The Imagination Runs Wild at VOLTA NY 2014

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The VOLTA NY 2014 fair.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

The greatest advantage of VOLTA NY, the seven-year-old stateside franchise of the Basel-born fair, is its one-artist-per-booth format. Not only does this allow visitors to gain a deeper appreciation of each featured artist, but it also cuts down on fairtigue by giving attendees the chance to skip with impunity booths that don’t seem appealing while giving them a meaty presentation to engage with if they like what they see. This poses a challenge for dealers, though, who have only one chance to attract potential buyers.

“It puts a lot of pressure on you to get it right,” said London gallerist Charlie Smith, who had already notched a few sales with his booth (1.34) of small portrait and nude paintings by Sam Jackson. “And if you get it wrong, you get it really wrong.”

Judging by this year’s fair, split over two floors at 82 Mercer Street in SoHo, many galleries tackled this problem the same way Smith had, and bet it all on the centrist appeal of figurative painting. Walking the aisles, the ratio of paintings to everything else is staggering. And, consequently, many of the most impressive presentations land in that “everything else” category.

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Ryan Browning, Time Passes on the Minor Planes (2012)
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

Right out of the ticket booth, Seattle’s SEASON gallery (booth 2.16) has a booth full of Elisabeth Kley‘s colorful ceramic sculptures, whose exteriors in vivid, glazed patterns evoke the floral and decorative motifs of antique Greco-Roman pottery, though their bold palette is distinctly contemporary. A few booths farther on, NOMAD Gallery out of Brussels (booth 1.07) has a superb series of paintings on mortar, cement, wood, and metal by Duhirwe Rushemeza. As opposed to Kley’s delicate and playful painted sculptures, Rushemeza’s works possess a practically masculine bravado, their textures and tones seeming inseparable from their material heft.

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Wilmer Wilson IV performing in the CONNERSMITH. booth.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

In a different adaptive use of materials, Washington D.C. gallery CONNERSMITH.‘s booth (booth 1.17) hosted a performance by Wilmer Wilson IV on Thursday afternoon in which the artist methodically inflated paper bags and then tied them to his naked body until he was completely covered. An amused and intrigued crowd gathered around Wilson as he slowly transformed into a kind of DIY approximation of a shaggy Nick Cave Soundsuit.

“I just came from the Armory; I live in the area and figured I’d come take a look,” said an older woman watching the performance. “There’s so much energy down here, it’s very exciting.”

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Alfred Steiner, Sponge (Spongebob) (2014), in from Copenhagen.
Photo by Benjamin Sutton.

Another stand-out hybrid work on VOLTA’s lower floor is Alfred Steiner‘s oil-on-MDF piece Sponge (Spongebob) (2014), a six-and-a-half-foot-tall work melding aspects of painting, drawing, and collage. The work, which Copenhagen’s Gallery Poulsen (booth 1.27) has priced at US$15,000, depicts the beloved cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants as an Arcimboldo-esque figure made up of mushrooms, peanuts, a wedge of lime, an eggplant, a block of Swiss cheese, and other hyper-realistically rendered elements.

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The Popopstudios booth with works by John Cox.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

On the upper floor, two galleries from byeond-the-art world circuit places have extremely strong presentations in adjacent, centrally-sited booths. Bahamas-based gallery Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts (booth 2.27) brought a set of sculptures and prints by John Cox. The attractive spread includes a pair of abstract wall pieces made with rubber inner tubes from bicycle tires bent and folded to resemble flowers, as well as a totemic sculpture featuring a chair atop wave-like wooden forms fixed to the front end of a bike. That piece, High Chair, is priced at about US$2,200.

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Willie Cole installation in the Beta Pictures Gallery booth.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

Next-door, Birmingham, Alabama’s Beta Pictures Gallery (booth 2.28) is showing an array of sculptures and works on paper by Willie Cole. Among them are a cowboy-like figure made of clothing irons, Iron Master / GE Male Figure (1998) priced at US$40,000, as well as a pair of dog-shaped sculptures made from high-heeled women’s shoes titled MBF (Man’s Best Friend) (both 2014), for US$40,000 each. Cole’s found shoe dog figures are VOLTA’s most masterful and formally inventive  sculptures of animals, but they aren’t the only ones.

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Nao Matsumoto’s Chainsaw Blue (2012) at New York’s hpgrp gallery booth.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

Also on the second floor, New York’s hpgrp gallery (booth 2.39) is attracting a lot of visitors with its booth of sleek works by Nao Matsumoto—one half of Queens gallery Lorimoto. The presentation’s most striking work, by far, is Chainsaw Blue, a suspended sculpture of a bright light-blue sawfish with a long chainsaw blade protruding from its mouth. That fierce piece, priced at US$38,000, seems like a catch. Downstairs, New York’s Frederieke Taylor Gallery has a whole booth of nautical-themed animal sculptures by Christy Rupp on view, but her freestanding rendering of a walrus made from sliced up VISA credit cards is the standout. Titled simply Walrus, it is available for US$12,000.

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Christy Rupp’s Walrus in the Frederieke Taylor Gallery booth.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

But for all its wild and outrageous sculpture, VOLTA’s many painting-filled booths have their share of show-stoppers, too. On the upper floor, for instance, ADA Gallery from Richmond, Virginia (booth 2.32), has a series of Ryan Browning‘s video game-by-way-of-de Chirico paintings portraying strange and uninhabited miniature landscapes. Chief among them is the multi-panel work Time Passes on the Minor Planes (2012), which stretches two-thirds around the small but refreshing booth. A savvy player could score that work for US$8,000. Also upstairs, Toronto’s Angell Gallery has a superb spread of works by one of Canada’s foremost artistic exports of late, Kim Dorland, including the large and eerie canvas Sleepwalker #4 (2014), currently tagged at US$34,000. By Thursday afternoon, seven of Dorland’s works had already found homes.

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Kim Dorland, Sleepwalker #4, 2014.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

Back downstairs, New York’s Ryan Lee (booth 1.29) has found success with the painted, drawn, animated, and collaged works of Josh Dorman. Though the booth’s epic, Pieter Bruegel–influenced centerpiece Mined Land (2013) had been snapped up by Thursday afternoon, other large and similarly intricate works were still available for US$22,500. Dorman’s incredible 15-foot scroll drawing, housed in a wooden box, remained unclaimed at $24,000. Back near the entrance, New Orleans’s Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (booth 1.06) is showing small, exquisitely detailed paintings by Adam Mysock, including a new series chronicling the life of a retro robot as chronicled through art historical references. Each of the US$9,000 paintings shows the vintage cyborg at a different age in an art historical allusion, from a childhood scene borrowed from Norman Rockwell to a romantic encounter inspired by Edward Hopper. Though less arresting than a chainsaw-equipped shark, Mysock’s scenes exemplify the strongest of VOLTA NY’s many, many painting-centric booths.

VOLTA NY continues at 82 Mercer Street through Sunday, March 9.

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Work by Adam Mysock.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.