneity and ancestral memory; the works of Ghanaian artist Caleb Kwarteng Prah from Nil Gallery, who blends street photography with personal archives to depict contemporary Ghana; previously unseen images from Katsu Naito’s Once in Harlem series, exhibited at The Fridge; a physical and digital presentation by Praise Shadows Gallery of Nicole Wilson’s long-term project Ötzi, a photo documentation of ancient and contemporary tattoo practices; the staged photographs by the artist duo Elliot & Erick Jiménez, embodying Yoruba and Catholic syncretism, presented by Spinello Projects; a selection of photographs and installations by Maleonn, including the artist’s tribute to the 15th-century painter Jheronimus Bosch’s masterpiece, The Garden of Earthly Delights, at Shun Art Gallery; and a presentation by Momentum of cinematic landscapes from the latest series by Norwegian artist Ole Marius Joergensen, exploring the mysteries of rural life.
Many of the presentations in this edition highlight the work of artists examining the art and materiality of photography and its intersections with mediums and disciplines ranging from drawing and painting to fiber and collage. Highlights include the new Golden Age series by Brooklyn artist Delphine Diallo, unveiled at Fisheye Gallery, which combines portraiture and collage to breathe new life into African cult objects; Robert Mann Gallery, whose artists like Cig Harvey, Jane Waggoner Deschner, and Ana Teresa Barboza draw on practices that blend photography with various historical fiber techniques.
PHOTOFAIRS New York’s expanded vision of image production includes explorations of new media and emerging technologies, as well as digital projects that engage the audience virtually. The Path, an exhibition organized by Postmasters Gallery, for example, featured photographs and videos by Kenny Dunkan.
The exhibitors were selected by the prestigious fair Selection Committee: Sebastián Alderete (ROLF ART, Buenos Aires); Amanda Coulson (TERN Gallery, Nassau); Nicholas Fahey (Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles); and Putri Tan (Gagosian, New York, and 19 cities worldwide), in collaboration with Helen Toomer.
Special projects and program
In parallel with and as a complement to the booth presentations, several special projects from the fair’s partners took place in September in the big apple. Fotografiska Museum NYC presented a special installation of recent portraits by American artist Cara Romero; Baxter St, at the Camera Club of New York, presented a project by a former student of its Curatorial Program, Emma Safir; the artist collective For Freedoms presented photographic works by a group of their Fellows; and the Jamaica Art Society was present with Memories Don’t Leave Like People Do, a video works exhibition curated by founder Tiana Webb Evans, featuring works by artists Simon Benjamin, Zachary Fabri, Ania Freer, Timothy Yanick Hunter, and Jamilah Sabur.
Additionally, artists and installations animated the fair’s expansive space, including the special interactive project RGB Lights Mirror by artist and computer programmer Daniel Rozin, presented by bitforms, celebrating the passenger pigeon species through Sayler/Morris’ Eclipse at the Robert Mann Gallery; Jackson Fine Art’s The Mind-Baby Problem, a sculptural presentation of photographer Tabitha Soren’s raw and intimate exploration of the connection between mother and newborn; and Rolf Art Gallery, which introduced Andrés Denegri’s large-scale installation Uprising, merging photochemical images, film strips, and film projectors with corresponding soundscapes to resemble a grand kinetic machine.
The fair’s first edition also marks the launch of the 21c Acquisition Prize, an annual award created in partnership with 21c and awarded by its co-founders, Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. The inaugural 21c Acquisition Prize was awarded to the artwork Aware so (2023) by Ghanaian artist Caleb Kwarteng Prah, a photographic portrait presented by Nil Gallery, framed in Prah’s characteristic style, featuring a “Trotro,” the minibuses used for transportation in Ghana; Baltic Blue (2023) by Lucia Engstrom, presented by Von Lintel Gallery, combining landscape photography with hand embroidery techniques; and Modern Prometheus II (2023) by Emma Safir, a large-scale tin artwork reminiscent of early tin types that moves and illuminates when activated by flash photography.
PHOTOFAIRS is a high-quality art fair brand with a special focus on photographic and digital works. First launched in Shanghai in 2014, the New York edition in 2023 is set in the largest and most dynamic global art and photography market, in tune with the energy and vibrancy of the local scene. This edition was organized by the renowned Creo, founded in 2007 as the World Photography Organization, and its main projects today include the Sony World Photography Awards, Sony Future Filmmaker Awards, PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai, Photo London, and PHOTOFAIRS New York.
By: Isabel Figueiredo