VOLTA NY // DAILY DIARY 2010
SUNDAY -- by Brian Fee
An excellent benefit of VOLTA's solo-artist presentation is the wealth of space to work with, even if that space is a booth no larger than that at the Armory or other fairs (or smaller!). The VOLTA artist can customize their space into an environment that accentuates the art and, when placed adjacent to a gallery the same notion — meaning creating a special space for their art, as no two booths look anything like, not at VOLTA — loads of interesting, kinetic relationships inevitably develop. To the point that the art interacts w/ the greater fair space and beyond.
This point is evident even before you take the lifts up to the fair floor. Jan Vormann (represented by Jarmuschek + Partner, Berlin — and one of of the few double-artist instances, but since his art is not in the booth it works) has instances of his 'Dispatchwork New York', site-specific Lego brick interventions about the city and, lucky for us, on several panels of the lifts. Upstairs at VOLTA's entrance area, Misako Inaoka (Johansson Projects, Oakland) converted one of the structural pillars into a trunk for her fantasy woodland creatures and fungi. Whitish plaster-colored birds, mushrooms, branches, and fantastical chimeras (like this unicorn bird-wings and a squirrel tail) extend out into space and, in a few cases, move about and chirp. There's another thing you might have noticed when exiting the lifts and deciding where you'd like to proceed into VOLTA: this persistent hammering sound amid the hum of human voices and ambient noise. That's from Todd Pavilsko's "Centerpiece" (samsøn, Boston), which I've written about before. If you've seen this bracing, 13min video of the artist methodically driving a nail through his foot, then the recurring sound of the hammer is no longer a static, anonymous sound in the din: you'll give pause, maybe feel a shiver down your spine as you recall those 10+ minutes of agony and then Pavlisko's steady limp away off-camera, and the discomfort you were feeling as a passive participant in the ritual by watching his piece.
Many of the booths have gone to various lengths to customize their space. Sometimes a simple paint-job, converting a white cube into something else very different, is all it takes. I found Sverre Bjertnes' space, at Galleri K in Oslo rather like a lucid dream in the deep gray wall color, which works quite well his enormous, illusory oil paintings. Priska C. Juska's booth (NYC) did a knockout job on creating the impression of a library for Dannielle Tegeder's suite of geometric works on paper, each uniquely framed and lined on several bookshelves running the length of two walls. I also thought the cardboard tower at the Schuebbe Projects space (Dusseldorf) was the perfect match for Franz Burkhardt's vintage-y representational works on paper, that the weathered look of the various papers played so nicely off the cardboard backing.
I think the tastiest interaction b/w galleries is most readily seen in this sort of 'grove' square bisecting Thomas Erben Gallery (NYC) and Charest-Weinberg (Miami). Erben is showing Dona Nelson's wicked largish, dynamic abstract paintings, including a standout canvas in her intriguing double-sided style. The deep greens in these works echoes so perfectly w/ the action across the hall, a 'Garden of Eden' vitrine by Richard Dupont, he of the polyurethane resin humanoids modeled from computer renderings of his own body. This graphite-toned female and male interact w/ wavy nylon-composed trees (which look like deliciously green seaweed, if you somehow suspended the motion of that plant in mid-drift). This installation, plus Dupont's large C-prints of enlarged leaves from Central Park, plays so well off the green vibes coming from Nelson's works that the booths enhance one another. There is a lot of this shared energy at this fair, I think to the benefit of all.
SATURDAY -- by Brian Fee
The notion of the figure and representational works is a theory worth further exploration at VOLTA NY.
There is, of course, the literal self-portrait (seen in performance artists Maria José Arjona of Galerie Anita Beckers and Andrea Bianconi of Furini Arte Contemporanea — and Nicholas Buffon, of Callicoon Fine Arts who marries performance his abstract paintings — and if I may, Buffon creates an interesting dialogue the figure in his performances as, in drawing out a series of semi-awkward poses and extended gestures, he makes us aware of OUR OWN bodies and OUR OWN mild discomfort. Then there are Alison Erika Forde's dreamlike paintings, show at The International 3's booth. None of these are explicitly self-portrait, but Forde so deftly infuses the lot childhood memories, daydreams and the like that we can be forgiven for wondering — especially in a three-panel work of a girl sprawled across various easychairs — how much of this IS the artist.
Valérie Blass, of the Montreal-based Parisian Laundry, has an interesting commentary on the body in her sculpture, where an essence of the human figure is all that remains. However, you stare at these mostly vertical pieces long enough, like the knockout newish 'Untitled', whose dermis resembles green moss covering an askew ladder (replete, however, with a gray running shoe), and it's got so much swagger and attitude that the human within it is practically THERE.
