Curator Cecilia Alemani Makes Sure Art is Flying High

Katy Hamer

Cecilia Alemani
Cecilia Alemani. Portrait by Adam Pendleton.

Cecilia Alemani tends to focus on art in the public sphere. She is the director and chief curator of High Line Art, curator of Frieze Projects and curator of the Italian Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale. At just under 40 years old, Alemani has worked at the High Line since 2013 and often works with artists who may not be used to exhibiting in the public sphere—not only diversifying the visual dialogue of the High Line, but also expanding upon an artist’s own oeuvre. It’s also worth noting that there are not many institutions that function with such a high level of production with little monetary return. The lack of commercial appeal is a connective thread that unites her curatorial vision with Frieze Projects as well.

On view now are two new projects at the High Line, one is a group exhibition called “Mutations” and the other a mural, The Floaters, by painter Henry Taylor. The group show will be installed at various points along the High Line and artists participating include Marguerite Humeau, Max Hooper Schnieder, Dora Budor and Jon Rafman—the latter two of whom will also be part of Frieze Projects in May. “Working with Cecilia on this project has been such a great experience because she is interested in pushing forward with my experimental ideas,” says Budor. “We’ve shaped the project to be responsive to the surroundings in ways that we can’t entirely predict, so it’s like a work in progress.”

A rendering of Henry Taylor’s The Floaters, 2017

Although Alemani is married to Massimiliano Gioni, artistic director of the New Museum and a well-known independent curator, she remains a force all her own and one of the most recognizable figures in the New York art world. For the Italian Pavilion in Venice, she will be presenting “Il mondo magico” (“The magic world”) with the work of three Italian artists—Giorgio Andreotta Calò, Roberto Cuoghi and Adelita Husni-Bey—which is a fresh contrast to some previous iterations, like the 2011 pavilion, which had 200 participating artists. “The curator of the Italian Pavilion is appointed by the Minister of Culture and so the selection is determined, whether good or bad, by what kind of government we have,” Alemani points out. “It’s been a disaster in the past because the Minister would appoint a journalist or a politician to curate, but this year we have Dario Franceschini, who is quite open to contemporary art—which is rare in Italy.”

In everything she curates, Alemani tends to be drawn to artworks that offer something unexpected, and even unusual; art with a desire left to be discovered rather than explained. “I’ve been lucky enough to be given opportunities to organize exhibitions in very unusual places such as the High Line—a park, but not a traditional park such as Storm King—Frieze Art Fair and the Venice Biennale,” says Alemani. “It’s not like curating at a gallery in Chelsea or showing work at a museum. And while there are pros and cons to both, I try to make the artists’ work shine in a way they wouldn’t shine anywhere else.”