VOLTA’s Kamiar Maleki: A New Chapter
Next to being the director of VOLTA art fair, Kamiar Maleki is a collector, curator and patron with over 15 years of experience in the field. TLmag caught up with Maleki to learn about how he got his start, what makes a “good” art fair and how he’s navigating through the now online art world.
TLmag: You have the unique perspective of having experienced almost all sides of what makes up the art world: from being a collector and curator, to building up fairs like Contemporary Istanbul and VOLTA, as well as working with gallerists, artists and art dealers. Have you always been surrounded by this world, or was it a specific choice/interest that led you into this field?
Kamiar Maleki (KM): I have been fortunate enough to grow up with parents who had interest in and started collecting art from when I was a very young age. Our collection began with antiques and old masterpieces and about 35 years ago my parents ventured into the wonderful world of post war and contemporary art. My first memory of exposure to art was when I was six years old and we visited a Niki De Saint Phalle exhibition in Munich. Growing up in between Germany and Austria and during many trips to Vienna, all we did was visiting museums and galleries. Albrecht Durer also springs to mind as an artist I admired growing up.
My own interest that led me into this field was when we left college, my father kindly gave both my brother and me a small budget to purchase art. The rules of engagement were that whichever artist we wanted to purchase we had to do our own research on it and present to my father who would buy it with us, and the same parameters pertained if we wanted to sell an artwork. When we sold, the money would go back into this fund and would only be used to purchase further artwork. It was a way to build our own collection and this made me hooked into finding young talent to cultivate and nurture.
Following some 10 years active in the art world, I decided to take my hand in curating where I curated three successful shows. Among them was the show #Abstract, which was the first exhibition on how we looked at researching and buying art via Instagram. Becoming a Fair Director was a natural progression for me as I wanted to be more and more active in the art world without losing my status as a collector and the opportunity to run a fabulous fair in Istanbul came to me in 2016. I am now at VOLTA and very much looking forward to this incredible adventure ahead.
TLmag: Having run “Contemporary Istanbul” for two editions I’m sure you must have had your pick in opportunities after deciding to step down. Why did you go for VOLTA, and what are you hoping to achieve in this new chapter?
KM: Having run Contemporary Istanbul successfully, I knew I wanted to take a little break and focus on my next move which would prove to be something more long term. At the time I was travelling all over the world and had little time to spend with my family. I had plenty of offers to interview for regional fairs and some interesting smaller fairs, but I felt I wanted to work on a great project of building a fair up and working with a great team.
I was offered to interview for VOLTA and almost instantly I felt a connection to the fair. As a collector, I have been to many previous editions and always found it a place where one could discover art. It was now bought by a big group called Ramsay Fairs and having done my research on them I found that people working there only had amazing things to say about the founder and work ethics. I then had an opportunity to speak to the owner Will Ramsay and the team and my mind was made up. VOLTA has a huge potential to be a leading satellite fair and with the support of the Ramsay Fair Family, which encompasses about 19 art fairs, one is in a much better position to do so. Already we have achieved a lot in this short time. Rebranding the fair, creating a new image, slogan, website and even adding a new fair to our roster. So now I am running three fairs in the most exciting art cities in the world: New York, Basel and Miami. We have many exciting things in store for VOLTA so please stay tuned.
TLmag: What makes for a “good” art fair in your opinion, and what Is it about art fairs that you think draws collectors, gallerists and artists in? (what do you think makes a fair “stand out”?)
KM: First and foremost, I have always said to myself, when going to art fairs as a collector and there is one good new artist I discover or one new gallery, then it has been a successful fair. More so than ever with the recent pandemic, we realize that an art fair is not just about showcasing art, it’s about the interaction with the galleries, artists and collectors. It’s about discovering and challenging your beliefs to look at art differently. An art fair is of course only as good as the galleries they represent but art fairs are just a special place to be.
TLmag: It’s no secret that these are incredibly difficult times for the art and culture sector on an international level. Now, it seems like there are even more changes in store for this fair (and art fairs in general) – with your events of this year having been cancelled/postponed until 2021. How have things been going, and what are your plans until next year? Is VOLTA going to be working together with gallerists/artists in a different way because / How have collaborations changed? Are there any additional measures that we can’t see but are being done?
KM: Any pandemic such as the one we are facing, forces us to think outside the box and re-align our expectations and desires. It not only becomes about thriving, it also makes us strategize about our survival. We have used this time very efficiently to rebrand, structure, strategize our mission statement and even add a new fair to our brand. Has it been challenging? Of course,… Our job is in entertaining and showcasing art and when you are not able to travel or visit places and clients, it makes things harder as we are sitting in front of our computers and plotting ahead.
As with all fairs we are finding new ways to generate funds by doing online versions, by creating more content on our websites. Talking and communicating with galleries past, present and the future and trying to discuss with our fellow colleagues on how best to manage our times. We regularly communicate with our galleries to find out their needs and try to match them with ours. We have all had to make sacrifices this year but as we are a team and a family it is important to see the bigger picture and to look forward. There will be light at the end of the tunnel and therefore the short term sacrifices we make will be for the benefit in the long run.
TLmag: Virtual reality and online viewing rooms seem to have become the norm for art fairs to tide things over until things are safe again. Do you have any tips for navigating this new online art world?
KM: I believe that these new online viewing rooms are here to stay. Maybe in a smaller curated version, maybe used for different platforms but it is certainly amazing to see how fast the gallery world has adapted to the online viewing rooms. What I love about these viewing rooms that is different than navigating a real fair is that now you can see different price brackets. So if I walk in a viewing room and my budget is £14,000 I can look and find all artists that are of that value. Something like this is much harder to do in a real art fair where you have to really know your stuff if you are to look at lower-end prices. Maybe something to look at on how one hangs art pieces at fairs. We are now trying to develop our own online viewing room and are excited to be presenting it soon.
VOLTA’s New York show will take place in March 2021, followed up by their Basel fair in June 2021 and their Miami exhibition in December 2021.
Cover Image: VOLTA Art Fair rebranding 2020.