Amanda Coulson on VOLTA’s 10 Years in New York
VOLTA is celebrating its 10th edition in New York this week. This year, the fair will host 96 galleries and artist-run spaces from 39 countries from March 1-5. Sticking to its successful model of solo shows, VOLTA will also feature a Wendy Vogel-curated section “Your Body Is a Battleground.” We spoke with the fair’s director, Amanda Coulson, about the galleries who have been with the fair in New York since its beginning, who is new on the scene, and how her other role as the Director of the National Art Gallery in the Bahamas has changed her perspective of the international art market.
WHITEWALL: What does a milestone like ten years mean for a fair like VOLTA?
AMANDA COULSON: It means several things: first and foremost it means that we successfully identified a niche in the market; as fairs come and go or switch dates to try to find the right fit, VOLTA has been consistent through the ups and downs of the economy. Also that it’s time to look back as well as forward; a decade is a significant time span and it’s necessary to think about where you came from before you can think about where you are going. I think like any milestone on your life or career, it designates a time for reflection.
WW: Who are some of the galleries that have been with you since the beginning?
AC: We have 15 galleries showing with us this year who first exhibited in VOLTA NY’s early editions. I am particularly proud of our long-timers from 2008, New Art Projects from London, Galerie Michael Janssen from Berlin, and Samsøñ from Boston. New Art Projects brings Robin Footitt, a young English artist who uses the grammar of social media to underline its pervasiveness in our daily lives. Janssen is showing Ouattara Watts, a phenomenal Ivorian painter who has exhibited all over the world—though many people first know him through his friendship with Jean-Michel Basquiat. As indicative of their many thoughtful and restrained projects with us over the years, Samsøñ is showing Carlos Jiménez Cahua, a New York-based Peruvian artist whose subtle experimental photography and installations suggest landscapes, geometry, and honestly a true love for the medium.
WW: VOLTA has stayed committed to a focus of solo shows, something that was unprecedented in 2008. Why do you think solo booths work so well?
AC: The solo focus engages visitors. They gain a better understanding of an artist’s practice, particularly when the artist may be quite known locally or even regionally, but for various reasons has not yet emerged in the West or in New York. Plus, it is the gallery’s opportunity to show a project as they would in their physical gallery space. Oftentimes, our collectors will discover something and someone new, then inquire further to that gallery about their other artists, and thus a relationship is forged. And for casual visitors, seeing one artist per booth is far less exhausting in general.
WW: Are there any new gallerists from locations we have not yet seen at VOLTA NY?
AC: I am looking forward to dc3 Art Projects’ first run with us. While we have featured many Canadian galleries throughout the years (and in fact we have four this time), this is our first occasion to host a gallery from Edmonton. They will show Tammy Salzl in an ambitious and immersive installation called Storytime, which includes paintings and video within a grassy, forested glade at dusk—all in the booth! From Medellín comes Timebag, one of our Project Booth galleries this year, showing Colombian multimedia artist Juan Obando. His work focuses on the critical intervention of social circuits via the orchestration of temporary situations—and in the case for VOLTA NY, a restating of a work he produced for Museo de Antioquia’s international quadrennial in Medellín: Jeep VIP, which documents nonmilitary jeep hobbyists shuttling guests in makeshift replica vehicles during the MDE15 event. It is witty and thought-provoking, and it also speaks to the artist’s deep understanding of and concern for the role of art and culture within an official discourse of “post-conflict”, which could apply to Colombia, the United States, and so many places.
WW: This year, you tapped Wendy Vogel for the Curated Section (now in its second year). Can you tell us a bit more about to expect from “Your Body Is a Battleground”?
AC: Wendy’s exhibition takes homage from Barbara Kruger’s iconic 1989 work of the same name, which was at the time produced for the Women’s March on Washington. Though the artists in Wendy’s exhibition are a generation removed, they each foreground consideration of the body and identity within the political turmoil of today. Considering the recent international women’s marches and the concerted response to recently elected world leaders, the topics explored in this exhibition could not be more timely.
WW: For the past few years, you’ve been living in The Bahamas where you are the Director of the National Art Gallery. How has that change in location altered your perspective of the international art world, if at all?
AC: I think I always had a fairly healthy skepticism for the self-importance of a lot of persons, institutions or events that hinge around the market, but certainly living in a third world country—because, forget the falsehood spun by tourism brochures and high-end banks; that’s a complete advertising fantasy and has almost no relevance to our everyday lives as regular Bahamian people—it does change your perspective considerably, especially in such a small country. Our capital island is 21 by 7 miles and our population is 370,000 people, so you can’t protect or hide yourself within a comfortable middle-class bubble or, in fact, behind a constitution that gives you equal rights or necessarily protects your freedom of speech artistically.
Things that I was aware of or concerned about from a liberal intellectual standpoint—the lack of diversity in the art world, instantly applied social hierarchies depending not only on wealth or gender but your physical location in the world—these things are now deeply implicated in my everyday experiences in a way that has made me much more curious, empathetic and concerned with what art really means to a society or a nation and how it can be utilized as a valuable social tool. There is frankly almost no market as we consider it where I live (and in the Caribbean region as a whole, aside from the decorative) so contemporary artists are entirely different animals. There are positive aspects to that as well as negative: a naiveté that is refreshing but also a lack of professionalism. I feel very grateful to be able to move between both worlds, though, and act as a connector or conduit and definitely it’s changed how I look at the fair and what it can be to different types of individuals and how we can embrace regions that have little support.