Volta’s Artistic Director: Amanda Coulson

At the occasion of our media partnership with VOLTA10, we have met the artistic director, Amanda Coulson. 

1) Why did you decide to found VOLTA in 2005, and why this name ?

It wasn’t my idea! The original idea came from Friedrich Loock of Loock Galerie in Berlin (formerly Wohnmaschine) and together with two other founding galleries, Kavi Gupta from Chicago and Ulrich Voges from Frankfurt, they identified a niche that was missing from the Basel landscape at the time, that being a platform that fell between the super-young (under five years old) and über-hip Liste and the established blue chip fabulousness of Art Basel. My involvement came through being married to one of the dealers and, in my position at the time as a critic and curator, finding a way to frame the conversation they were trying to instigate … at the beginning, I was more of the PR/Marketing but, as a “family affair” we pretty much did a little bit of everything! As their galleries became bigger and bigger enterprises and the fair itself grew, I ended up being the one to oversee the day-to-day management of the show. The name very simply came from the first hall we ever rented : the Voltahalle. There are many streets and piazzas named after Alessandro Volta in Switzerland and in Italy and we all liked the sense of electricity and energy that came from the word, so we stuck with it!

2) What is VOLTA’s value added ? How do you select the galleries ?

With a satellite fair it’s important to have a clear profile and we tried to differentiate ourselves by bringing context to the offerings. Instead of allowing galleries to bring five or six artists we ask for curated booths–many solos for example or dialogues between two artists. And while it’s almost impossible to really curate a fair in the same way as an exhibition, we involved curators from the beginning, instead of relying on other galleries to make or approve choices. In NY I even go so far as to consider which solo project should be next to or across the hall from another project, as I like the booths to have a sense of conversation with one another, not be their own little island, blocked off from the rest of the fair. In the early days, part of this was organic as many of the exhibitors were friends and colleagues and it created a familial and not competitive atmosphere, spilling over from one booth to the next. The gallery selection is a long and involved process, we travel all year to other fairs, cities, visit spaces, listen to colleagues, get input from all sorts of people, collectors, curators and other galleries … so it’s much more than the application and sitting in a room looking at slides.

3) What do you reserve us for 2014 ?

Returning to the center of town, in the amazing Markthalle dome, you can expect a fairly breathtaking architectural experience and, as our tenth anniversary edition, you’ll have a selection of our “Best Of” from the last decade mixed with the new discoveries…

4) How important are art fairs in art market nowaday ?

Unfortunately, very important. I say “unfortunately” because I don’t think there is a single person in the entire world who thinks they are the best place to view art by any means—that will always remain the gallery space or the museum—but for better or for worse they provide a way to access a lot of work that an average collector or curator might not always get the chance to see. At VOLTA10, for example, we have galleries from South Africa, Asia …places many U.S. based collectors might not get to that easily with their work commitments or with the time to see more than one gallery. Fairs are also a place for the galleries to network with one another, to see new artists they might take onto their roster, to meet curators who can’t travel to Los Angeles from Zürich or to Milan from Stockholm, for example. A lot more than just sales happen at art fairs, they have become important meeting places for all kinds of different participants the art world.

5) Among your many talents, you are also an art critic. Does it have an influence in your job as artistic director ?

Yes and no. I would hope my work as a critic informs my decisions in a positive way; I have a view other than the market, which I think can be a good thing. But I specifically choose to write about things that actually will not appear at VOLTA10, as that would create a very weird kind of self-referential circle. I think both activities must maintain their independence from one another, so the lines don’t get blurred.

6) VOLTA NY opened in 2008. Do you plan to export VOLTA in other cities ?

I wouldn’t say we have a firm plan but we are always curious and always open to new ideas. So, as they say: “Never say never”.

7) What is your artistic crush of 2013 ?

I am too old and too wise to fall for crushes any more. I believe in long-standing commitments! There is so much new and interesting art out there and one’s eye is always being intrigued but the best work at the 2013 Venice Biennale for me was still Tintoretto …

8) What do you think of Artsper project ?

Obviously the Internet is the way of the future. Tied to that, one of our most precious resources is time. A website like Artsper can bring art into your life while you are travelling or at the end of the day. It’s an excellent resource for exploring, learning, getting recommendations and helping navigate the large, complex and sometimes confusing art world.