In Basel, Volta Offers Plenty of Discoveries, Despite Sluggish Traffic and Fierce Fair Competition

In Basel, Volta Offers Plenty of Discoveries, Despite Sluggish Traffic and Fierce Fair Competition
VOLTA art fair
(Courtesy VOLTA)

BASEL, Switzerland — Offering a refreshing change of pace from the packed blue-chip action of the week's main event, Basel's Volta fair features somewhere in the neighborhood of 81 international galleries. A steady stream of free shuttle buses take visitors from the Messeplatz of the big fair for a 10-minute trip to Volta, making for an effortless journey. Still, on a Friday morning, only two passengers made the outbound trip, attesting to the difficulty of getting visitors to the totally contemporary satellite fair.

At Copenhagen’s Galleri Christoffer Egelund, a two-person installation of edgy and humorous porcelain sculptures by Louise Hindsgavl and densely figurative paintings by Ida Kvetny provided dual doses of fresh and snappy art. So far, five of Hindsgavl’s suspended porcelain, metal, and fabric sculptures sold at prices ranging between €3,400 and €5,500, including  “I found a gun that really fire” (2011), which sold for €3,400, and two small-scale acrylic, gel-pen, pastel-on-paper compositions from 2012 by Kvetny, which went for €2,000, including “Blue are the colour that reminds me of you.”

“We’ve seen really good clients,” said Christoffer Egelund, who has shown here at Volta for the past four years. “A number of curators from different museums are coming. One from Frankfurt’s Kunstverein has already chosen Louise Hindsgavl to be in a group show.”

The emphasis on youth and modest prices was also evident at Fred from London, showcasing 29 small-scaled ink, gouache, and watercolor compositions on paper by the young Johannesburg artist Alexandra Makhlouf, at prices between €500 and €1,500. “The fair has been good for us,” said gallerist Fred Mann, “because we’re showing a 23-year-old artist and no one has seen her work before.”

Referring to the prices of the subtle landscapes, figure drawings and abstract works, of which five have sold so far, Mann elaborated, “In other words, they’re very inexpensive because she’s only 23, and people tend to buy more than one.”

Several of the exhibitors ARTINFO buttonholed expressed frustration at the low concentration of visitors. As Los Angeles dealer exhibitor Steve Turner put it, “It’s like being a Hopi Indian, you get a little rain and you make sure to catch it.” Turner blamed Art Basel for “its concentrated effort to crush the satellite fairs,” explaining in part how the newly instituted two-day schedule of VIP previews at the big far discouraged some collectors from making it over to Volta.

Still, Turner found strong responses to the group of five L.A.-based artists assembled in his stand, which he titled “Five Card Stud,” including the Australian painter Jemima Wyman, whose large-scale turkey baster applied painting, “Tripoli, October 20, 2011,” sourced from an Internet image of youthful protesters, sold to a European collector for $11,500. “Burn in Hell,” a deceptively minimal, patterned painting in black and white by Rowan Wood, sold to another European for $8,000.

Turner, who participated in Frieze New York last month, said the Volta fair, which closes on Saturday, “had just enough interactions to make it fruitful for us.”

Roaming around the fair it was easy to find interesting and unfamiliar work, including the mixed-media, overlapping landscape and biomorphic images of the Italian artist Dacia Manto at  Paolo Maria Deanesi Gallery, from Italy. The gallery sold the artist's “Wanelund #3” (20112) for €4,500 to a European collector. Manto also had a video and floor sculpture in the one-person presentation.

“I like this fair better than Liste and Scope,” said dealer Paolo Maria Deanesi. “People don’t realize its just 10 minutes away from Art Basel to see more interesting work.”

If Manto’s compositions were calming and meditative, the exact opposite could be found at Los Angeles’s Luis de Jesus in the shockingly graphic ink and gouache drawings by Hugh Crosthwaite, documenting local life in Tijuana. Heavily influenced by Goya’s grisly “Caprichos” and the cinema, Crosthwaite’s chilling compositions of hookers and gunmen instantly make you forget you’re in mostly law-abiding Switzerland.

The gallery sold about five of the small works at $1,200 apiece, mostly to Europeans, according to Luis de Jesus, who added, “It’s almost like people are scared of the work, but it has been good to introduce it to an European audience. Still, I was hoping for a bigger reception.”

Volta closes at 6 pm on Saturday.