Ben Turnbull, showing with the London gallery Eleven, manages two immediately recognizable images in each of his collaged works, simultaneously culling from and representing heroism. He cut up his own collection of vintage Marvel and DC comics and collaged the heroes (Spiderman, Batman, what have you) into graphic representations of a NY firefighter and the logos FDNY and NYPD. And while VOLTA NY's theme this year is 'No Guts, No Glory', Turnbull had been working on this NY-themed series independently, so it is a brilliantly auspicious fit. To further this, permitting the heroes to emerge off the 'page', the backgrounds are slews of speech-balloons from the comics, each containing only the heros' dialogues.
Alexander Tinei's stirring oil paintings — mostly featuring one central figure against an inky black backdrop — captivated me each time I got off the lifts, but I couldn't help myself they were in my line of sight each time. They pull you in magnetically. I am pleased his dual-gallery showing here (VOGES Gallery of Frankfurt and Ana Cristea in NYC) and that he just had a proper solo show in NY at Cristea's gallery a few months ago. There is a certain drama to Tinei's characters, in their intense fixed gazes, their relative gender ambiguit, and the bluish markings covering their arms or winding up their otherwise rather lifelike bodies. We wonder, what's the story with this person, is that guy in a rock-band, did I just see that girl at a party the other weekend? OK, so the feeling, our interpretation, is subjective, and this dialogue is an essential part of the viewing experience.
FRIDAY --- by Brian Fee
There is a wealth of abstraction at this year's VOLTA NY, both in the sense of nonrepresentational art and in the way that the figurative is 'abstracted', and how that presence emerges from the beautiful chaos.
Take a look at the Wohnmaschine booth, out of Berlin, and their American-born video artist Holly Zausner. She took her 2007 film 'Unseen', shot at and around Bode-Museum in Berlin, created like a million screen-grabs of the scenes, then hand-cut and positioned the lot into brilliant mosaics. From a few feet back they resemble anything from shimmering fabric to b&w shadows of tree branches (or a topographical map from way above), depending on the scene. But draw near and the images emerge: the hubbub of the Turkish marketplace in Berlin, smears of color and movement, v. the artist interacting with very live, very dangerous tigers in the sculpture garden of Neue Natioinalgalerie — a mix of full-lengths of Zausner and close-ups of the tiger's face. Up close to her art, we are unable to be just a stoic spectator. We can practically FEEL the hum of the city, the peril of the tigers, the movement of Berlin.
I contrast Zausner w/ Canadian photographer Roberto Pellegrinuzzi, showing in the Montreal-based Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain. His work show here is carbon ink printed onto layers of mylar and suspended, to great 3D effect. About half the works are composed of rows and rows of postage-stamp-sized cuts of mylar, maquette-style and similar in scale to Zausner's. These up close are total abstraction, blurs of translucent grayish-black ink or enlarged black pixels. But from a distance, the most gorgeous forms emerge, all of them flora-related. Tree branches, fields, an absolutely stunningly massive tree-leaf, captured on several sheets of layered mylar. Here the viewer must adopt an active relation with Pellegrinuzzi's art, as with Zausner, in order to 'feel' the forms in the abstraction.
Jen Liu, based in Brooklyn and showing with her gallery Ceri Hand (Liverpool), is currently fascinating with the stripe. She etches them into her Constructivist-style works, scenes from Tom of Finland and chain-gangs printed on heavy blueprint paper, incising the paper with diagonal slashes or half-concealing the figures with searing pink lines. Think of Rene Magritte's famous late work "The Blank Check" (1965), of a woman on horseback in the woods as, if by illusion, they are partially hidden by the surrounding foliage. That's the effect of Liu's new works, abstracting the scene with stripes but permitting that image to recede and expose itself via the eye's path.
I dug Jered Sprecher's new-wave abstracts at Steven Zevitas Gallery, out of Boston. His basis in screenprinting is evident in these layered geometric works and, after he was awarded the 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, it seems his canvases have enlarged to outsized proportions. Perhaps it is a dialogue on the Abstract Expressionists of the '60s and their penchant for bigger and bigger canvases. But Sprecher's newer works also immerse you in these deep cascades of translucent colors and fractured shapes.
Dannielle Tegeder, showing at W. Chelsea's Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, presents a library-like installation of smaller geometric works on paper, each w/ its own unique frame chosen by the artist. I'm caught in a deep pool of adjectives when surrounded by these jewels, but think of bits of Joan Miro's fascinating forms and Vassily Kandinsky's shapes (plus both artists' vibrant color choices), and the intimate scale of these works reminds me of Tomma Abts' small-scale geometric abstracts — though I find Tegeder's even more readily accessible.
