By: Daniela Mayer

Located at PIER 90 on Manhattan’s Westside, the 10th anniversary of VOLTA NY, the signature solo-focus artist show of the Armory Arts Week, featured a plethora of beautiful and thought-provoking works by artists from 39 nations that collectors and art enthusiasts alike were able to enjoy. Yet, of the 96 Galleries and artist-run spaces presenting this year, perhaps the most poignant, politically-oriented works were found in the show’s thematic Curated Section.

The timeliness of the artworks presented was undeniable, with their subject matter feeling ripped from today’s newspaper headlines. Beginning with a video wall at the entrance of Volta, the Curated Section, titled Your Body Is a Battleground, was aptly found at the heart of the show. Its deviser, New York-based writer and independent curator Wendy Vogel, drew inspiration from Barbara Kruger’s photomontage Untitled (Your Body Is a Battleground), produced for the 1989 Women’s March on Washington. “After the enormous turnout for the recent international Women’s Marches, Kruger’s work reads as a vital precedent for art that protests the erosion of civil rights,” said Vogel. “Though these artists’ works are a generation removed from Kruger’s, they continue her legacy of examining media and representation.”

Entrance to Your Body Is a Battleground, with installation by Carmen Winant, titled ‘What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? (Women in the News Before November 8, 2016)’. Photo courtesy of Wendy Vogel.

Taking an intersectional feminist approach, Vogel selected eight artists from across North America and the Caribbean whose works explore, through various corporal representations, the treatment and controversy around Queer Bodies, Black Bodies, Latinx Bodies, and Women’s Bodies. “I was thinking about all the types of bodies that are in danger under the current political circumstances that we are living through”, stated the curator.

This is unsurprising as Vogel conceived the show last November shortly after the U.S. Presidential election. However, in a refreshing twist, not a single image of President Trump was presented —an intentional choice—, because “all of this work has staying power, and it’s political without feeling so tied to one particular moment in time.”

Melissa Vandenberg, ‘The Roof Is On Fire’, 2016. Match burn on Arches paper, 29.5 x 40 in.

With that said, much of the artwork showcased was created specifically for Volta. With most of her work out of the country, Melissa Vandenberg’s burn drawings, presented by Maus Contemporary | beta pictoris gallery, were made just eight weeks before the exhibition. Integrating text into the images created with matches, an outline of America with the phrase “Wish You Were Here” has an intentionally camp sensibility, while the use of matches add greater symbolic meaning, linking the work to Wiccan cleansing rituals and cremation. Vandenberg said:“A lot of the work has to do with mortality and loss, whether it is our innocence as a nation or personal, intimate loss.”

Nona Faustine, ‘Lobbying The Gods For A Miracle’, Image Courtesy of Baxter St.

In contrast to these typographic images, Nona Faustine’s striking photography was perhaps the most literally corporeal of the Section. Presented by Baxter St Camera Club of New York, many of the photographs depicted the artist partially or fully nude at historical sites where slaves lived, died, or were buried. In the photograph “Lobbying the Gods for A Miracle,” part of a Triptych from 2016, she embodies an escaping slave from the Lefferts House. Smoking gun in hand, children’s shoes around her waist, she presses her back against a tree in the woods anticipating her captors. The woods where she hides are the same that Americans fought in during the Revolutionary War, reflecting the complex relationship of being black in America. “My work is autobiographical; it’s more about how I feel in relationship to the history as a native New Yorker and as an African American,” said Faustine.

Works by Kent Monkman. Photo courtesy of Wendy Vogel.

With the Trans Rights Movement and the Dakota Access Pipeline in the background, Kent Monkman’s work takes on an additional level of intensity; Monkman is of Cree and Irish ancestry and identifies as both queer and two-spirit. His paintings, presented by Peters Projects, re-appropriate the narratives around indigenous people by utilizing the Western European tradition of historical paintings to poke subversive fun at romanticized depictions of Native Americans and colonialism. Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s drag alter ego, also made an appearance at Volta in the collage series “Fate is a Cruel Mistress” (2017), in which she transforms into Biblical temptresses. In the portrait Judith you see Miss Chief in a headdress looking out determinedly before she beheads an inebriated Holofernes, depicted as a white colonial man —a clear victory.

Joiri Minaya performing ‘Siboney’.

