The Art Fair as Festival and Studio Visit

The Art Fair as Festival and Studio Visit

By Laura Gonzalez for Artlog

(June 15, 2011) The 7th edition of VOLTA opened today, continuing its innovative approach to the art fair model. Instead of the usual custom of having galleries showcase a wide range of artists, the curatorial board has strongly encouraged exhibitors to dedicate their booths to fewer artists and establish a dialogue between oeuvres. This increased curatorial involvement, which is becoming a popular practice among international art fairs, puts the event’s focus on the artists themselves – on their visions, processes, and creations – rather than exclusively on prestige or name recognition.

According to VOLTA director Amanda Coulson, reducing the number of artists in each booth makes VOLTA “less of a trade fair and more of a show.” The galleries themselves were “generally pretty enthusiastic," in spite of the inherent risk of not showcasing their full portfolios. Out of the 70 exhibiting galleries, 16 are presenting solo artist shows, and the rest are focusing on curating intimate exhibitions of between two to four artists. The solo approach already proved successful in VOLTA New York, and it is a particularly useful model for non-blue chip artists. It allows for a greater degree of individual attention and space to freely introduce their work, without having to worry about competition or about how their work is portrayed next to an unrelated piece. In this way, VOLTA seeks to cement its role as a space for discovering unfamiliar artists.

The fair’s location also contributes to this mission. For last year’s fair, Coulson found a space that looked like somewhere you would go to see things you have never seen before. Now, for the second year in a row, VOLTA returns to the Dreispitzhalle – part of an edgy and urban artistic complex that gives the fair a structural means through which to communicate their message of innovation. “We want it to be a place of discovery, and normally that means cutting-edge,” stated Coulson last year. She reaffirms the decision this year, stating that, “We picked Dreispitzhalle because the area of Dreipsitz itself is so exciting… a former industrial area being turned into artist studios, exhibition spaces, galleries – it’s got a great vibe and it’s something we can feed off of.”

The Dreispitzhalle also offers VOLTA the opportunity to showcase a larger variety of media and formats – outdoor areas allow for a greater variety of contexts in which to exhibit, and it is surrounded by permanent spaces dedicated to artist studios. As Coulson concludes, “To be here is about the energy surrounding us and being part of that, being part of a Basel art scene.” A setting like this distances VOLTA from the more blue chip character of Art Basel, the city’s first and longstanding contemporary art fair. VOLTA is envisioned to feel like a mix between curated shows and studio visits, giving both artists and collectors a feel of greater freedom and creative potential.

This year, VOLTA is also featuring a special program that broadens the scope of a traditional art fair. They are partnering with Kaikai Kiki Ltd, Tashaki Murakami’s art production company that is dedicated to representing emerging Japanese artist. They have been invited to the Dreispitzhalle to engage in daily live action and painting performances. VOLTA thus provides them with an important international platform, which they had previously lost due to Japan’s devastating earthquake and the subsequent cancellation of the Gesai art festival.

“Less of a trade fair, more of a show” seems to be VOLTA’s emerging slogan, and it is gradually becoming a trend among international art fairs. A centralized artist focus, a general festival-like atmosphere, and greater curatorial involvement are all relatively new aspects of fairs like Frieze and Art Basel. Art fairs are interested in presenting themselves as more than commercial spaces, and they are taking cues from events like Documenta and the Venice Biennale to add more cohesive, curatorial elements. VOLTA’s success throughout the past few years signals that these shifts have been generally welcomed by galleries, artists and curators.

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