Armory Week 2009: Volta Art Fair

Volta NY Art Fair Review

written by Nikki Schiro in New York

At a panel discussion titled International Art fairs (moderated by Art Comments last year at the School of Visual Arts in NY), AC's favorite art critic from WSJ, Portfolio Magazine, and, Alexandra Peers recommended at the end of her lecture that, unless you are a collector or it is your job, you should limit yourself to a few fairs instead of trying to see them all. I urge everyone to add Volta to their bi-annual "must see" selection of art fairs.

Volta was originally founded in the year 2005 in Basel, Switzerland, and coincides annually in June with the behemoth of all contemporary art fairs, ART BASEL. Volta also created a unique type of fair to coincide with the Armory Show here in New York, it premiered here last year with much critical acclaim and positive press from pundits and press alike. The Volta mandate is “to create a tightly-focused, curated event that is a place for discovery and a showcase for current art production.” Their concept of curating and exhibiting exclusive solo projects makes the fair seem more like boutique exhibitions as opposed to traditional trade show booths, which, of course, is the intention.

There is really so much good stuff here, but I am only going to highlight a few. I implore you to go and have a look for yourself before it ends. Here's my personal observations.

Erica Eyres, Rokeby, UK, exhibited pencil drawings and a video piece. Her figures have distorted structural form but entail just enough realism to make them creepy and effective, not to mention they have a sense of humor. The video piece shared similar characteristics. The work drew me in, and I think, was well done.

Troels Carlsen’s Age of Anxiety presentation at V1 gallery, Copenhagen, was a space covered with 2d and 3d fragments of what appeared to be an anthropological lucid dreamland. Evolution, anatomy, and history merge here, in different quirky and seemingly symbolic combinations, often implying fragments of history or a narrative. The colors, surfaces, and loaded/associative imagery lend an old artifact quality to the art works, which seem to be about investigation and discovery. As an engaged viewer in that booth, packed with countless pieces, I was all about discovering each piece, with great delight.

Margarita Cabrera, born in Mexico and moved to the US as a child, creates work that explores identity issues of being Mexican in America. Here, filling Walter Maciel’s space, were clay sculptures of traditional tools of the land from northern Mexico, where her grandfather lives. The monochromatic earth-colored tools were then covered with small clay flowers, butterflies, birds and other symbols from Mexican folk art. The pieces are then glazed with Mexican doll face. There was also a life size tractor that went with this series, but apparently was too large for the space. Previously, Cabrera was working with vinyl and soft materials, in one exhibition she had created a desert plant out of patrol uniforms, using patches as flowers (really amazingly done) and re-created a life sized Hummer which is often used for border patrol, to scout the deserts for people crossing, and ironically, it’s parts are made in Mexico.

Another one of my favorite booths by the Israeli artist Zvika Kantor, curated by Dagmar De Pooter, Belgium. The bottom of a giant plunger extruded from the wall, encases a still life of glossy shrimp and cheese; animated found-object constructions stagger about the space, referencing figurative forms with their names, disposition, and some, personified by their verticality. Strange juxtapositions really beg the viewer to bring his or her own meaning to them. Personally, I realized them as fantastical creatures that at any moment could come to life like a character from the Never Ending Story. I appreciated the details, and that there are hidden treasures to be found if you give one enough time. One such instance Pelican, where the pelican’s made out of pieces of cardboard from pizza/pie containers, it doubles as a human skull from behind. The pieces were larger than life, but, in comparison to other work by Kantor, which is usually gigantic, this work is, relatively, small.

Gordon Cheung’s paintings, over at Adler Gallery, seduced me in for a closer look, with their strange materiality and qualities. Varying transparent layers exposed stock quotes and other elements from the Financial Times, used to create both negative and positive space and form in the paintings. The paintings, of sublime landscapes and severe animal heads, warrant fear and anxiety; an experiential relationship to the instability of the market and what those quotes represent. My first question, in regard to the current financial state and everyone’s hyper-awareness of it: when did he start doing this? Apparently, Mr. Cheung’s been doing this since about 2000. Nonetheless, with the financial crisis on all of our minds, this work couldn’t have seemed more relevant, consequentially, to the times.

At Riccardo Crespi, Milan, the entire booth was utilized to support the complexity and integrity of Lisi Raskin’s work. Raskin’s work often plays with this fear and awe generated from the good, bad and ugly possibilities and actualities of scientific development and technological advancement. Her work, a kin to another trend I’ve been noticing, both lures and insists you come in for a closer look, appearing harmless and fun if only for a moment before the potential of these little sculptures to become animated and destructive freak you out. Here at Volta, she exhibited a selection of constructed sculptures that’s shape and materials associate them to rockets and or explosives. She also showed some drawings that look like scientific/topographical mapping.