The idea of temptresses and fantasy women was also taken on by Joiri Minaya, presented by Casa Quien. Her work #dominicanwomengooglesearch (2016) features pixelated depictions of dismembered female limbs floating in space, a commentary on the exoticized representations of Dominican women. The piece alone is intriguing, but its message is strengthened by Siboney, a performance in two parts, displayed on the video wall. In her latter work, Minaya documents the painstaking process of copying a found tropical pattern into a mural (around a month of work). She then lies seductively before the floral wall and pours water over her form before rubbing herself against the mural, effacing and transforming the piece simultaneously. Intercut with words like “Islander,” the performance challenges the viewer’s vision of an idealized land and people.

Installation (detail view) of Joiri Minaya’s #dominicanwomengooglesearch, 2016-17. Photo courtesy of Wendy Vogel.

Through thoughtful analysis and exploration of the human form, Your Body Is a Battleground offered an introduction into several hot-topic issues without sacrificing aesthetics or relying exclusively on shock value. Yet, even though subject matter varies, when combined the artworks revealed a unified front against oppressors.

Other artists included in Your Body Is a Battleground were Zachary Fabri (ROCKELMANN & in collaboration with Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art), Deborah Roberts (Art Palace), Sable Elyse Smith (The Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts), Carmen Winant (Fortnight Institute), Chelsea Knight and Autumn Knight.


Volta NY 2017 took place at Pier 90 (W 50th Street at Twelfth Avenue, Manhattan) from march 1st through March 5th, 2017.

It is no secret that music is often a selling point for art exhibitions. From the Museum of Modern Art’s 2015 blockbuster Björk retrospective to the recently closed ‘Stuart Davis: In Full Swing’ show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which focused on the artist’s Jazz-like techniques; music and art just go together. It’s no wonder then that so many great musicians are also talented artists.

David Bowie

David Bowie’s 1976 painting “Portrait of J.O.”. ©David Bowie.

David Bowie’s 1976 painting “Portrait of J.O.”. © David Bowie.

The late, great, thin white duke was known for for being a jack of all trades; musician, actor, publisher, avid art collector, and, of course, artist. Besides his impressive collection of Modern British art, which was unveiled during the massive three-part ‘Bowie/Collector’ auction recently held by Sotheby’s, Bowie was himself a gifted painter. Studying art and design since his days Bromley Technical High School, the South London native’s work reveals heavy influences from German Expressionism, from his use of primitivistic and esoteric symbols to his haunting self-portraits.

Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono and John Lennon at John Sinclair Freedom Rally, 1971. By Unidentified (Michiganensian is the University of Michigan yearbook published by University of Michigan) (1972 Michiganensian, p. 203) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon at John Sinclair Freedom Rally, 1971. By Unidentified (Michiganensian is the University of Michigan yearbook published by University of Michigan) (1972 Michiganensian, p. 203) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Another subject of a MoMA retrospective, Yoko Ono’s impact on art and music, regardless of your opinions on her, are undeniable (but seriously, she didn’t break up The Beatles). From her influence on her late husband, John Lennon, and the importance of their experimental albums’ for New Wave music, to her ongoing peace activism and solo music career, Yoko has deservedly left a mark on contemporary culture. Collaborating with Fluxus artists from the 1960s, the conceptual multimedia artist has done everything from text-driven instructions -such as her famous Painting to Be Stepped On (1960/61), which invites the audience to step on a piece of canvas on the floor-, to provocative performance art, acting as a pioneer for the medium. Check out an excerpt from Yoko’s iconic Cut Piece (1965) below.


Grimes

Grimes’ Original Album Art for “Visions” 2012. Source: Arbutus Records.

Grimes’ Original Album Art for “Visions” 2012. © The artist. Source: Arbutus Records.

Drawing inspiration from Japanese anime, manga, and comic artists, Claire Boucher, better known by her stage name Grimes, creates strikingly graphic paintings and drawings. Although the 28-year-old synth-pop singer is known for her experimental music -which channels influences from Marilyn Manson and Panda Bear to Yayoi Kusama and The Legend of Zelda-, she also creates all of her album art. In 2012, during the promotion her album Visions, a collection of Grimes’ drawings were featured in an exhibition at the Audio Visual Arts Gallery in Manhattan, where they were auctioned in support of “Sisters In Spirit,” an organization which raises awareness of violence against Aboriginal women.

