The Harlem Fine Arts Show’s 15th anniversary, presented by Lexus of Manhattan, returned on Friday, Feb. 24, in person for the first time since 2020. The traveling art show celebrated the country’s largest African Diasporic art show, which provides a space for African and Caribbean descendants’ artworks. The show’s 15th-year celebration marked a major change of location: This year’s festivities were held at Glasshouse near Hudson Yard in Midtown NYC.
The show was Midtown Manhattan’s first time hosting a large African Diasporic art show owned and operated by multicultural individuals. The three-day event featured 100 artists and independent galleries with an expected turnout of 15,000 guests.
Glasshouse previously hosted events for IBM, TikTok, Goldman Sachs, and more. Jack Guttman, owner of Glasshouse, welcomed the opportunity for a first-time art show event after it was suggested by Lexus, which is located in the same building. “Lexus recommended [the show] because they knew it was a great site for the event,” said Guttman on opening day. “Once they came to us about hosting, we said yes.” He complimented the art show’s national appeal and fine artworks. “It’s very nice; the ceramics and a lot of the paintings are fabulous,” said Guttman.
Dion Clarke, founder of the Harlem Fine Arts Show, loved the benefits of the new location. “This is bringing diversity into New York City, bringing uptown to downtown,” Clarke said. He emphasized the importance of the world experiencing African Diasporic art beyond Harlem. “It’s a great way to impact cultural nutrition and cultural understanding, and to show the great way our artists actually relate to the world.”
Clarke said the art show outgrew its roots in Harlem and was ready for a new journey. “I love every imprint that we left in Harlem, but I’m loving the imprint we’re establishing in New York City,” he said.
Building a partnership with Guttman was key for Clarke to bring the art show into its new home. Financial, diversity, and inclusion components made the Harlem Fine Arts Show at Glasshouse beneficial for everyone involved. “We become stronger and [Guttman] becomes stronger by empowering the African American community to be a part of Glasshouse,” said Clarke.
A major part of empowering the African American community is welcoming new artists who are passionate about the injustices experienced by African descendants in the United States. The very first art display seen as guests arrived at the art event was by newcomer Kailee Finn. The illustrator major at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City creates works that focus on social commentary and political art centered around the Black community.
One of Finn’s powerful drawings is her recreation of Norman Rockwell’s famous painting “Going and Coming.” Her piece highlights juvenile incarceration and excessive sentencing against the Black community. Her picture, drawn when she was only 16, shows young Black men on a bus going to prison and coming out as older Black men. Finn uses art to convey her frustrations about how society mistreats Black people. “My America is not ideal,” said Finn.
Another piece she showcased was a two-part drawing representing Black maternal mortality. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are four times more likely to die giving birth in the United States than white women. According to the CDC, the number is even higher in New York City, where Black women are 12 times more likely to die giving birth.
One of Finn’s Black maternal mortality drawings represents foreshadowing her own death. Her older version of herself breaks the fourth wall as her image looks at the audience from a hospital bed, knowing her unfair death is near. “This can happen to any Black woman,” said Finn. “It’s not a class thing or money thing; it’s an institutionalized problem.”
In the second drawing, Finn included an alternative representation of herself as older while having a natural birth with midwives. Black midwives were crucial to aiding Black women during childbirth before they were eventually demonized and criminalized.
Although Finn is pursuing an arts degree, she is avid about remaining well versed on subjects that pertain to Black history and Black social issues. “My inspirations are people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Angela Davis, because that’s what fuels this art and keeps me educated,” said Finn.
She described her first year at the Harlem Fine Arts show as a shocking yet humble experience. “It’s almost unbelievable that I’m at this level and in this space with other Black artists,” said Finn. She is grateful for all the positive feedback.
“She is phenomenal,” said Helena Lewis about Finn. “She brings a whole new young flavor of her artwork and her purpose for it.” The long-time supporter of the Harlem Fine Arts Show and member of the David I. Martin Music Guild was inspired to purchase a painting years ago. She chose one showing a blue-haired woman holding a violin made by Michael Escoffery. “I love music and because of my love for music, I was drawn to it,” said Lewis. “It was perfect for me to put up my home.” She categorized artworks by Escoffery as “welcoming” because of the warm colors he uses.
Escoffery has enjoyed participating in the art show every year since its 2009 beginning. He appreciates the show because it gives him the opportunity to meet art collectors, mingle with guests, and reconnect with customers like Lewis. As an oil painter, Escoffery uses the long drying time of oil paint to design three to four paintings in one setting. Because of this, he likes to create diptych and triptych paintings. The Jamaican artist sees colors in unique ways based on his roots. The inspiration for his art comes from bright colors that are reminiscent to his childhood growing up in Kingston, Jamaica. “Caribbean colors are greens and they’re very vibrant,” said Escoffery.
Escoffery prefers guests who are willing to buy his pieces, but recommends only purchasing art that resonates with them. “You have to have it on your wall, so if you don’t like it, don’t buy it,” said Escoffery. Both Escoffery and Lewis love the new home of the art show at Glasshouse. They cited the bigger space and better lighting as upgrades compared to the show’s older spaces.
Lewis added her fondness in seeing African descendants supporting one another by purchasing artworks. “We can only thrive if we support each other,” said Lewis.
The Harlem Fine Arts Show is an excellent way for artists to gain support and make connections. Luca (styled as Lv<^), a first-time artist at the show, said his favorite part about being an artist is connections. “I love to connect with people,” said Luca. The Nicaraguan and Puerto Rican artist said creating and enjoying art makes him feel like he lives in multiverses. He defined his friendly interactions with the people he met at the show as “New Yorkers you know from your neighborhood.”
“Distracted Faces,” the first art piece Luca ever created, is a painting inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s neo-expressionism, mixed with cubism style art. It was one of the first ones seen by guests during the art show. He is multitalented, creating artworks that are also abstract and surrealistic. He struggled with anxiety for two years before creating his first painting. “I didn’t want to touch the canvas and then say, ‘Damn, I don’t love it,’” said Luca. He was finally inspired to paint after moving back to NYC in November 2020. He credits Psilocybin mushrooms for helping him reduce anxiety.
“I think everyone should try mushrooms at least once in their life,” said Luca. He believes experiencing ’shrooms opened his mind to a deeper level of thinking and creating. His “Distracted Faces” painting represents what it’s like to be continuously judged while learning how to respond in a collective manner.
“His mouth is blue, but his teeth are gold and that’s his value,” said Luca in describing his work. “His words are of value in the way he responds, and his third eye is on his chin because when you speak your ideas into existence, it’s coming from that territory.” He looks forward to being a part of the art show for years to come.
The Harlem Fine Arts Show will travel to other cities and return to New York City in February 2024.