Phaidon's Frieze NY interviews - Cecilia Alemani

The High Line and Frieze Projects curator talks us through this year's Flux-Labyrinth and other fair attractions
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Cecilia Alemani. Photograph by Tom Medwell
Cecilia Alemani. Photograph by Tom Medwell

Think of it as extreme curating. Cecilia Alemani commissions and stages shows in two very different sets of circumstances. One series lasts for a little under a week within one of the international art world’s most rarefied fairs, while a second set must entertain diverse crowds for a full twelve months in one of the globe's busiest stretches of parkland.

So how does Alemani, who is both the Donald R. Mullen, Jr. Director & Chief Curator of High Line Art and curator of Frieze Projects and Frieze Sounds at the Frieze New York Art Fair (14-17 May), do it? Read on to discover what she thinks the point of Frieze Projects is, how she distinguishes between High Line and Frieze commissions, and why her and her husband – the Phaidon author and director of exhibitions at the New Museum, Massimiliano Gioni – don’t hang any art in their home.

We are fascinated by the Flux-Labyrinth. Please tell us all about it. "Every year as part of Frieze Projects we organize a tribute to an underground art space or an artist project that has been quite influential in the recent contemporary-art landscape. This year the tribute is devoted to the Flux-Labyrinth, a 1976 collective project overseen by George Maciunas in collaboration with many other Fluxus artists. The labyrinth is a full immersive experience: you enter a door and you will find yourself having to make your way through a series of narrow corridors where you have to overcome a number of obstacles – both physical and psychological – that are conceived and designed by artists in order to exit the labyrinth. Once you are in there is no way back! For this tribute we are restaging some of the original obstacles designed by George Maciunas, Nam June Paik and Ay-O together with projects that were proposed but not realized by Alison Knowles and Geoffrey Hendricks and new commissions by Amalia Pica, John Bock and Gelitin."

 

Installation view of Flux Labyrinth, Walker Art Center, 1993. Credit: Courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Installation view of Flux Labyrinth, Walker Art Center, 1993. Credit: Courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

What role does Frieze Projects play at the fair? Is it entertainment? Or criticism? Or something else? How do you think of it? "Frieze Projects is part of the non-profit section of the fair: together with Frieze Sounds, Frieze Talks and Frieze Education, we provide a curatorial platform where our visitors can have experiences that are different from the more commercial approach to the fair. You can listen to a great talk, you can bring your kids to participate in cool activities, and you can see newly commissioned art projects. The way I think of it is a subtle interruption of the regular rhythm of the fair, almost like hiatuses where the visitors can have a different experience from just looking at art."

Frieze Sounds is always interesting. We don’t come across artists working in an aural medium that much. Is it something galleries overlook? "I think it is pretty challenging to exhibit sound works in museums or gallery context. There are so many great sound artists out there but you don’t see their work so often around. It probably has to do with the 'immateriality' of their practice."

Simple logistics aside, how does the art that works on the High Line differ from the sort of thing you show in Frieze Projects? "For Frieze Projects, we commission artworks both inside and outside the tent. In a way the works for Frieze Projects are more temporary in nature: often participatory and immersive, they lend themselves perfectly to a five-day experience. On the High Line our works stay on view for a full year, so that you can go see the installations throughout different seasons and the changing of the surrounding vegetation."

 

Elmgreen & Dragset telescope sculpture for Panorama, on the High Line. Image courtesy of the High Line.
Elmgreen & Dragset telescope sculpture for Panorama, on the High Line. Image courtesy of the High Line.

The group show, Panorama, will be on at the High Line during Frieze week. Could you tell us something about that? "This is the fourth group show we have presented on the High Line. Panorama is inspired by the High Line as a platform from which you can admire your surroundings in a totally different way: one of the most spectacular features of the High Line is that it opens up vistas and panoramas on the city around it that you wouldn’t normally see anywhere else. The show is about landscape, both real and imaginary, and how artists envision new ways of looking at our surroundings. Elmgreen & Dragset brought a gigantic bronze telescope that somehow points at the Statue of Liberty but cannot be used; Yutaka Sone presents a replica of the island of Manhattan carved in marble; Katrin Sigurdardottir hang a miniature island from the bottom of the High Line, so that you can see it while walking up the stairs. At the end of may, two tons of white Lego bricks will also arrive to the High Line: they are part of The Collectivity Project, a work by Olafur Eliasson where visitors are invited to play with the Lego and build their ideal city. It’s a perfect commentary on what’s happening all around the High Line in terms of development and I look forward to seeing how our visitors will respond to it with their imagination."

You are an Italian, yet you have found real success abroad. Is there something about the way curators and directors are appointed in Italy that means it was easier for you to work abroad? "The contemporary art landscape in Italy isn’t very welcoming for a new generation of curators: it is still very much embedded in 1960’s bureaucracy and there needs to be a change of generation as there are not many positions open and there is no turnover. Maybe in 10 years it will get better!"

 

Frieze New York 2014
Frieze New York 2014

We have read that you and your husband don't keep any art in your house. Why is this? "Because we look at images every single minute of our life, when we go home we like to take a break and just stare at a blank wall to recharge!"

For this year's fair go here. For more on Frieze Projects, read our interviews with Frieze Projects artists, Aki SasamotoSamara Golden, Allyson Vieira and Pia Camil. And for more on the High Line check back soon for news of our forthcoming book dedicated to the urban park.


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