Since its inception in 2009, SPRING/BREAK Art Show has been gaining a steady stream of followers eager to get a look at emerging artists in the New York art scene before their big break – as well as collectors who want to purchase artwork without breaking the bank. Located for the second year at the Skylight at Moynihan Station, the somewhat dilapidated space above the massive post office provides ample potential for unique installations with its wood-paneled former mailing rooms and seemingly randomly placed sinks and bathroom stalls. Considering the pomp-and-circumstance often associated with Armory Arts Week, the art-school qualities of the curator-driven fair can, at times, feel campy or kitsch. However, for those looking to actually understand what they are seeing, the DIY-attitude of the venue lends itself perfectly to discussion, typically with the artists or curators themselves

Jimmy's Thrift: Artist Azikiwe Mohammed acts as Jimmy, the shop-owner of "Jimmy's Thrift" located in New Davonhaime. Photograph by Daniela Mayer

Jimmy’s Thrift: Artist Azikiwe Mohammed acts as Jimmy, the shop-owner of “Jimmy’s Thrift” located in New Davonhaime. Photograph by Daniela Mayer

Azikiwe Mohammed, “A New Davonhaime Thrift Store,” curated by Dustin Yellin

Step into Jimmy’s Thrift, a cozy wood-paneled shop of discarded ephemera in the fictional city of New Davonhaime, which gets its name from the amalgamation of the five most densely populated black cities in the United States (New Orleans, LA, Detroit, MI, Jackson, MS, Birmingham, AL, and Savannah, GA). Playing on the idea of people moving to find a better way of life, artist Azikiwe Mohammed has created a haven for black people, free from the issues surrounding the cities of its real-life inspirations. When I questioned Mohammed about his own inspiration for the project, he answered, “The last few years have been hard for brown folk, so what if there was a place that wasn’t?”

Much like a real shop, Jimmy’s contents change daily as the artist receives or creates more items. The tone varies from playful to serious, with a highlight of the space being the record player of real people discussing the first time they realized they were black. Looking at the eclectic mix of items around the room, it is hard to believe that one person made all of its contents, but each object is integral to the installation. Mohammed commented, “One of the things that was really important to me was to be able to make something that, while I’m controlling all the stories, not everything looks like it’s made by the same person… if I can make stuff that is different enough, then the question isn’t who made it, it’s where did all this come from.

Untitled #3 from 15 Pairs of Mouths with MOHAUNTDH in the background, Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos. Photo by Daniela Mayer

Untitled #3 from 15 Pairs of Mouths with MOHAUNTDH in the background, Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos. Photo by Daniela Mayer

Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos, “MHOAUNTDH,” curated by Amanda Uribe and Ché Morales

Taking the expression “talking with your hands” to a new level, Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos combined the words “mouth” and “hand” to create MHOAUNTDH, an installation emphasizing technology’s impact on -and fusion with- communication. Playing off of Bruce Nauman’s “Fifteen Pairs of Hands,” the artist cast fifteen pairs of hands as if they were texting – a series she titled “15 Pairs of Mouths.” As noted by curator Ché Morales, “We don’t always talk on the phone anymore, we text, so the thumb has replaced our lips.” Other works include “In Conversation,” a series of booth-like structures that play with concepts of language barriers by the audible repetition of Google Translated definitions, seemingly questioning whether or not technology bridges or widens the gap between true understanding.

A close up of the clothing for sale at LV DIY. Photograph by Daniela Mayer.

A close up of the clothing for sale at LV DIY. Photograph by Daniela Mayer.

Alfred Steiner, “LV DIY,” special project by 101/EXHIBIT, curated by Kevin Van Gorp and Shen-Shen Wu

One floor down from Jimmy’s Thrift is a very different kind of store where cardboard boxes from McDonald’s line the walls, surrounding the used clothing scrawled with the universally recognizable LV monogram. This is copyright-lawyer-turned-artist Alfred Steiner’s LV DIY store that parodies the contents, prices, and physical boutique design for Louis Vuitton. According to curator Shen-Shen Wu, the items for sale are more worthy of their price tag than their real world counterparts. “It’s actually more unique than whatever Louis Vuitton is selling, so you can buy a mass-produced item that is branded in a luxury way or you can support an artist who is producing a conceptual art piece.”

What initially appears to be a blatant commentary on mass-production and consumerism is given another level with the book filled with lawsuits involving Louis Vuitton, who, although eager to collaborate with contemporary artists, are notoriously abusive about wielding their intellectual property rights to silence criticism and parody. Luckily, Steiner can provide legal counsel for his own exhibit.

SPRING/BREAK Art Show, March 2-7 2016, 421 Eighth Avenue, Skylight at Moynihan Station (Main Post Office Entrance)

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