Five Standout Artists Not To Miss from 2024’s 1-54 New York: Art Fair Recap

Here is a selection of standout artists and galleries being exhibited or exhibiting at this year’s 1-54 New York, an art fair showcasing “over 70 artists from Africa and the global diaspora,” per their website. Captured Howls (yours truly) will be publishing more in-depth coverage after this round, but for now, here’s something with which to start!

Esther Mahlangu at The Melrose Gallery

Artworks by Dr. Esther Mahlangu of South Africa grace the first stall of the fair this year thanks to The Melrose Gallery, and it’s an impactful start.

Her work, I’ve since learned, stems from visual traditions in Ndebele culture in South Africa that Mahlangu transports into artistic contexts like acrylic on canvas.

The visuals are what I’d describe as abstract (vs. representational), with sharp, forceful rhythms formed by methodical combinations of unique shapes and bright color palettes. Whether primary colors or other arrays, the color absolutely pops in all of the work on display, blending into things that — if you tried drawing a through-line — all feel energetic and, one might say, even ecstatic, while also being grounded. It’s a dance between methodical arrangements in perceptible rows across the surfaces and intense range.

One example shape — that you’ll see below — really leapt, with angular, spire-like forms jutting from the side of it in a splash of intensity that’s primed to make you start looking upwards, emotionally/spiritually speaking.

Untitled, 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 99,5 x 150,5 cm. Courtesy of The Melrose Gallery.

Christine Nyatho at Amasaka Gallery

Amasaka Gallery, from Uganda, was showing work by artists including Christine Nyatho, who was born in the same African country.

Her works create images from collaged textile pieces, using richly textured fabrics like barkcloth and denim.

The textures of these materials — which feel physical just when looking at them — greatly amplify the pieces’ emotional range via Nyatho’s artful usage. I read while visiting the gallery’s booth about connections behind the art linking celestial happenings to our personal, emotional states, and then and now, I find that linkage communicated with honestly remarkable clarity here.

The overall images feel personable and human, even gentle, but Nyatho’s work clearly flows smoothly into something that also reaches beyond us. It’s somewhat like the feeling of looking up at a starry night sky, quietly and perhaps alone. The smoothly shaped forms across “It Takes Two” feel like they’re somehow evoking both a potted, flowering plant and celestial bodies, with the two rounded focal points abstracted to a level perfect for balancing that duality. The celestial is already in the everyday anyway, one could imagine.

It takes two, 2024, Barkcloth, raffia and acrylics on denim, 150 x 100 cm. Courtesy of Amasaka Gallery.

Khari Turner at Ross-Sutton Gallery

I was rather taken aback by the work from artist Khari Turner on display at the booth from the U.S. institution Ross-Sutton Gallery.

Turner’s wall-hanging works, which again float between recognizable images and something more directly spiritual, utilize materials including stained glass and tile alongside water from places with import in Black History both personal and collective.

“Life Originated in a Pool” was the largest, presenting an image of a large figure covering much of the picture’s surface (Turner used birch as the backing, here and elsewhere). The figure was diving with remarkably flowing form into an evident pool, and Turner filled out the rest of the picture with some of those other materials, creating a shimmering, moving, and gripping atmosphere.

Both inherently and in terms of its associations, there’s such richness to even just stained glass, which in this particular piece is one part of a much larger image. The forms, both inwardly and in relationship to each other, blend with abandon that’s almost religious. Turner reflects, I think, a kind of longing for smoothly blending the forms of the everyday that leads some people to religious exploration at all.

Life originated in a Pool, 2023. Acrylic, oil, ink, charcoal, sand, pool tile, glass pool tiles, stained glass, water from places with personal or historic connections to Black History on birch, 243.84 x 152.4 cm.

Ibrahim El-Salahi at Vigo Gallery

Presented at 1-54 from Ibrahim El-Salahi and Vigo Gallery was an extensive series of drawings explained as some of the Sudanese artist’s response to physical pain. The process of creating these works helped the artist with relieving some of that strain, it was explained.

The pieces, all rather small, were incredibly striking. The artist used pen and ink in works ultimately hinging on line — lines that flow across these surfaces in formations both abstract and directly evocative of real-world space.

In broad terms, the suite of drawings as a whole felt both rich in depth and quiet and contemplative. The scenes that seemed more real-world in nature came across as artfully isolated: perched on a hill or mountaintop, perhaps, watching and waiting. It was a sense of freedom, whether the shaping was more organic and curved in nature — evoking, perhaps, a human body — or more rigid, suggesting architecture ancient or modern.

It was refreshing. In these drawings — strong in their formation while gentler in their impact, partly because of the limitations of the small surfaces, you could sit and rest. It was the solace of strain made temporarily into a reflection of itself or ripple from its origin, rather than direct.

Pain Relief Drawing, 2016-2018. Pen and ink on the back of a medicine packet, 17 x 9 cm. Courtesy of Vigo Gallery.

JC Bright at The Bridge Gallery

Grids! I loved the grids.

Artist JC Bright, exhibiting with The Bridge Gallery, presented a series of abstract, grid-focused works that were all very colorful and vibrant. It reminded me of a recent exhibition I really enjoyed from the late artist Eyal Danieli at New York City’s Elizabeth Harris Gallery, though the artists’ styles were their own.

I’ll be writing more about this artist in the future, but I had to include them right here because of how much I liked the works. Signing off for now!

1-54 New York runs through May 4 in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.

Featured image: Esther Mahlangu, Untitled, 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 99,5 x 150,5 cm. Courtesy of The Melrose Gallery.

Ezigbo Nnem (II), 2024. Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 95 cm. Courtesy of The Bridge Gallery.