Watching and Waiting: VOLTA NY 2009

Collectors show restraint, but VOLTA’s introduction of a solo show format this year has generated positive feedback.

poster for

"VOLTA 2009: Age of Anxiety" Art Fair

at 7 W 34th Street
in the Midtown area
This event has ended - (2009-03-05 - 2009-03-08)

In Reviews by Laura Meli 2009-03-09 print

Hung-over exhibitors slowly perked up at VOLTA on the day following the opening. The question is, had they been out celebrating or drowning their sorrows? While the economy has slowed down the art buying, it hasn’t stopped it. There are still many interested individuals, proven by the busy aisles just one hour after the opening on day 2 of the fair. Dealers were patient and positive, hoping the connections they made at the vernissage would turn into sales. As Beth Greenacre of Rokeby said, “sales are representative of what is going on in the market.” VOLTA introduced the concept of the solo show this year, which the exhibitors seem to agree was a positive move, particularly since, as Greenacre pointed out, people are engaging more with the art, and a solo show can contextualize the artist and the work.

Martin Asbæk, who is showing artists Trine Søndergaard and Nicolai Howalt, felt the opening went very well. He had not made any sales yet, but saw a lot of interest from visitors. “Compared to the last year people are waiting a couple days before they buy. They are holding a little back at the moment. But I think that people in general are quite happy. I have a lot of good contacts here so I am sure I will succeed in the end anyway and get some sales.”

John Strutton with his works at DOMOBAAL.

According to Domo Baal, owner of gallery DOMOBAAL, the mood was “calm” but people were “looking for something. This is not an energetic, desperate rush-type fair. Regardless of whether they are looking for the first time or are established collectors, there are a lot of people looking, asking questions, and sometimes making a note.” At the time of this interview she had not made any “firm sales” but felt confident that she had leads that would result in sales. “It’s the first time my gallery shows in New York and the first time I have worked with this artist, so it’s kind of a cold start in some respects.” Having the artist on hand, especially during the vernissage, is great for visitors who love talking to the artist, so it could be a helpful selling point, though, Baal explains, “it is very stressful for the artist, and there are some people who actually get scared of artists!” Though Baal had not made any sales, her well-positioned booth remained steadily busy throughout the afternoon.

Stefan Trinks and Kristian Jarmuschek, of Jarmuschek+Partner, reported a slightly better first day. They sold one painting by the artist Patrick Cierpka to a German collector but agreed that while very strong people had come through the fair, everyone is carefully screening work before committing. “Hesitancy was for sure. Yes, the crisis was to be felt,” Stefan Trinks said of opening day. This is the gallery’s first time exhibiting with VOLTA. Last year they exhibited for the first time in America at Art Chicago, another Merchandise Mart fair. “It was a great success and we hope that this will be repeated here in New York.”

Boru O’Brien O’Connell, showing at the LaMontagne booth.

A few aisles away at ChinaSquare Gallery, where work priced between $3,500 and $120,000 by Shen Jingdong was exhibited, an interested buyer wandered in asking about the fiberglass Soldiers sculptures standing guard in the corners. Told they were $14,000 each, his interest waned, though he did ask to receive images of the work, and to be put on the mailing list. Several serious inquiries have left the exhibitor feeling positive about the fair. According to gallery director Carrie Clyne, “This is our first year doing VOLTA, and we are really excited since it’s a curated fair. Having solo show booths makes all the difference. People are very serious about the art. It seems the people here are not just window shopping, it’s much more serious collectors.” The young gallery is establishing itself and finding its market still, so meeting European collectors and industry insiders has been a highlight.

At LaMontagne Gallery, dealer Jon Shore says, “We came with a positive attitude and we’re happy to be here. As far as expectations, in many ways it so far has exceeded it. The opening day was very good. We had a lot of quality people come in, as far as curators and collectors.” With photographs by Boru O’Brien O’Connell ranging from $1,500 to $2,700, the gallery is expecting sales. “We brought work that’s fairly priced. We have reserves, which we hope will turn into sales. Ironically, a lot of these folks are from Boston, where we’re from. It’s good to see that we have the support from our local Boston area collectors.” Coming from a nearby location such as Boston can significantly help a gallery by keeping participating costs down, as it did with LaMontagne Gallery, who came by car. When asked about the overall vibe amongst his fellow dealers, Shore admitted to some nervous energy. “But positive, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. The attendance has been good so far and we hope it continues. Positive outlook until Sunday…we are still standing, and it’s early!”

Surasi Kusolwong's installation at Hoet Bekaert.

Hoet Bekaert Gallery devoted their space to an installation that is part performance: Golden Ghost, by Surasi Kusolwong. The artist covered the floor with industrial thread-waste and mirrors to “symbolize the meltdown of the world economy.” A topless woman wearing a gold necklace emblazoned with the title of the work engages visitors in a conversation about the piece and invites them to enter the piece itself. Each day Kusolwong hides necklaces like the one the model is wearing within the threads, and challenges visitors to walk, sit, or play in the installation, and to look for the necklaces. “I hide the title of the piece inside the piece. It’s like a passage to another happiness, a new beginning. The economy has changed and a lot of people talk about the…collapse or meltdown, but if you find something—it’s like a new beginning. If they find it they say ‘Oh, I am lucky today!'”

Not everyone takes such a positive approach, however. Back at LaMontagne Gallery, O’Connell’s photographs poke fun at the historical conceits of men, apparent in titles like Thinker and Actor, borrowed from such lofty writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson. The artist takes inspiration from stock photography and advertisements for various modern day drugs, such as Propecia, that play on weaknesses like hair loss. The artist tires of philosophical pretenses, believing man to be shallow and meek. When describing his work and approach, O’Connell says, “I think of it like Ted Turner meets Emerson or Kafka. There’s this association with soul seeking, and it’s more prevalent now because the leaders of the world want to show that they have some depth to them. And business people…well, it’s all just a big crock of shit. But it’s good material for me.” Patrick Cierpka, the artist showing at Jarmuschek+Partner, also hides dark thoughts behind colorful, happy facades. According to his dealer, Stefan Trinks, “paraphernalia is important to him, also this infantile approach to serious things.” The large, colorful paintings do exude a certain frivolity, but there is a sense of danger or animosity that lurks behind the bright day-glo colors as well. This could be reflective of the current state of the economy and of the art market itself. Although brave dealers and artists soldier on behind positive, patient facades, underneath everyone knows the truth—this is not a seller’s market.

Laura Meli

Laura Meli. With degrees in art history, the visual arts and arts administration, Laura works at ArtTable and is on the board of Underworld Productions Opera Ensemble. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their plants, hates when people block the door on the subway and always wishes she ordered what you ordered. » See other writings

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