Day two at the fairs we headed to Volta, the most international of the art fairs, and the most manageable for a viewer, thanks to the one-artist-per-booth approach there.
Men in suits. That seemed to be a big theme at Volta. And the men were all a little menacing, even when their backs were turned. Daniel Svarre’s team of tamely dressed men in a closed circle (Specta Gallery, Copenhagen) gained power from their height and shoulder-to-shoulder exclusion of us. We, as usual, wanted in.
Some ambiguity in whether Mark Jenkins’ sculpture of a balaclava-ed man armed with a baseball bat was real or a sculpture gave us an extra frisson of terror–and then we laughed. We had seen still another man in a suit, a rabbit suit, at the Armory. That one proclaimed on a nearby sign that inside the suit was an underpaid migrant worker. Not. So when we saw this one, we declared it stuffed right off the bat. Who knew that Duane Hanson and George Segal would spawn another generation of hyper-realists?
But menacing men and warriors was a theme not to be ignored. Even one of Yevgeny Fiks’ conceptual series of portraits were of members of the American Cold War Veterans Association. Even ordinary-looking guys represent a threat. All of these works played with real and not real, just like the color coded threat levels and the rationales for going to war. But they also play with the power of clothes and gender identities.
And that’s part of the message of tapestries by Athi-Patra Ruga at Whatiftheworld, Capetown. The work came rolled up in a box. And we read in a post-fair Volta email that the booth almost sold out (tapestries ranged from $5,000-$10,000). Ruga’s works mix fashion, gender-bending and confrontation. The artist also does performance, and we want to compare his aesthetic to that of Jacolby Satterwhite.
There was nothing threatening about CG, our tour guide for the Misguided Art Tour — a quick ten-minute spin through Volta courtesy of the project organized by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy. CG, a professional actor, was costumed in a red vest, color coordinated to match the little red plastic flag on a stick he held so we wouldn’t get lost following him through the crowd. The McCoys are video artists and we wondered about this non-video project and whether it was a new direction or perhaps a lark.
In today’s context of fluid identities, Winnie Truong’s oversized portraits (72 inches high) of ornate hair overgrowth transcend gender and morph toward werewolves and horror. Yet the decorative qualities of the hair suggests Marie Antoinette and decoration and something about them reminded us of Marilyn Holsing’s young Marie fantasies with Marie’s hair playing a major role (Holsing showed at Gallery Joe in 2007). Truong’s works were selling ($4,000) according to Volta’s post-fair email blast.
Aaron Johnson’s large reverse-painted acrylic polymer peel paintings (and no, we don’t really know how they’re made but there were interesting textures at work) were scary funhouse imagery. We immediately thought of Peter Saul’s interiorized view of a world where everybody is a monster. But Johnson’s got a mix of Western and non-Western sources, from dragons to rainbows. The works conjure manga, Coney Island, mermaids, sex and war. And while her mix is more delicate and lady-like, we want to bring up Jiha Moon’s mixed media paintings currently at the Fabric Workshop as a point of comparison.
One of the highlights of Volta was a series of photographs at Pobeda Gallery. The Fourth Height is a collaboration of three artists (in the photo above) Dina Kim, Katya Kameneva and Gaia Smirnakaya, and their photographer-collaborator, Swiss artist Urs Bigler. The ladies are Moscow conceptualists who’ve been working together since 1992 and they’re all about power, femininity, fashion, national identity, mass culture–well that covers some of it. There’s a big element of fantasy as well. And the asking price for the larger photos (each image was an edition of five plus four artist’s proofs) was $8,000!
Here’s a smaller photo from the same series, asking questions about just who is getting screwed by whom.
By comparison, Jim Houser’s work seems homey, warm and modest–something to touch! This was Jim’s first solo booth at an art fair he said. In addition to the usual Houser imagery, the music corner with the square guitar plucked at our heart strings.