Althea Viafora-Kress is an independent curator and art dealer living in New York City.
How did you first get interested in contemporary art?
I lived with old masters and they inspired my imagination to give form to my life through contemporary art. By the time I was 20, I had a real passion. I left the mausoleum walls of art and found myself at living spaces like White Columns, looking at art, meeting artists and curators. I wanted to support artists and Peter Jay Sharp, Ahmet Ertegün and I became the majority backers to open a contemporary art gallery. Some of the first artists we showed were Matthew Barney (Field Dressing video and Drawing Restraint), Eva Hesse (paintings), Elizabeth Payton (works on glass), Robert Smithson, Danny Lion, Christian Marclay and others. I kid my backers and say we are foot notes. I enjoy collaborating and adore people and new art supports this; the first person I invited to curate a show was Bill Arning and a wise person who knows art, Barry Rosen. As with great people, great art transcends time and its momentary meaning. I have friends who have been devoted to art for over 20 years and younger friends who are putting their energies with their peers on the LES, in Berlin, Detroit, London – places where they are making a difference not just for themselves as careerist but for communities at large. Contemporary art is about the objects, the culture, the art production and care takers. Art which is seen as great is priceless, and the market seems to keep supporting this. As a cultural worker, I try to support this with whatever means I have, with work, wisdom or wealth.
What was your impression of the Frieze Art Fair coming to New York?
Frieze was incredible and brought together communities outside the fair booths. Art Fairs, like old fashioned World Fairs represent the culture industry by the nature of how they position their selections. How these local cultures contribute varies, Miami Basel contributes to community, the Armory contributes to relationships, Dubai contributes to education, Frieze contributes to more than celebrity orientation and profitable style. The British took over Randall’s Island territory by the artistic avant-guards and the social moments around contemporary art. The market of knowledge showed up too, institutions, publications, symposium, along with the commercial – galleries brought some great works and the venue’s high ceilings and outdoor grass gave generously. The results? We attended and not just at 11am opening day, our international relationships thrived, our business was accomplished and talks were attended. Thursday, clients and I took a town car and it was art fair perfection with the consumption of art acquisitions followed by a celebrity sausage. On Friday like Venice, the ferry gave us time to report our judgements with our peers and Sunday travel from home was by the Harlem school bus which took us to the baby dealers running the art fair booths. We then relished the brilliant and packed Rob Storr talk on Gerhard Richter. People showed up on this new art territory and speaking for myself I covered some new ground. The Swiss Institute’s show was the best possible way to end the week. As we experience expensive gallery after-parties and the steroid gallery spaces as a marketing technique to engage us towards consensus, the nights passed, and the next days consensus was Frieze passed with flying colors. I am sure Frieze’s sphere of influence will continue to expand just as our other fairs’ networking markets will continue to interact and make their own adjustments to the new fair in town.
Tell us about a piece of art you live with?
Christian Marclay, ‘Bouche-oreille’, 1990, 2 terra cotta imprints.
You have an exciting project in India you worked on. Can you share some details?
Subodh Gupta’s, “Line of Control” was just installed at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi. The indoor sculpture weighs 26 tons is stainless steal and measures 40 x 40 feet. The acquisition began with a conversation about a possibility during Art Basel Miami. The work was last seen during ‘Altermodern. Tate Triennial 2009′, and it was was time to have it experienced by the public again. I worked with an adviser and the client closing the deal over the December holiday. I then had the great fortune to work with a brilliant registrar; it took 10 flat bed trucks to move the elements out of storage and then packed for sea travel. The crates arrived at Karin Nadar’s museum which is reported to be the first private museum in India. Discussing her level of commitment to Subdoh Gupta and Indian art, I was beyond moved and thought of the earliest collectors in this country, such as Frick or the Morgans. ‘Line of Control’ is living art about geographic boundaries and territory. The collector has gifted its magic to the audience it is speaking to in spectacular material dimensions. Kiran Nadar allowed it be removed from the commercial art world and be placed in a context where it means something extraordinary. Iwan and Manual Wirth supported ‘Line of Control’ all along and I am grateful to have been given the freedom to support what I love and find a home for this work. To allow artists and the art market to flourish we can also go beyond New York, Hong Kong, London, Berlin, and Beijing. I am sure New Delhi will welcome you and I hope you will visit this work in person.
An upcoming show you are excited to see?
Storm King Art Center, ‘Light and Landscape’ curated by Nora Lawrence (May 12th -November 11th).
Artist quote or words to live by?
I attended a talk Mitch Cope gave at Frieze. What he is doing is relevant today. Mitch Cope is an artist and Co-founder of Power House Productions in Detroit.
“These seven artists have been working in the city as explorers, adventurers and pioneers for years to capture the city as it changes, evolves, devolves and transforms into something unbelievable, profound and heartbreaking. In the end they hope as a group to show Detroit as it is, not what it should be or what it was, but how it is. This in itself a provocative gesture as there are not many who feel content with the Detroit of today.”