“Volta, more flexibility for the system”

 Bâle  |  26 May 2017  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

Rendezvous at Volta, a fair whose selection is both inventive and rigorous. Seventy galleries will be waiting for you, from 12 to 17 June, for the thirteenth edition of an event that is still high in the popularity stakes. A stroll through its alleys, in the company of Amanda Coulson.

Prior to launching Volta New York in 2008, Amanda Coulson cofounded Volta Basel in 2005. Today, the art critic and exhibition curator is also Director of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas and resides in Nassau. So how does she approach the market? With a primarily curatorial vision and a gaze characterised by a critic’s eye… For its thirteenth edition, the artistic director is welcoming no less than 70 galleries from 43 different cities to Volta.


Can you tell us about this 2017 edition? What’s the atmosphere like?

This is quite a difficult question because we see new things every year and that’s what’s interesting! Our galleries evolve, some take part in major fairs, others have different projects… But we work in a very organised manner. In New York, we only present solo shows whereas in Basel, we have more variety and we ask our galleries to change their programmes for every new edition. We’re not a fair that looks to gather as many people as possible, but our aim instead is to make Volta an attractive spot for curators and collectors who feel concerned. From the start, we thought that Volta would be held in a luxury hotel, a cheap youth hostel or else a boutique hotel… The idea was to create a well-groomed but human-sized concept because we always wanted to offer a break compared with the main fairs, a place where people also come to relax.


And have you tried to create links with Art Basel?

I’m not sure that the main fairs are interested in creating links with us. But it’s true that we were closer to Art Basel when Sam Keller was its director. As the art market has expanded and fairs have multiplied, things have gotten complicated. Some of them just want to continue attracting people. When we launched Volta in Basel, the following year Art Basel opened a new section for young galleries. This was a clear demonstration of a general change in fair strategy. Since then, they’ve set up new sections every year to try and attract more emerging galleries. The problem is that these brands turn up in the sections dedicated to them, but they won’t move to the main section in the following years.


How does Volta fit into the market?

I think that we’re gradually refining our position. If we’d launched Volta in Detroit, we couldn’t have reached out to such big collectors. In New York, we benefit from the visitors who orbit around the main fairs such as the Armory Show in March. We’re very aware of them and we respect our elders. Incidentally, it’s necessary to always pay attention, for example, not to hold openings at the same time. Finally, I think that today everyone recognises the advantage of having several concurrent events. It’s beneficial for the whole city, which becomes a more seductive and attractive destination as a result. On the other hand, it’s also necessary to pay attention not to overwhelm the public: in Miami today, for example, the excessive number of fairs wearies collectors who no longer go and see everything. It’s necessary to succeed in finding a balance, even within the propositions. This is what we’re trying to implement by working with very young galleries and brands with a bit of experience behind them. We’re trying to create a pleasant environment where you can find your way around, take a break in relation to the main fairs, but continue to have a direct relationship to art.


How does the fair in Basel do compared with the New York edition?

The markets are different. I can’t really say that one is more successful than the other in terms of sales. Both are doing well, but galleries need to be careful with what they show because the publics aren’t the same. The choice of group exhibitions or solo shows also has an influence. Basel is much more geared at the market, and collectors go there to buy. New York is a bigger city where more critics, collectors, journalists and art professionals live. Visitor rates are higher but the market is perhaps not so sure.


I get the impression that this year Volta is turning towards Asia… Is this a focus?

I wouldn’t say that it’s a focus because we always try to include new perspectives. We work with galleries that represent young talents and we often see artists shown at Volta cropping up three or four years later in the main fair. We really try to offer these very small galleries a platform and to diversify. For example, in New York, we’ve worked with artists who are Afro-American, African and from the Caribbean diaspora. We’re constantly doing research. This year, we didn’t want to have a geographical focus in particular, but when looking at the applications, we in fact realised that we’d attracted quite a lot of people from Asia in recent years… and this came out in the representation of galleries. We therefore have Tyler Rollins, a New York gallery specialised in Indonesian art, who’s been following us for years, and who’s presenting Sopheap Pich, a Cambodian artist showing at the Venice Biennale. As for younger galleries, we have interesting propositions coming from Paris.


How many new galleries do you present?

Around twenty… But many galleries ask to re-apply, from year to year. This year, between Documenta and the Venice Biennale, certain galleries have too much on. Which allows us, as a result, to work with new exhibitors.


Are you experiencing difficulties with the art market more generally?

Yes… For this thirteenth year in Basel and tenth in New York, I recently took stock and looked at the galleries that we’ve worked with and those that have closed in the meantime. I realised that many small dealers had gone off to join big brands… I see many galleries getting absorbed by huge dealers. The same phenomenon incidentally comes up with the big fairs. I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but it’s clearly happening at the moment. And then I’ve heard a lot said about closures this year, namely in London and New York. I have the impression that the market’s getting tougher and tougher. We’re in a sort of no-exit situation because in the end, the fair phenomenon is part of this problem. Galleries are no longer selling in their spaces… But many galleries – those based in Dublin, Vigo or places where the market isn’t very developed – tell me that without Volta they wouldn’t survive. The fact remains that fairs put a lot of financial pressure on galleries so that they come back every year but this requires enormous investments. I think that it’s time to take up our responsibilities and to introduce more flexibility into the system.




Volta. From 12 to 17 June, Viaduktstrasse 10, Basel. http://voltashow.com


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