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August 28 2014

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2 posts tagged "Cecilia Alemani"

Frieze Projects Curator Cecilia Alemani on the Upswing of Art Fairs

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Eduardo Basualdo

Photos: Eduardo Basualdo,The End of ending (El fin del desenlace), Aluminum, 10 x 8 x 5 meters, 2012 

Cecilia Alemani has no shortage of influence in the art world. In her post as the director of the High Line Art program, she’s tasked with curating public artworks that are seen by the millions of tourists who pass through the park annually. As if presenting art with an eye to mass consumption wasn’t demanding enough, Alemani has also served as the curator of Frieze Projects since the inception of the fair’s New York edition three years ago. Through artist commissions, Projects has realized a dynamic array of works on Randall’s Island, from Liz Glynn’s hidden speakeasy to a special short story from novelist Rick Moody and a revival of Gordon Matta-Clark’s legendary Soho eatery, FOOD. This year, Alemani serves up a tribute to iconic seventies Hollywood creative hub, Al’s Grand Hotel. We chatted with the curator about gender inequality in galleries, international audiences, and whether it’s her job to make art accessible.

For more on Frieze New York, see our fair picks here.

There seems to have been an upswing in art fairs in recent years. Do you feel they are changing the landscape of the art world?

Being a curator I don’t go to art fairs to buy. It’s just another platform where you can see great art in a very convenient way. Maybe it’s not the ideal way, but it’s a very easy way of seeing art. It’s always a place where I can go research, thinking of an exhibition. I can kind of check my ideas, see art, and even meet artists. Also in New York, many people think New York is the center of the art world, but then you realize it’s not. [laughs]

Do you think that there is a difference between American and European art audiences?

It’s a difficult question. It’s totally different at Frieze London because it has been around for so long that it’s a bit more established. Here, I feel like the art is quite young. I’m not really in a position of saying that it is not young in London, but it’s very refreshing to see young people at the fair, which is something that I don’t usually come to expect.

All of the Frieze Sounds artists this year are women. Do you think that the art world still has a long way to go in terms of balanced gender representation?

It’s a big issue. I do think about it. It’s not that I have tried [specifically to], but I have always featured female artists who were current artists. And I think it’s very much an issue. I don’t know that it’s a very American [problem]; I think in Europe it might actually be worse. Here at least we talk about it, we talk about it being an issue. I don’t think so in Europe—very often I’m so surprised to look at exhibitions at European galleries and not have a single woman in it. In America you would never do that because it’s a bad look. So I do think it’s a big issue.

Frieze New York feels significantly more welcoming to someone who might not usually go to an art fair. Do you curate with a specific eye to accessibility? Do you think that your work with the High Line has had an influence on your approach?

I certainly think of the audience, and the audience at Frieze is almost completely an “art” audience, but I think what Frieze does really well is through the Frieze Foundation, works of Frieze Projects, Frieze Sounds, Frieze Education, Frieze Talks—we create a loophole for a totally different audience. So in my case I always think very much of art professionals, of curators like myself, the press, students, and people who maybe hang out outside the show because they cannot afford to go into the fair. All the programs that we have outside are free.

On the High Line, we have 5 million people visiting the park every year, and I think a very small fraction of that is art people. Frieze is almost all art people and a small percentage of people who just come by to see the art.

Ausstellung Eva Kotatkova "Theatre of Life"

Eva Kotátková, Work of Nature, 2011/12, Metal and wooden sculptures, ropes, Dimensions variable, Installation view, Kunstverein Braunschweig, 2013 Image courtesy of Meyer Riegger

With your work at the High Line, is it difficult to draw the line between being an art world authority and drawing in people who don’t typically look at art?

Before joining the High Line I had already worked with art organizations and institutions and never thought about broad, general audiences. Here, the audience is so extreme that you kind of do think about it. I’ve learned the myth of having to educate people—that the general audience does not get art—is completely false. And I can see that every day because every time we put out an artwork, a sculpture, an installation, video, it’s providing an encounter in a situation where the audience does not expect to encounter art. And I think that’s where the magic happens, when you surprise the viewer with something that might even upset them, might surprise them in a positive way, might leave them completely indifferent.

It seems as though interactive artworks are coming more and more to the forefront. Do you think that speaks to anything in particular about either artists or audiences?

I think it depends on the context. On the High Line we try to do a bit of everything. We do more traditional sculptures and installations, and then we try to activate the audience with performances, too. We do three or four performances a year, often participatory, yet I’m always kind of wary of participatory work. But on the High Line, in a way, you cannot do anything but [interactive work]. [laughs] You don’t want to rope off the High Line. I think in that position you have to use the audience. The audience is the best feature of the High Line, but in a museum, to be honest, I would imagine some of them being a bit more intimidated. If, for instance, you walk into MoMA with a performance going on, you would have a circle of people around, kind of intimidated. [At the High Line], the audience doesn’t really care! They walk up to [performers] and talk to them and participate. At Frieze I think it’s different. We do have a couple participatory works, but what is most important to me is to offer a different kind of experience compared with the one you simply have when you walk booth by booth.

Dia: Chelsea’s X Factor

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Screw Art Basel. Screw the Biennale. Why go jet-setting around to see art when New York City has got its own extravaganza opening right here? This week, X Initiative launches No Soul for Sale, an agglomeration of more than 30 arts organizations from around the world that have been invited to present work at the former Dia: Chelsea building. “We’re so lucky to have this space at no cost,” explains X Initiative director Cecilia Alemani. “We wanted to share that gift with other groups that, like us, are operating as nonprofits. The whole thing is very free.” In keeping with the free spirit of the event, Alemani and the X Initiative team have eschewed borders and partitions, instead marking off exhibitor spaces Dogville-style and organizing the foot traffic so that visitors pass through all the installations as they make their way from entrance to exit. “We really want people to come out and participate,” Alemani says. “For example, we’re opening tonight with a performance by the Mexican artist Martin Soto Climent, who will be creating a sculpture, live, from empty beer cans as people finish drinking.” A good excuse to booze, sure, and an additional inducement to check out the space is the newly Astroturfed roof deck designed by L.A.-based architect Jeffrey Inaba. The roof will remain open after No Soul for Sale closes on the 29th. In the meantime, artist Peter Doig is curating a screening series of Caribbean films that will play from 9 to 11 p.m. each night. Also chipping in: United Bamboo designer Thuy Pham, who created the X space uniforms. “Ultimately, we’d like this to be a place where people come and have a drink and a dialogue after they finish up at the galleries,” notes Alemani. Naturally, entrance is gratis.