Volta is unique among Armory Week art fairs in that each gallery booth exhibits a solo project by one artist. The fair is still sizable — 90 galleries in total — but it’s a nice change to devote your time to individual series of works, rather than split your attention among pieces by many different artists at each booth, as is the case in most other fairs.
Below are some of the booths where my attention lingered, which, I have to say, weren’t very many. But in these booths, the artists, given the room to show their work, carved out spaces for the viewer to inhabit. Enveloped by imagery that seems pulled from quotidian, lived life, the spaces feel vaguely familiar. From Switzerland to Nairobi, these artists refer to real experiences and rooms, including an anthropological museum and rooms of prayer, but all are memories, reflections, or interpretations of those spaces. As you scan your eye from one object to the next, the works gradually build a language and universe of their own that, though based on human life, estrange us.
A Specter of a Room: Simon Schubert at Foley Gallery
The German artist Simon Schubert’s paper works reveal empty, domestic interiors inspired by the 19th century Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi. The works’ only material is white paper: the spaces we see were molded by creases and folds that raise just enough above the surface to cast soft shadows between the steps of staircases and on the ledges of windows. Schubert, like Hammershøi, is interested in continuous, ambiguous, and uninhabited spaces, like hallways and opened doors. But unlike Hammershøi, who painted his own home, none of the spaces Schubert depicts actually exist.
The Foley Gallery booth has created a little alcove of three walls, with Schubert’s rectangular works mounted and stacked all along the interior. The carpeted floors of the booth are also white, as are the suits that the gallery representatives wear. The space is meant to evoke one of Schubert’s own interiors. But on Thursday visitors, rather than feeling invited to experience the space, were hesitant, as if it were too pristine to step into.
A Fading Room: Nobuaki Onishi at MA2 Gallery
Placed on top of staggered pedestals are objects including a shoe, shovel, chain, and pencil. Aside from sharing an everyday, household linage, all the objects seem to vaguely disappear along their edges: they turn transparent, as in the heel of the shoe, or whiten, as in the tip of the pencil. From a distance, these objects appear to blur.
The artist, Nobuaki Onishi from Japan, is interested in casting found objects in different materials, in this case, in resin. Though not a novel idea, it’s still a resonant one. As with Rachel Whiteread’s work, the reincarnation of an object, like a light bulb or record, casts the memory of that object into relief. Onishi’s project is, strangely, based on his mother: one day someone spotted her in a completely different place from where she actually was. The sighting led him to conclude that the woman must have been his mother’s doppelganger, which is how he conceives of these objects — though they are no longer the things themselves, they retain their presence.
A Crowded Room: Yves Netzhammer at Christinger De Mayo
Arranged over white desks and shelves are what look like numerous large beads, building blocks, and toy-sized mannequins, nearly all of them painted red and white. You can only try to make sense of the shapes — circles interlocking with rods, a Buddha head, a half of a rhinoceros’s body, a cross with airplane wings — as they become difficult to define and your eye cannot comfortably settle on one thing at a time. Are these objects for looking? For playing? For putting back together? Many of them are dismembered, or mis-membered. Movies featuring the objects, mainly the human mannequins, play on the booth’s walls: one mannequin cuts off its legs, arm, and head until it becomes a collection of rectangles and circles.
Yves Netzhammer, a Swiss artist and designer, originally installed these objects in the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, which displays anthropological artifacts from Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Netzhammer intended to have the viewer reflect on how these objects have been collected, used, and displayed. This original conceit is not easily grasped in the Christinger de Mayo booth, which is perhaps the source of the eerie absence that keeps your eyes searching.
A Holy Room: Peterson Kamwathi at ARTLabAfrica
ARTLabAfrica, established in 2013, promotes young, experimental, East African artists who likely wouldn’t have the resources to exhibit internationally otherwise. The Kenyan artist Peterson Kamwathi has composed a series of works, Positions, that depicts groups of charcoal-rendered human figures in abstract landscapes: one figure lies face down and seems to hover in a pink expanse; others huddle and bow over a florid, triangular shape, while what looks like rain drips from an imperceptible sky. The figures, suspended and quiet, are in a no-place.
Positions was informed by the rising tensions between religions around the world. Each frame illustrates a different ritual of prayer, though Kamwathi never specifies to which religion it belongs. As a result the various acts, however different in origin, come to share a physical language. The figures, too, are all alike, emphasizing their anonymity. They are not so different from the fair-going masses, dutifully taking pilgrimages to far-flung locales to repeat the same ritualized motions in a series of tiny alcoves.
Volta continues at Pier 90 (West 50th Street at Twelfth Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan) through March 8.