Hyperallergic staff writers Valentina Di Liscia and Hakim Bishara visited the Volta, Independent, and Art on Paper fairs, and reported back with unexpected insights and laugh-out-loud funny retorts. Read what they have to say and check out our other Armory Week coverage here.

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Volta and Independent

Rinus van Hall with his series of self-portraits “The Fake Surface” at Kyas’s Volta booth (photo by Valentina Di Liscia  for Hyperallergic)

The Purell is flowing generously this Armory Week, and the usual art fair babble on opening day was punctuated by the soothing sound of hands rubbing together and the occasional smacking of air kisses. But that’s probably the most that the Volta and Independent fairs had in common.

Volta was hot, sticky, and crowded. It’s where I ran into friends from Hunter College’s MFA program, who warmly hugged me and all my potential viruses. Independent is where I waved at dealers from afar so as to not interrupt their conversations with what seemed like an older collector crowd this year. It’s where the coffee shop at the entrance had only oat and almond milks, no cow.

Life-sized sculptures by Bianca Beck at Rachel Uffner’s Independent booth (photo by Valentina Di Liscia for Hyperallergic)

Volta is where I found work that earnestly challenged me: Safarani Sisters’s hypnotic paintings of empty rooms coming alive with projections of dancing bodies; Rinus van Hall’s dystopian self-portraits, based on selfies he took using SnapChat filters. Independent is where I found work that made me swoon: towering wire and papier-mâché sculptures by Bianca Beck; Margot Bergman’s delightfully imprecise paintings of women, too lovingly rendered to look away, that had me thinking, “it me.”

Margot Bergman’s paintings at Anton Kern’s Independent booth had me thinking: “it me.” (photo by Valentina Di Liscia  for Hyperallergic)

For two fairs ostensibly dedicated to the emerging and contemporary, there is a good amount of historical work on view at both — at Independent, drawings by the Argentine color-blind musician and mystic Domingo Guccione, and surreal abstract sculptures by California artist Jeremy Anderson. At Volta, there’s a solo booth of poet, critic, and artist John Perreault by Marquee Projects, complete with a postcard of Alice Neel’s nude portrait of him taped to the wall — reminding us that the new and the to-be-discovered need not be young nor living. 

John Perreault sculptures at Marquee Projects’s Volta booth (photo by Valentina Di Liscia  for Hyperallergic)

Some of the glossy commercial sheen that seems to envelop artwork at big fairs is refreshingly absent from Volta. Japanese artist Ayako Rokkaku was finishing her color-drenched paintings for Gallery Delaive’s booth on the spot, occasionally walking away to stretch her legs, leaving bowls of pigment on a piece of cardboard on the floor.

At Lyle O. Reitzel’s booth, works by Los Bravú, a Spanish couple that paints together, are tacked on the wall unstretched; there is zero pretension.

A work in progress by Ayako Rokkaku at Gallery Delaive’s Volta booth (photo by Valentina Di Liscia  for Hyperallergic)

Those moments are rarer at Independent, but not lacking. Marianne Boesky is showing two groups of works by Ghada Amer that I felt defied the market logic of blue-chip exclusivity: Amer made one set of sculptures, sleek and large, by scraping clay with her fingers; the other, disheveled, smaller, and seemingly improvised, were produced with the clay bits leftover from the scraping.

Ghada Amer sculptures at Marianne Boesky’s Independent booth (photo by Valentina Di Liscia  for Hyperallergic)

If you still haven’t visited a few Armory Week fairs, here’s some advice: pick two or three that seem different and compare them. My takeaway is that we should all scrap the overused term “art world” for a more inclusive one: “art worlds.” —Valentina Di Liscia 

Marley Freeman’s “Nature of the Difficulties” series of art books at Karma Bookstore’s Independent pop-up (photo by Valentina Di Liscia  for Hyperallergic)

A work by Los Bravú, a Spanish couple that paints together, at Lyle O. Reitzel’s Volta booth (photo by Valentina Di Liscia  for Hyperallergic)

Art on Paper

An art fair fashionista next to Robert Otto Epstein’s Vessels (2019-2020) series (photo by Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic)

“This is more raw, more real,” said Beth, a New Yorker who was comparing the Art on Paper fair with the Armory Show, which she visited the day before. “It’s more approachable,” her friend Celine from Boston agreed, “it’s refreshing.” The two continued to note that the prices for works are listed on the walls and that you can actually buy something at this fair. “They should do that everywhere,” Celine argued. I nodded in agreement while sipping from a shaved coconut filled with a vodka cocktail, the unofficial (and admittedly, delicious) drink of the fair.

And indeed this fair feels more relaxed and inviting than others. But like a few others, you have to shuffle through a lot of fashionable mediocrities and tiresome gimmicks before you find something really worth noting.

Fair visitors trying the coconut cocktail next to Ham Sup’s “Daydream 1023” (2010) (photo by Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic)

Call it a safe choice, but I couldn’t help but pause in front of a series of Egon Schiele collotype lithographs. Katharina Rich Perlow, an Upper East Side dealer, is selling a dozen of these lithographs (including a rare catalogue) for the modest price of $120,000. Why not sell them individually? I asked. “Because I want the money,” she said.

At the Lower Eastside Girls Club’s booth, artist Courtney Alexander created a “Black Tarot Deck” highlighting Black heroes and their narratives. The Girls Club is a nonprofit that offers free cultural programs and training to girls and young women from across New York City. Alexander, who currently teaches at the club as part of her artist residency, also wrote a book with alternative tarot readings.

Outside the booth, I met a woman wearing a black mask. “We’re not going to die of nuclear war, we’re going to die of viruses,” she warned after telling me that she switched through a few airplanes on her way from Europe to the fair. Her voice was muffled by the mask, and I found myself leaning uncomfortably close to her to catch what she was saying.

Fairgoer with works from Karenina Fabrizzi’s THE BODY AS CONTAINER (2020) series (photo by Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic)

Closeup of Egon Schiele, “Portrait Study: Frau Edit Schiele” (1918) (photo by Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic)

At another booth, I met Mike Ohio, an artist who’s not showing at the fair but who insisted on drawing a portrait of me on a matchbook (he was kind with his depiction). “Here you go, art on paper,” he said.

Nearby, at Black Diamonds gallery, part of the art was displayed in a surprise speakeasy (dim lights, vintage armchairs, red-painted walls), hidden behind the booth. “We’re in the art world, why are we not having more fun with this?” the gallery’s owner, Lynzy Blair, asked rhetorically. I nodded in agreement with a new Negroni in my hand. —Hakim Bishara 

Artist Mike Ohio holding a portrait he drew of the author (photo by Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic)

Volta continues at 639 West 46th Street (Midtown, Manhattan) through Sunday, March 8. 

Independent continues at 50 Varick Street (Lower East Side, Manhattan) through Sunday, March 8. 

Art on Paper continues at Pier 36 (299 South St, Manhattan) through Sunday, March 8. 

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...