VOLTA NY is the invitational fair of solo artist projects and it is the American incarnation of the original Basel VOLTA show, which was founded in 2005 by three art dealers as a fair "by galleries, for galleries". Since its debut in New York in 2008, Artistic Director Amanda Coulson has re-conceived the format as a rigorously curated, boutique event. Since then, VOLTA NY has showcased relevant contemporary art positions from emerging international artists. By spotlighting artists through primarily solo projects, Amanda tells us how VOLTA NY refocuses the art fair experience back to its most fundamental point: the artists and their works.
As co-founder of VOLTA, what does it feel like to be celebrating VOLTA NY's decade edition this year?
I can barely believe that it has been going for 10 years! I still remember opening the original VOLTA show in Basel in June 2005, alongside the dealers and VOLTA founders Ulrich Voges, Friedrich Loock, and Kavi Gupta. In fact, I still remember the Cologne “biergarten" where this infamous group, together with collectors and curators, first conceived of the slightly crazy notion to open an emerging contemporary art fair during Art Basel Week. Our aim then was to identify and embrace the enormous gulf of talented galleries and artists that existed at that time between ultra blue-chip Art Basel and ultra-trendy and young Liste. When we brought the fair to New York, my goal was to refocus the art fair experience on the artists’ works themselves—like a series of intense studio visits versus a typical crowded hall of overhung and mix-matched booths. To have existed and persisted through America’s Wall Street crash of 2008 and now, heading into 2017, remain fortified and confident in our objective as a solo project fair is laudable indeed.
VOLTA Artistic Director Amanda Coulson and artist
How do the New York and Basel shows differ?
The atmosphere in Switzerland is different to the vibe in New York and this lends different qualities to the two fairs. Basel is older, more steady and sedate, and it has not reached the party fever pitch of its Miami[JE1] sister. Many of the base collectors are old-school, serious and well-researched, though it is still very much focused on the market because they are definitely there to buy. The rest of the year, Basel is not a city with a massive resident population, like New York, which has a broader reach in terms of audience and diversity. New York has such a critical mass of artists, journalists, critics, museums and curators. The Basel fair is also smaller: just 68 exhibitors versus approximately 90 in New York.
What is the effect of the solo project focus of the New York show?
New York’s solo project focus balances its larger number of exhibitors, so that the experience isn’t too overwhelming for visitors. While Basel does not feature this solo mandate, I’ve noticed that more and more exhibitors (certainly since our first New York venue change to SoHo in 2013) in Basel are opting for solo projects as a way to fully promote their selected artist. Perhaps this proves that solo is really the way to do it effectively, particularly with the sort of emerging and regional galleries that we tend to attract.
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How would you describe the main differences in the Swiss and American art markets?
Switzerland has a certain brand—it’s about luxury but also discretion, and this lends itself to the market there. The collectors are more low-key, they do not announce themselves in quite the same manner or publicise their purchases widely, as American collectors might. In the United States there is more openness and a willingness to share, open their apartments, speak about their new additions to the collections. Both come with different pros and cons, you just have to learn how to negotiate each one and approach it from a slightly different angle.
What is your biggest achievement as Artistic Director of VOLTA?
That is a difficult question. There have been a lot of obstacles to overcome in different ways, like being the upstart fair and constantly being challenged by new locations. A lot of artists and galleries that we have premiered on our platform have gone on to do amazing things but by the time they get there, everybody forgets they were once at VOLTA! I suppose really that the biggest achievement is simply to have survived a difficult series of economic challenges. I think that to climb our way back up to a place where we are in some phenomenal locations, with really excellent production value and a great selection of galleries has been a major achievement.
What has been the most difficult personal challenge during your time at VOLTA?
In the last few years I moved back to my home country of the Bahamas, where I am also the Director of the National Art Gallery. The Caribbean, in general, is so disconnected from the rest of the world, logistically and otherwise, that I felt it was very necessary to stay involved with VOLTA, to stay connected with the “First World” art world, and to be able to leverage my connections for the benefit of my region. Juggling the two quite demanding jobs has definitely proved very challenging and stressful, but has ultimately been worthwhile, and to remain functioning on an international level while living in a fairly simple place, where electricity is not a given every day of the week, where people in government still use carbon paper, is also quite an achievement. For VOLTA’s continued standards I really have to thank my team. Because we have worked together for so long, they knew precisely how to maintain the project—even if I was un-contactable!