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Big art events in New York are often set up in opposition to the “establishment.” In reaction to the Whitney Biennial, there is now the New Museum Triennial and the BHQF Brucennial. The Dependent responds to the Independent. In this sense, I would compare Volta to the Armory — they are sister fairs who share VIP access cards and shuttle vans. Sort of the Lower East Side versus Chelsea. Note, the Armory was the first hotel art fair in the 1990s and, at the time, the upstart, up against the big bad and very establishment ADAA — how times have changed — is Volta an attempt to return to that kind of authenticity?
For the second year in a row, Elissa Levy and Elizabeth Tenenbaum of InContext Tours took me around to a curated selection of booths at the Volta Art Fair; their program personally introduces the artist and the gallerist of each selected booth to viewers on their tour, a benefit I found extremely helpful. Following up from last year, Volta seems to have suffered some attrition of some of my favorite galleries that I reviewed last year (including Sue Scott, New York-LES, and Nettie Horn, London-Shoreditch), but there was a surprisingly high percentage of good shows among the current 80 exhibitors. The fair alternated between esoteric German and Scandinavian booths and North American provisional painting. Blackston, Dodge gallery and Pablo’s Birthday — all in the LES — were standouts, all of whom presented medium-bending, hand-made oddities that felt intimate and well thought out.
Rachel Beach, presented by Blackston, offered a curious juxtaposition of black-and-white framed geometric screen prints which were augmented by black wooden intrusions on the exterior of the frame, and simple wooden objects decorated with screen prints and hand-painted details, recalling early Modernist sculpture. The pedestals made of tree-trunks and a shelf of raw wood gave the hand-painted, hand-cut geometric sculpture a more human touch. Using forms created out of negative space, Beach’s aesthetic exploration is straightforward but not without a nod to history.
Kristen Dodge, the dark horse of the LES, sold two Sheila Gallagher works sight unseen to collectors who know the artist’s work, (which for all intents and purposes looked like bad Monet ripoffs in her announcement e-mail), by saying to her collectors over the phone, “You know me! Impressionism is not my thing. These are melted plastic trash!” And indeed they were. Up close, Gallagher’s large “paintings” made of melted plastic detritus insist on their own physicality while they replicated the delicacy of an Islamic floral mosaic. Needless to say, Dodge gallery had virtually no works available by the end of the first day.
Henrik Eiben at Pablo’s Birthday presented a fresh viewpoint into the subject of painting without painting. Eiben effortlessly moves between media. The first wall sculpture was broken colored glass stuck into a T-shaped steel mount, which projected subtle and beautiful colored shadows onto the white wall. The second two were made of even more confusing materials: an enamel/felt purple-mauve dyptich (really, it worked!) and an argyle plastic pattern overlaid with a transparent-white plastic mesh. Eiben is not short on creativity.
The big shiny blue chip Armory, with all of its fur-wearing, Leboutin-heeled VIPs and celebrities, was almost outdone by the comparatively small, modest offering of little sister Volta, where each mid-tier gallery generally presented a single artist in a cohesive solo show. Volta was far more manageable and virtually all of the gallerists I spoke with remarked that in terms of snacks and wine, Volta was clearly the better choice.
The 2012 Volta Show (7 W 34th Street at Fifth Ave, Garment District, Manhattan) takes place March 8-11, Thursday 2-7pm; Friday– Sunday: 11am – 7pm and admission is $10 or $15.