I have been seeing a lot of attempts to bring together figurative (realism) and non-representational methods, a trend throughout the fairs and some recent shows. Of most of what I seen, many are just that, attempts, while others manage to find, within their own language, a means to successfully accomplish this. Here at Volta, there are examples of the latter. I thought Patrick Cierpka, at Jarmuschek+Partner, Germany, was successful at doing this. The figurative parts are well integrated into a space created by the non-representational shapes and colors. The paintings were fluid, and the figures, though painted well and distinct, became forms symbolic of people, devoid of any real character, abstract, if you will. Ian Davis’ paintings, at Leslie Tonkonow, were macro views of ordered, tiny figures, sometimes hundreds of them, acting in an environment. From a distance, the paintings become quite abstract, and I thought it was an interesting and fresh way to deal with the figure in painting.

Pesce Khete at The Flat--Massimo Carasi has figured out, I believe, how to create his own voice with an abstract-expressionistic way of working, which is not easy to do these days. His booth also included a hanging pine tree that seemed to be shedding leaves onto a pillow on the floor, creating an obstacle in the space that sort of interacted with an obstructive curtain affront a drawing on the wall. His fleshy figures and interactive plant life seemed visually bound into forms by their marks and color. The figures in space are dynamic and fluid throughout multiple sheets of paper that are jointed together by tape, a significant part of his process. The background, or negative space, is the paper. Expressionism done well looks easy and satisfying to do, and often inspires people to want to pick up a brush and let go, myself included. What Mr. Khete is doing, I think, is not so easy, and I commend him.

Another figurative painter that used paint well, and sometimes abstractly was Christian Curiel from Galerie Baumet Sultana, Paris. His colors were bright, fresh and unusually put together. You seem to think you know what you are looking at when you first approach it as a representational composition, but the colors, paint and form begin to work on you abstractly, and you are sucked in to new discoveries. He has also successfully, in my opinion, merged words into the visual language of his large works on paper.

Nearby at Nicholas Robinson Gallery you’ll find Machiko Edmondson’s paintings, which you must see live to a) appreciate, in full, the experiential quality of her work, and b) to marvel, up close, at the quality of Edmondson’s painting. The photo realistic close up of faces are incredibly mesmerizing, and while, again, you think you know what you are looking at, troublesome uncertainty brews within you. By then it’s too late, you are sucked into Edmondson’s world of desire and obsession. I interviewed Edmondson on Art Comments this week; check it out for some more info on the artist.

Regina Jose Galindo seemed to be investigating torture, by inflicting it upon herself. She documents her tests and the Prometo Gallery, Milan, is exhibiting relics from these projects, as well as stills and a video piece.

Making really small work to bring in the viewer close, I find, in most cases, seems to serve a gimmick more than serve the work itself. An exception to this are the super small, profound, meticulous and nostalgic paintings of Mike Bayne, which brought me in real close and held me there for real long. I wanted one of his houses so bad…I thought about putting it in my pocket and running (they are that small)!

Kaoru Katayama’s video pieces, at T-20 Murcia, Spain, were great; my favorite of the three was Hard Labor. Sterling Allen’s collective installation of colorful constructed creatures, reconditioned out of everything from buttons to wigs and stuffed animals, were awesome (Art Palace). And, in the same kind of creative, constructive light, were the puppets by Heather & Ivan Morison at Danielle Arnaud Contemporary Art, where I got to witness a performance piece/puppet show at 7pm. Charlie White’s captivating photos, prints and video piece, brought together by bubble gum pink wall were also enjoyable.

Rina Castelnuovo’s juxtaposition of war and life is impactful, at Arohea Meislin Gallery. Two of my favorites from the Israeli artist were Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Israel, detailing a bride, in a pristine white wedding dress, colorful bouquet, setting sun, in front of a tank in what looks like a war zone; the other, two boys, maybe Palestinian, running and playing like kids do, in a what looks like a war stripped landscape, one boy with butterfly wings on his back. Miguel Angel Madrigal’s sculptural installations at galleria Enrique Guerrero; Jason Lazarus’ photograph, Looking at the Back of an Ad Reinhardt; Alejandro Diaz’s shrewd humor was much appreciated at The Happy Lion; Paul Hammer’s autobiographical body-psyche paintings at Sammlung Philara, Vicky Wright at Josh Lilley….I feel a little bit like it’s the end of the speech at the academy awards, and the music is playing, but I want to keep going, mentioning more people….

ok, one more…Volta’s special project, [Im]Perfect Articles, Noah Singer and Mike Andrews, has supported the emerging artists they adore by exposing original art work on limited edition T-shirts (editions of 20-50). They are affordable, they support living artists, and they look great! Both Pesce Khete and Troels Carlsen, mentioned above, are exhibiting T-Shirts here, along with many other artists.

For those pieces I have mentioned, along with others I thought were great but didn't get to mention, I have included reference photos in the AC Photo Album for Volta: Pictures of Volta Link.

Go see Volta! It’s worth your time.