Emergency Landing: Plan B, the art fair assembled from the canceled Volta
Plan B, Pop Up Art Fair, March 6-9, 2019 at 525 West 19th Street (David Zwirner Gallery) and 534 West 21st Street (formerly Paula Cooper Gallery) New York City
Contingency plan, backup, second string, or—in the case of the former Volta art fair—Plan B. Due to structural issues with the West Side piers, Volta was forced to suddenly cancel its 2019 iteration. The fair’s organizers declined to relocate to a different venue, citing the potential damage such a move could do to their “brand image”, although it’s unclear what they imagined might be worse than looking like they don’t care about their exhibitors. Some of the former fair’s participants quickly put together an alternative—putting Plan B in effect—in Chelsea, including space provided by David Zwirner. Plan B is an art fair stripped down to the model’s essentials. Absent are the usual accoutrements veteran fair-goers have grown used to seeing, such as VIP lounges, overpriced refreshments, and – ahem – walls.
Without partitions separating a gallery’s space from its surroundings, Plan B’s atmosphere less resembles the white cubicles of the Volta of yore as it does a group exhibition at a gallery. Each exhibitor’s allotted space is loosely demarcated, and it’s up to the viewer to determine which artworks belong together. Takiru Shiferaw’s Money (Cardi B) (2018) stands in the middle of the floor and could belong next to any of the works surrounding it. Alaina Simone Incorporated intended that it be viewed alongside USNEA: Material/Form Test (2019) by Tahir Carl Karmali, a wall-based installation of draped mosquito netting and pulp made from immigration paperwork. Perhaps, in an alternate reality with lax structural regulations, the two would have shared a little niche at Volta, secluded from the rest of the work in the fair, but as things are, they share the gallery with everything else.
Other exhibitors have less ambiguous boundaries: Frodo Mikkelsen’s four silver-plated skulls, shown by SFA Projects, aren’t likely to be lumped in with any other space’s offerings. Each skull supports a small domestic landscape scene, like a house with trees and a yard or a hunting lodge in the woods. These scenes have hidden secrets, though: One house has a dinosaur skull underneath it (a skull buried in a skull), and another house sits atop a cache of gemstones, visible through the skull’s eye sockets.
Slag Gallery’s space is packed with a variety of paintings, small and large, by Dumitru Gorzo. His Slant series features colorful shapes and patterns painted on otherwise brooding figures and scenes. The contrast between melancholy underpainting and vibrant surface interventions makes the results look like the work of multiple artists, like the Chapman Brothers’ infamous alterations to original prints from Goya’s Disasters of War. One layer responds to another with playful parody, as with the bug-like features added to figures in Slant 5 and Slant 2, or more abstractly: Slant 6 is divided up according to the spatial logic of Francis Bacon, with a scaffold of lines isolating the figure’s head from the rest of the composition.
Okeksiy Sai’s digital prints on aluminum, shown by Kyiv’s Voloshyn Gallery, combine form and content in a unique manner: his blocky, pixelated scenes of office life are rendered in Microsoft Excel, a spreadsheet program transformed into an artistic tool. Excel provides the user with a malleable matrix that can hold combinations of text, numerical data, and in this case, blocks of color. Close up, each of Sai’s works looks like a block chart with an undecipherable color-coding scheme labeling areas of multi-lingual text, numbers, and code snippets. Scenarios of office life emerge with distance, mundane scenes made in a mundane program, made extraordinary by their overwhelming conceptual tedium.
Art fairs can be dreary particularly to those of us who are obligated to attend them several times a year and pretend to be excited by each one. Plan B, however, feels genuinely exciting even to this jaded art fair attendee. The minimalism enforced by sudden re-organization lends Plan B a unique sensibility among the Armory Week offerings. The fact that it was successfully put together on such short notice is testament to the dedication of its organizers and participants, and perhaps that palpable sense of commitment is what makes Plan B stand out amid the art fair scene’s vapid decadence.