Volta And Final Thoughts On New York Art Fairs, Winter 2018

Seydou Keita, Untitled, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris, at The Armory Show, New York (photograph by Nancy Nesvet).

by Nancy Nesvet

MARCH 13, 2019 — With the headlines changing at the speed of the wind blowing snow around New York and New England this week, it’s difficult for artists to keep up with making work reflecting daily politics. After the emphasis on the possible “wall,” treatment of LatinX at the Miami Fairs last summer and refugees at Art Basel in Basel, art reflecting the “Me, Too” movement addressing abuse of women was in a lot of the work at last week’s New York art fairs. Walking to the VOLTA art fair on Pier 40, a good walk from piers 42 and 44 of the Armory show, I had time to reflect on those pieces that dealt with “Me, Too.”

Recalling the Armory show, I cannot put Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Paredolium, 2017, shown by Max Estrell Gallery, Madrid, out of my mind. Though the artist claims the work is about surveillance, as the viewer stares down into a bubbling circular pool of water to have his image recorded in a sequence of portraits on a backlighted wall, I saw this as Salome’s well, and therefore a symbol of women getting back at their abuser. Mr. Lozano-Hemmer agreed with my analysis. Tabitha Rezaite’s Deep Down Tidal Installation, 2017, at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, uses light and calm water to heal, addressing colonialism’s effects on identity, in this case gender as well as racial identity.

The late Malian photographer, Seydou Keita, at Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris, was represented by his photographs from the 1960s, with African women in poses typical of that era, including an Odalisque in African batik printed dress. It is those poses that we have hopefully outgrown, but serve as a history of what was.

In Elmgreen and Dragset’s Force Majeure, Fig. 2-4, 2016, at Klonig Galerie, Berlin’s booth at the Focus section at the Armory show, fallen block crates stand in for the present toppling power structure in the art and larger world. Also conceptual, Anne Mosseri-Marlio at Beth Caybell Galerie, Basel, Switzerland’s dah dah ah dah dit, duh, di, di, di di, di dit, 2018, shows pre-internet forms of communication, used mostly by women in their role as telegraph switchboard operators. The syllables in the title spell out nine-to-five in Morse code. Hopefully, we’ve come a long way from that narrow choice of occupations.

Finally, at Volta, there was a lot of politically engaged work. The best of it was Meryl McMaster’s Viage, 2010, digital chromogenic print depicting refugee women, eliciting empathy and tears, that was shown by Francois Oullette Art Contemporain. Litvak Contemporary showed Shai Kremer’s photograph of swirling smoke, Perception 13, 2017, archival pigment print, seemingly asking if a smoke screen was flowing upward, covering that which is presently being uncovered. Shai Kremer’s Infected Landscape, a photograph of Israeli land, 2017, archival pigment print, also at Litvak Contemporary, gave additional focus to the state of the world. The sensitivity of the work at Volta was apparent.

Calm and thinking about all the world I have seen, I walked across Central Park to see Yinka Shonibare’s newly installed fiberglass wind sculpture at the Doris Freedman Plaza, at the 59th Street entrance to the park. After so much art for sale, much of it going to private collections, it was nice to see this British artist of Nigerian heritage’s gift, courtesy of the Public Art Fund, outside for all to enjoy. Reaching for the sky, draped with metal painted bands imitating Indonesian batik imported by the Dutch in the 1800s, it stood alone, far from the crowd in which I had just been immersed. So many influences, so much art, what a great week, snow and all.

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