Danny Rolph's (Poppy Sebire Gallery, London) mixed media works on doubled polycarbonate sheets are like symphonic explosions of color, history, pop culture. Think of the singularity, that second before the Big Bang when all the universe's matter was condensed into a single infinitely detailed point. Then picture that w/ '80s references, children's coloring book pages, show ads, and all the colors of the visible spectrum, in all sorts of geometries and textures. That Rolph is able to suspend this essence in a dual-layered work that embodies tremendous depth is totally wicked, and probably why I cannot pull my eyes from them.
THURSDAY --- by Brian Fee
I observed a palpable sense of transformation running through many of the booths at VOLTA NY. This could mean transformation in time, throughout history and in brief durations, transformation from comfort to pain and vice versa, physical and interventional. This spanned mediums and artistic intent, so I am interested in investigating this further.
Mathias Kessler, the German artist showing at Galerie Heike Strelow, presents a literal sense of this changing based on the environment. Photography from his expeditions to Ilulissat, Greenland -- the epitome of remote in an overpopulated world -- and those experiences led to his attempt at capturing that essence and presenting it to us. Installed is a freezing mirror, etched with the world from the POV of the Arctic Circle, and a heat exchanger attuned to the climate of the booth. We sense the cold of this environment whilst contributing to its melting; the more of us viewing it, the faster it melts. It is a visceral interpretation of global warming, the melting at the poles, and a trip to a location that we may never be able to take ourselves. "Nowhere to be Found" is an arresting scene: a human skull suspended in a saltwater tank, bearing growths of sea life. Over several years this will transform into a coral reef. I find this piece incredibly fascinating. There seems to be a dialogue of human activity on deliberate transformation, to the downfall of the environment and to us as a people. However, "Nowhere to be Found", though manufactured by Kessler, is different. This time human intervention (the artist) is supporting life (fragile coral reefs), and by doing so on the surface of a human skull feels somehow terribly appropriate.
Adam Szabo, of INDA Gallery (Budapest), intervenes in fruit, creating 'perfect' objects. By cutting and sewing -- literally -- a banana and apple, removing blemishes by grafting a new half or piece, the end results 'should' be glossy and appealing, ready for a food magazine photo shoot and then some high-end supermarket. But these Frankensteinian creations are botched plastic surgery. Szabo shows that an overemphasis on spotless perfection is detrimental and horrific. One wonders too if the produce needed an intervention in the first place, of if it were perfectly nutritious as is.
The economy and transformation figures in both Maximo Gonzalez's (Galeria Valle Orti, Valencia) and Thomas Palme's (Teapot, Cologne) works. Gonzalez uses outdated currency - beginning with that of his native Argentina - in wild works on paper that range from torn and woven abstracts to, lately, more figurative works, of the old money and the faces contained within them interacting with and enacting upon one another. Palme's large graphite works on paper are amalgam figures, men of history (John Berryman, Walt Whitman) with whores' bodies, children with cow-skulls for heads, altogether surrounded by catchphrases from the current economic climate (Caterpillar, Dubai World, Pfizer, Alcoa). The world is a mess.
Todd Pavlisko, showing at the Boston gallery Samson, delivers a literal sensation of transformation, i.e. incredible pain, via 'Centerpiece", where he is filmed hammering a nail through his foot, then pulling his foot up through the nail, over a span of several minutes. It is a wince-inducing cycle of pain, and we hope that is relief he is feeling upon removing himself from the nail, despite the agony of what he just accomplished. His "Still Life" is more complex, combining a self-portrait severed head in marble with Baltic honey amber (the sort that preserves fossils) and tektite meteorites coming out the mouth. The historical references -- the prehistoric amber and meteorite, the classical medium of marble -- w/ the figuration of his head changes Pavlisko into a point in the timeline of art and the world.
The Columbian performance artist Maria Jose Arjona, represented here by Galerie Anita Beckers (Frankfurt), has produced haunting, laborious physical transformations in many of her sustained sculptural pieces. Standing on blocks of ice containing nails for several hours, against the cold and the eventual threat of the sharp objects within. the secondary transformation, offsetting the pain of the cold is internal body heat, which I am not sure is something that can be willed as much as it is developed over time. The inclusion of transparencies -- drawings by the artist of moments in her performances -- allows us to mix and match these scenes, interacting with a performance as we layer one image over another, personalising them. I am excited to see Arjona's contribution to Marina Abramovic's upcoming performance at MoMA beginning later this month, as it should produce a special sort of transformation: the cyclical energy from proximity to an audience and, when appropriate, mutual eye contact.