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At Volta and Nada fairs, two takes on politics

Artists respond to the new global order with works that range from amusing to acidic

By Gabriella Angeleti

The effects of fractured political systems are looming themes at Armory week satellite fairs geared toward younger dealers and artists. At Volta, running 1-5 March at Pier 90, the centerpiece is a curated section, organised by the Brooklyn-based curator Wendy Vogel. Titled Your Body is a Battleground after the famous Barbara Kruger photomontage, created on the occasion of the 1989 Women’s March on Washington, the mini-exhibition comprises works by eight artists dealing with the idea of resistance, including a colossal installation titled PATRIOT (2017) by the Kentucky-based artist Melissa Vandenberg that spells out its title with sewn and stuffed surplus military fabric.

Two new videos by the Brooklyn-based artist Federico Solmi, showing with Luis de Jesus of Los Angeles, feature Donald Trump being applauded by a sea of fans before entering a ballroom and dancing the waltz with Napoleon Bonaparte

Political critique abounds in the aisles as well, which host 96 solo presentations by international galleries, non-profits and artist-run spaces. Returning dealer Luis de Jesus of Los Angeles is showing videos by the Brooklyn-based artist Federico Solmi that show historical figures (from Marie Antoinette to Stalin) saluting one another “as a commentary on the celebrity status that we offer politicians”, says an associate of the gallery. Two new videos in the series show Donald Trump being applauded by a sea of fans before entering a ballroom and dancing the waltz with Napoleon Bonaparte. The Barnard Gallery of Cape Town, one of 36 first-time participants at Volta, offers a series of nine abstract portraits of South African political figures (such as the writer Nadine Gordimer and the anti-apartheid crusader Oliver Tambo) by the painter Ryan Hewett titled Once Were Leaders. The series follows “two successful, sold-out solo shows for the artist in London last year and in 2015”, says Alexandra Zehaczek, an associate at the gallery.

Brooklyn’s Motel gallery has multi-media works by Michael Assiff, including sculpture that resembles a Halloween mask wearing kitschy 2016 New Year’s glasses, nods to the absurdities and traumas of the past year

At the sixth edition of the New Art Dealers Alliance fair (Nada, 2-5 March), in a new venue at Skylight Clarkson North in SoHo, political content is by turns humourous and sinister. Among the 100 exhibitors, the Chicago-based dealer Shane Campbell brought paintings by David Legett that show “racially and socially charged topics in a way that’s maybe meant to amuse you”, says the gallery’s Megan Bedford. It’s Not What You Know It’s What You Can Prove (2016) shows Chief Wiggum, the cop of Simpsons fame, with a bloodstain on the cap of his police uniform; while Subsidised Sandcastle (2015) applies the words “Jungle Fever” to a white character covered in a zebra-print smock. Brooklyn’s Motel gallery has multi-media works by Michael Assiff that address environmental concerns and “the inflation of injustices committed against humans, animals and ecologies”, says Motel’s Rosie Motley. One sculpture that resembles a Halloween mask wearing kitschy 2016 New Year’s glasses nods to the absurdities and traumas of the past year.

Nada has also taken its political concerns a proactive step further and will donate 50% of all proceeds from ticket sales to the American Civil Liberties Union—a nod to the fact that “politics is inescapable right now”, says Marcella Zimmermann, a spokeswoman for the fair. The other half of the revenue will fund the Nada x Exhibitionary International Gallery Prize, an award introduced last year to support the participation of underrepresented dealers and geographies. Galería Agustina Ferreyra of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is this year’s winner. A somewhat lighter-hearted philanthropic project on view at the fair—organised by the New York-based non-profit ProjectArt and titled My Kid Could Do That—unites childhood works of art created by 16 internationally renowned artists, including Katherine Bernhardt, Will Cotton and Sanford Biggers. The works will be on view alongside contemporary pieces being offered in a benefit auction conducted by Paddle8 on 28 April at Red Bull Arts New York, with all proceeds going to ProjectArt’s education programmes for students. But with the National Endowment for the Arts facing an uncertain future, here, too, politics hover in the background.