A Dialogue With Amanda Coulson
The VOLTA Art Fair, founded in 2005 in Basel, Switzerland, distinguishes itself from big sister fair Art Basel by featuring younger, emergent artists and galleries. Similar to Art Basel, founded in 1970, a selection committee exists for each fair, and galleries along with artists are hand-picked from a large pool of submissions.
This year the U.S. edition, VOLTA NY, was once again held at 7 West 34th Street in New York, a venue which houses various art fairs including the Outsider Art Fair. I recently sat down with Executive Director Amanda Coulson to talk about VOLTA NY (of course), New York, Basel, the contemporary art market, and surprisingly, the Bahamas. [Amanda is also the Director at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas.]
KDH: Your current position has brought you to the Caribbean, as director of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. You have such great energy and such a fabulous eye for contemporary art, I look forward to your work there and how the gallery will grow. How do you see this position and your rigorous involvement with VOLTA to be symbiotically related?
AC: Well, the Caribbean is incredibly naïve and young in terms of any kind of market, so I feel I can bring a lot to the table in that way [by] both educating artists and helping them reach a broader audience. It’s not usually in the mandate of a museum director to find international galleries for local artists, but I’ll certainly be trying to do that as a lot of local artists are making work that is simply not sellable down here, where the buyers are either tourists looking to take some kind of “native” art back or people wanting to decorate their million-dollar beach houses where a lot of contemporary art just looks weird. There is a certain aesthetic to life down here, which doesn’t really gel with cutting-edge art. There are a few very loyal collectors who do support the emerging artists here, but not enough to allow a market to really grow.
My idea for the institution itself is to bring some international artists down in order to get recognition, but only those that make sense to the community, and put them into dialogues with local artists. Of course I’d love to get an artist-in-residence program off the ground but for the time being I need to help locals and I can do that by staying connected to the VOLTA network, staying plugged into to an international scene and trying to do as much as I can to get people looking down here. I am traveling more in this region though — Trinidad, St Lucia, Cuba — and honestly if we can get it together to create a platform, I think the region is ready to explode.
There is so much creativity down here but it’s badly organized. It’s also a real shame that everyone sees the Caribbean as this place of cocktails and beaches. We have urban environments like anywhere else, crime and poverty like anywhere else, we have industries and art scenes like anywhere else, but we are belittled and considered a country of money launderers and tax exiles. If I get another email from a colleague asking me how my tan lines are, I’m going to scream, I mean, I have a job, two actually — I go to my office every day just like everybody else and probably I work harder because I’m in a country that doesn’t get what I’m doing at all, where the infrastructure is much more challenging — but outsiders seem to think we just hang out on the beach all day.
KDH: So about those tan lines … Kidding! Thank you again for taking the time to chat! I love how there are so many overlaps within the art community and in both of our spheres. I look forward to following your career as well as VOLTA NY and in Basel. Art fairs are important for the market but also for setting a tone that stretches elastically and is visually represented in galleries around the globe. We are in an exciting time and as globalism spreads via social and Internet-based networking, the fairs offer a curated experience bringing together a disparate community in a cohesive venue. Surfing the web cannot replace an in-person experience for a collector or art lover.
AC: Indeed! The Internet is bringing a lot of people together and certainly for us in the Caribbean, where we barely can get to the next island let alone the mainland, it’s incredibly important. ARC Magazine has created an online platform binding the Caribbean together, but physical exchange between artists, art lovers, collectors, curators, is of paramount importance, which is why fairs and biennials will remain so important to our world. I hope I’ll see more visitors to Nassau after the next Miami circus (we’re only a half hour away), maybe checking out the National Gallery as much as the next dive shop and I certainly hope I’ll be seeing even more visitors to the
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Written by Katy Diamond Hamer