High Volta Armory Week’s Best Satellite: Ben Austin’s Diary Day 3


So, here I am back at Neil’s Coffee Shop on Lex, having just had another heart stopping breakfast and enjoying the free refills. I have only two bars of WiFi but lots of battery life.

Yesterday it was sub zero here, cold enough to freeze the proverbial nuts off a monkey made of brass, so was glad to be in warm cab heading downtown to Volta.

The fair now in its second year at the space in Mercer Street (previously it was in an office building opposite the Empire State building) is one of my favourite fairs on the circuit, Amanda Coulson does an incredible job and the quality of the galleries in the main are excellent.

Also, what makes this fair so special is that remit of the fair is to do solo artist presentation, which means the booths are an actual snap shot of one artist’s practice not a mishmash of work, all vying for space and attention. Another useful practice at the Volta art fair, is to provide the visitor with a little folder into which standard sized information sheets on each artist is available from each stand. This means that there less clutter and odd bits of flyers and cards.

So onto the art and the truth be told I could write something on virtual every stand, so just because I don’t mention the gallery or artist does not mean that is not good or of value.

First off then was cartoonish grotesque and sexually charged work of Mark Mulroney at Mixed Greens, a modern day Robert Crumb. Adam Mysock at Jonathan Ferrara caught my eye with his revisionist history paintings, featuring a 50’s style science fiction character in recreated paintings famous paintings.

There was strong photography and a poetic video piece by Mohau Modisakeng at Brundyn+ (Cape Town). The detailed Mayan inspired drawing by Matthew Craven at DCKT Contemporary were quite impressive, as were the deconstructed advertising images made into complex, multi-layered abstractions by Hedwig Brouckaert at Galerie Jan Dhaese (Ghent).

At rear of the show, there were a couple of interesting galleries from Japan. The kinetic sculptures by Satoru Tamura at Tezukayama Gallery were enjoyable as were the woodcut print and relief work by Katsutoshi Yuasa at Yuki-Sis. The weird and wonderful video work shown in hand blown glass bubbles by Katja Loher at C24 gallery were intriguing and judging by the red dots next to them, in demand. Upstairs the drawings by Takahiro Yamamoto at Gallery Kogure were stunningly beautiful.

A special mention to the UK galleries (probably a bit biased, but what the hell) best in show were Cullen Washington Jr at Jack Bell Gallery, where I had a really pleasant exchange with the artist, talking about abstraction and the found object, his pieces sort of evolve out of various parts of canvas, tape and cardboard.

Patrick Heide Contemporary Art presented the beautifully refined geometric abstractions by Pius Fox and more quality small paintings were to be found by Sam Jackson presented by Charlie Smith. Sam plays with taboos with his striking text-layered portraits, these pieces are unflinchingly powerful. His work features in some serious collections, including Sir Norman Rosenthal, Kay Saatchi and David Roberts and next year will be shown in ‘The Harsh Reality’ show at Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts alongside Bacon and Freud, so definitely a contemporary master in the making.

New Art Projects had a wonderful group of distorted figures by Dan Coombs. Pawel Slinwinski also explored the grotesque at Beers Contemporary and the impasto portraits by Bobby Mathieson at Lyons Wier Gallery were similarly disturbing. But the winner in that genre must go to Farley Aguilar showing at Spinello Project out of Miami.  These group figures stem from historical painting, but are transformed into leering masks of horror.

The literal pop branding on models by Daniele Buetti at Hilgerbrothkunsthalle, (Vienna) make for good social commentary. A take on Socialist propaganda of the Soviet era was to be found in the detailed work of Vyacheslav Akhunov at Laura Bulian Gallery (Milan).

Also upstairs I liked he patterned painting installation by Elizabeth Sonneck at Brunnhofer Gallery (Linz) and geometric patterns were explored by Biggs & Collins at Vigo (London).

Finally, the raw installation by Thrush Holmes at Mike Weiss Gallery featuring triangles, chalices, fire extinguishers, serpents, iron crosses, hourglasses, moons, double headed axes, dollar signs, hieroglyphics and the like was completely bonkers.

Next stop lunch in SoHo (turkey and brie sandwich on rye) into a cab and out of the cold to Chelsea and the Independent art fair.

This fair is high minded and serious, spread out on 3 floors and without the traditional restraints of the booth walls.

The highlights included a whole section devoted to the work of Roman Signer, video vignettes and a piano with ping-pong balls being blown explores tension and movement in a comical manner. The bold paintings by Alice Mackler at Kerry Schuss were very strong and the deconstructed collage photographs by John Stezaker were great too. It was difficult to focus on an individual pieces as the fair is more of a collective experience, but not poorer for it. I spotted Matthew Slotover of Frieze there, so you know we are in realm of high contemporary art.

Onwards and upwards to Scope, the opposite of Independent, where Neo-Pop and commercial work rules the roost. Art, I suppose shouldn’t be elitist and there should be room for artists to riff on Warhol and the like.

I must give a special mention to Lori Zimmer (Art Nerd) and Frankie Shea of Moniker Projects, who presented ‘We’re speaking the same language’ alongside performance pieces (Muffinhead) there.  Their small booth exuded energy with lively and accessible work (Pam Glew, Beau Stantion, Ben Eine, David Shillinglaw, Greg Lamarche and Ron English. They also featured fine bone china mugs by 1882 Ltd designed Shillinglaw and Stanton. These mugs are fun and more importantly affordable. Great job guys.

Today I’m going to visit the Park Ave Armory, for big bucks art and check out the Biennial at The Whitney.

Words/photo By Ben Austin © Artlyst 2014 Suclpture: Roman Signer



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