Basel - Interviews

Interview with Amanda Coulson

4 years ago

Could you tell us about the fair’s personality and about your selection policy?

VOLTA was founded almost 8 years now, because at that time myself and the founders really saw a niche that could become more open in the Basel market. There was the Liste that was very funky and very cool, and then there was the main fair that was very glamorous and very blue-chip and there was really not very much in between the two, so we really felt that there was a pool of galleries being left out and that we could create something for those galleries. We also saw something happening, which still happens: a lot of galleries from diverse places work with a young emerging artist, say they work with them for five or six years, and then the gallery from the main fair, sees the artist and takes it! And the artist goes to the main fair and the “mother gallery” who actually raised this artist is not in the main fair! So we really felt quite strongly there had to be a platform for these galleries that are working very hard at a certain level in artist’s careers. We had many artists shown at VOLTA for the first time, that now you see at the main fair, not with the original gallery! We have provided a platform for these galleries to say: “Hey, you know, I found this artist!” in this way they can really claim their territory.

VOLTA is a fair based in Basel and New York, what makes the Basel’s site special to you?

The Basel site for VOLTA is really interesting because we always tried to be on the periphery, there where things are changing. So originally we were at the Voltahalle which is how we got our name, which is now a huge industry park and part of the Novartis campus; then we went to the harbour, which was really a working ship harbour and we had containers flying around! And then we lost that property and now we’ve found this new site, which is in Dreispitz. Dreispitz used to be a warehouse area for custom purposes, things started to change, the City of Basel designated this area as a creative industry zone. Now much of the land in Dreispitz is owned and managed by the Christoph Merian Foundation which is very active in the arts: they have an international residency program, and this area is really vibrant with a lot of artistic communities. When we fist moved in, there was nothing there and people were like “What are you doing here?!”, but you know, it’s changing every year, and now there’s 24 artists and studio residencies there, there’s an art gallery there, there’s the Haus fur Elektronische Kunste, which is like a museum for new media art, Herzog & De Meuron are creating their own specific building and gallery, showing their own projects. So it’s a really exciting area for art and we feel it’s the cutting edge where things are happening and that’s where we belong.

What do you think is the most important task to achieve for a fair director?

I think the most important task for a fair director is to imprint the fair with a profile and a character. And I think people often associate fairs with the director and it’s very important that you make it very clear what you fair is and that you give it a very clear directive so that people know that they get when they go, that they have an idea of what they are going to expect and what kind of attitude they are going to be confronted with. Whether it’s going to be really serious, whether it’s going to be relaxed and of course the kind of art they’re going show. I think that’s the director’s job: to really imbue it with a personality and of course set an artistic goal.

What’s new this year in VOLTA? Do you have some special things you would like to highlight?

It’s funny everybody always asks, “What’s new?” but I think something you want to offer in a fair is consistency, to a certain degree. For fear of repeating myself, you are creating a brand and people want to know what to expect from the brand. The few times I’ve tried something “new”… to add a film programme or outside sculptures … I got accused of trying to copy the main fair (or someone’s fair, anyhow) and the participants said there was too much distraction from their presentations! So, I stick to what made VOLTA successful, which is a small number of galleries with reduced, clean presentations. There’s also something to be said for keeping it as minimal as possible. Visitors to Basel have a lot on their agenda, so keeping it straightforward, easy to navigate with no sideshows is a good idea. However, we do insist that there is always new, unseen work on show, galleries sometimes apply with a presentation I’ve seen at another fair. That doesn’t fly with us. We also do not allow the same artist to reappear in another booth. We push for galleries to come with a new selection of artists (or do solos) every year to keep it fresh and changing and, of course, as our galleries move along in the inevitable fair pecking order, we always get space for new faces. So, really, there is always something new at VOLTA.

Mara Sartore

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  • Amanda Coulson Amanda Coulson