In its 16th year, Volta returns to the Big Apple for its annual contemporary art fair. The five-day event kicked off Wednesday, May 17, at the Metropolitan Pavilion — a loft-style event space off Sixth Avenue in Chelsea. White-walled booths arranged in a maze-like fashion showcased works from over 50 international galleries — some new, some returning, and 14 of which had presentations dedicated to individual artists.
Volta is less stuffy than its ostensibly highbrow counterparts like Frieze, and the fair’s mind-numbing mix of showy and subtle works offered something for everyone — whether that’s another piece to add to your personal collection or a nice visual for your social media feed. That being said, while there was no shortage of QR codes (there was one accompanying each artwork), I was relieved by the lack of “free PR” ploys that tend to take form in Instagram gimmicks and TikTok tomfoolery vying for posts and shares.
The fair’s Managing Director Cristina Salmastrelli described the process of organizing the event as a “labor of love.”
“Volta has seen many changes since its founding from owner and leadership to venue locations and exhibition programs, but the core value of nurturing the artists has remained intact,” Salmastrelli said.
This year’s fair specifically spotlighted female artists from around the world, so it’s no surprise that most of the works I gravitated toward were created by women. At the booth of Cam Galería, based in Mexico City, I found my eyes lingering on a curious collection of long-limbed resin figurines by Alejandra España.
The Mexican multimedia artist had several different works up, including some large-format neon collages and a massive golden tapestry, but her candy-colored characters, delicately arranged on a low table in front of her prints, were a delightful display, especially in comparison to some of the more grandiose sculptures by other galleries.
The haunting faces in Ola Rondiak’s stand-alone exhibition Cultural Front by the fair’s café were another draw for me. In her presentation consisting of 18 small works, the American-Ukrainian artist uses collage, portraiture, and color gradients to illustrate the emotional and cultural toll that the ongoing Russian invasion has had on her home country. In a conversation with her daughter Maya, who was standing next to the exhibition, I learned that the artist had incorporated sewing patterns into the collages as an ode to her background in fashion. She further explained that the faces, ghostly countenances in some cases reminiscent of a “Madonna and Child,” were drawn as a way to cope with trauma and loss. In partnership with the human rights organization Razom, Rondiak plans on donating a portion of proceeds generated from her sold artworks to the nonprofit to support Ukraine.
Fairgoers entering Volta were greeted with a glittery installation by Shanthi Chandrasekar titled “Cosmic Vibrations – Raining Gold” (2023). I remember that the self-taught sculpture artist wowed fair-goers at Art on Paper in September with her meticulously hole-punched ceiling fixtures. But for this exhibition, Chandrasekar traded paper for metal to create an ethereal hanging sculpture made of gold wiring and variously sized rings. Like much of her work, the installation references cosmological and philosophical concepts, such as kilonovas — the rare collision of two neutron stars that produces heavy metals.
The display was led by Lamina Project, a New York gallery that focuses on the crossover between art and science. Lamina Project’s own gallery presentation continued to lead to more intriguing artwork based on mathematical patterns and microbiological research by artists Jody Rasch and Mark Pomilio, alongside additional mesmerizing works by Chandrasekar.
Ashley Norwood Cooper, another familiar face, took center stage for the second time at Zinc Contemporary’s booth to unveil her massive oil paintings from her recent exhibition Swarm at the Fenimore Art Institute in Cooperstown, New York, which just closed over the weekend on May 14. Given the short turnaround before Volta, Zinc Curator Laura Zeck told Hyperallergic that transporting Cooper’s work from upstate to Manhattan was a “sweaty” endeavor that nonetheless came together in time for the fair.
Since her last appearance at Volta in 2020, Cooper’s art has not only shifted in scale but also in style and content, partially due to her COVID lockdown experience upstate. Full of frenetic energy, her paintings are amalgams of noise, texture, and color that often include allusions to poetry, climate change, and menopause.
“I think my surfaces are richer,” Cooper said. “A lot of my paintings were domestic scenes. When I got trapped in upstate New York [during the pandemic,] I was hiking more, and doing more outside, and so the artwork kind of moved outdoors.”
In support of its partnership with Fashion Fights Cancer, there are also several exhibitions in collaboration with the nonprofit group, including a live painting by Andy Dass. As collectors excitedly chatted with curators about the gallery displays, Dass seemed unbothered by the buzz around him as he methodically worked on a purple, red, orange, and blue canvas in a corner.
Because of the way that the fair was laid out, art was sometimes displayed in strange corridors and corners, which made for more than a few awkward, claustrophobic moments. By the time I left the opening, I had lost track of how many times I had looped my way through the labyrinth of artists, curators, and collectors. But then again, what would Volta be if not a sensory-overload trip down the fine art market rabbit hole?
Volta runs through this Sunday, May 21.