Age of Anxiety Volta Exceeds Expectations


Under the not-so-optimistic title The Age of Anxiety, Volta’s second edition in New York showcased almost 80 international galleries, who hosted solo presentations of their artists. The edgiest branch of Merchandise Mart Inc.‘s multi-national art fair business (which also includes the Armory Show, Chicago, and Toronto art fairs), Volta New York is conceived as a concept-driven, curated counterpart to the increasingly safer Armory, which took an even greater turn in that direction with the introduction of modern art-specific booths on Pier 92.

With a much more visceral outlook into today’s social and economic issues, Volta offered the chance to find plenty of emerging talent and riskier proposals. As large share of artists coming from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, Volta was also an excellent venue to discover artists still underrepresented in the United States. From Japanese Kaoru Katayama’s hilarious performance-based videos to Eugenio Merino’s mocking sculptures of George W. Bush and the Dalai Lama, to Enrique Metinedes vintage photographs of accidents and Marilyn Manson’s grim watercolors, the fair aimed to offer multiple perspectives into the current global malaise.

Driven by her infamous commitment to political causes, Italian dealer Ida Pisani (Prometeo Gallery) brought a bold selection of recent works by Regina José Galindo. Awarded a Golden Lion at the 2005 Biennial, the young Guatemalan artist brings her body to borderline situations, to address pressing social emergencies and abuses of power. In Confession, she submits herself to the practice of water boarding not unlike the controversial methods employed by the United States to obtain confessions from war prisoners. Whereas in Limpieza Social (Social Cleansing) her raw, naked body is shot with a cold pressurized spray from a water hose similar to the ones used in riots, a compelling visualization of the processes of indoctrination and elimination power uses upon us.

The Center for Tactical Magic’s presentation at Uli Voges’s booth examines the lesser-known uses of magic, clairvoyance and para-psychological methods by government agencies. Recreating an experiment on human-plant communication, they presented three plants, fed equal soil, water and light. Visitors were asked to project their negative thoughts on one of them, their positive thoughts on a second, and their “control” or neutral thoughts on a third. Although results would not be immediately visible, the different mental energies will affect their growth in different ways (the plants receiving negative energies eventually would die, while the other one would give more fruits). CIA interrogators have used this research methodology in order to turn plants into “spies” by measuring the energy surrounding them, claims the Center.

In a neighboring booth, Scaramouche Gallery presented the Constructivist-inspired works of Russian artist Dmitry Gutov. Building on the series he already presented at the Venice Biennale and Documenta in 2007, this group of paintings originates from a peculiar English School initiated by the artist in Moscow – which uses Marx writings as didactic material to improve students’ English writing skills-. “I didn’t know how American audiences would react to this – dealer Daniele Ugolini confessed-, but they have attracted quite a lot of interest. I sold one of his smaller paintings at the beginning of the fair, and have received an offer from a buyer who is trying to negotiate a discount for a larger one.

One of the most successful presentations at Volta were the works of emerging Danish artist Troels Carlsen. By Saturday, half of his drawings, made on 19th Century anatomy etchings, found books, old maps and 19th Century portraits at V1 Gallery had been sold. Starting at just $700, it demonstrates, as we also saw at Pulse and Scope, works at lower price levels sold much better in this new art market.

As the fair ended on Sunday, a moderate feeling of optimism was shared by a number of dealers at Volta. Not unlike what happened in Miami several weeks ago or at the concurrent Armory Show, sales were significantly smaller and slower than a year ago. But as several dealers agreed with relief, it wasn’t the disaster some had forecasted. The market is a buyers market again, and collectors are certainly being much cautious. As some dealers confessed, feeling rather offended, some collectors asked for nearly insulting discounts. Whether dealers will accept them is uncertain. But as Nacho Ruiz of Spanish T-20 Gallery observed, collectors did turn out, and although at lower quantities and for lesser prices, many of them are still buying. This demonstrates that art is not just an investment. It is a passion — a way of life that many won’t give up that easily.

From the top: Regina José Galindo, Confession, video, courtesy Prometeo Gallery; Center for Tactical Magic’s plant project.