Friday, March 4, 2011

Living at VOLTA NY (Thursday, playing with scale and space)

Apologies if you've not seen me for awhile, but I have been living at VOLTA NY. I have not been to my gym for over a week and have resigned myself to the reality that I'll not get back there until Monday. And OK, I exaggerate a bit: I am not actually sleeping at VOLTA NY, but I am clocking some serious hours in these halls of international contemporary art. But hey, when the art is this beautiful, this bracing, this intriguing, those hours literally fly by. I will do my best daily to document what I am seeing and how it makes me feel.

I think I'll begin big, both big-picture stuff and big-art. I think the largest art here is much larger than last years (there are super-tiny, super-intimate works as well, lovely ones, throughout). But some artists really "took it there" at 2011's VOLTA NY, and I don't mean simply wall art, which would by nature occupy a wall, but in that old medium of painting. This is evident as you exit the lifts onto the fair floor. I'm willing to bet the first thing you see after the VOLTA NY logo pillar is Peter Opheim's ginormous Play-Doh alien. This softly rendered and squat kiddie-beast has a wingspan of 8' and is a full foot taller. That's a big-ass painting! It and its colleagues literally line the walls of Steven Zevitas booth (D2), each critter and varmint seemingly more texturally 3D than the last. They're super-colorful and occupy nearly featureless backdrops, so the claylike figures take on a nearly sculptural form that doesn't entirely dissipate no matter how far back you stand, nor how close you get to their respective shiny surfaces. To Opheim, they're life-size for what they are, meaning their respective scales are intentional. Thinking of his paintings like that, you could almost see them as a photo of yourself never totally becomes lifesize, but it's understood to represent you.
Its neighbor, to exhilarating effect, is Boston's Samsøn gallery (D3) and the young Brooklynite artist Summer Wheat. She plays with scale and form, too, in her "failed representational sculptures" — which are all extremely texture-conscious paintings. A good lot are poster-sized portraiture, deftly walking the line between formalist Rembrandt sittings (replete with classic oily featureless backdrops) and grungy, funky zombiefied figures. She works on several of these at once, working up a base of the same colors and tones before "stamping" them together (that's as physical as it sounds, touching their wet surfaces together a la decalcomania), and then spinning off the richly individual paintings that ensue. Some are epic, eye-wateringly massive, like if you could figuratively plunge into their roiling cake-frosting surfaces (which isn't so far from the truth; Wheat uses custom tools like piping tops and other stuff from the baking shop), that would be an amazing, delicious experience. Winnie Truong's got a handle on scale too, somehow alchemizing these mind-bending hirsute portraits in colored pencil. Mulherin Pollard Projects (Toronto, A6) is lined with Truong's way larger than lifesize works on paper. Her command of the medium, retaining this just-so soft-focus aura around her brilliant, color-lined portraits (floating over expanses of bare paper), is seriously dope. And the really cool thing is, Truong retains this gorgeous resonance between the mega 72" paper and her postcard-sized works, displayed at the gallery in a memoir (albeit, the coolest memoir you're lucky to ever get your hands on). Though some detail is lost in the smaller works, they're as painstakingly realized as the huge Comely Welcome Homely. Her layered and repeated linework incorporates an unusual array of colors — violets, greens in the hair — that, when seen from an angle or short distance translate as very natural shine and gloss. Though Truong's portraits are about the wildest and wooliest you've ever seen, they're intriguingly real.

On the other hand, we have artists converting their booths into environments, organisms even. This is in keeping with Jorge Perianes' style, all-over installations both outside-inside and labyrinthine. He's with Galería Adhoc (B1, Vigo, Spain), and the space is acrawl with bugs, swarming busted canvases like ants on an outstretched palm in Luis Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou. I'd like to spend more time at Priska C. Juschka Fine Art's (D9) booth than I already have, as artist Ryan Schneider's converted it into his work studio. So beyond his vividly colorful paintings like The Display there's a couch (which neatly reappears in Self-Portrait as Missing), threadbare squares of wipe-cloth that I've seen as a makeshift rug on one occasion, a heaped "assemblage" in another (with paint-encrusted plastic cups and brushes). Oh and there's a slew of empty beer bottles, remnants of his friends hanging out — like you arrived at the party 20 minutes late. Reason to keep visiting, as the party's ongoing and you definitely want to attend. There's a really interesting effect when you're surrounded by Sinta Werner's Broken Bits and Pieces works in Nettie Horn's booth (London, F5). Werner's an installation artist whose transformations of interior spaces via mirrors and/or carefully mirroring effects (doubled and "reflected" items etc) greatly augment and fracture their surroundings. At VOLTA NY her mixed media works, large format slides with glass (and sometimes mirrors) act as mini installations, like we're suddenly giants towering above them, seeing Werner's older installations in an omniscient POV. They also recall David Hockney's photo collages, like seeing every possible perspective simultaneously.

You can't keep me away from Carmichael Gallery's booth (A1), whose DC-based artist Mark Jenkins has effectively transported his hyperreal street figures into an art-fair environment. More specifically, it feels like an occupied sound-stage, with the sinister, ski-masked Batter keeping terse watch over his kin, two resin-coated characters occupied as bookends, a foot bursting from a flower still-life canvas (Kicked Painting, somehow channelling both Rene Magritte and Maurizio Cattelan), a monklike Sitter from Jenkins' Resin Series. Seeing these singularly on the street would cause more than just a pronounced double-take. Seeing them in concert inside does not lessen the visual surprise, because they're human-scale, they're natural enough looking to be mistaken for real people. Hence, we really do think of them as real — you miss it in photographs, but up close, you almost expect their shoulders to rise and fall, like they're taking a breath, adjusting themselves in their otherwise perpetual paralysis.