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For years, Alia Dahl had kept a record of young artists working in clay that caught her eye. As the managing director of artists and exhibitions at Jeffrey Deitch in New York, she proposed the idea of curating a show that focused on this medium, reimagining ceramics through a contemporary lens. The thematic exhibition that followed was “Clay Pop” (September 10–October 30, 2021), which featured new and existing works by 37 artists, imaginatively set within an installation by Charlap Hyman & Herrero. After a successful run at 18 Wooster Street in New York, a version was shown at Design Miami/ last December.
This spring at Deitch’s 76 Grand Street location, Dahl is organizing Austin Lee’s ambitious new solo exhibition featuring a selection of sculptures and paintings. Ahead of its opening, Whitewall spoke with her about the show, where she thinks digital art is heading, and what’s in her personal collection.
WHITEWALL: This spring, you’re organizing Austin Lee’s solo show. How did you first connect with his work? What will we see in the exhibition?
ALIA DAHL: We connected with Austin through Nina Chanel Abney when she curated “Punch” in our New York gallery in 2018. I was immediately drawn to Austin’s new take on figurative painting. Austin successfully combines academic traditions with contemporary technology to create works that are representative of our ever-evolving technological world. His visual language is completely unique to him and gives a fresh perspective on Pop art in contemporary times.
In his New York show in March, you should expect to see a completely transformed gallery with augmented reality sculpture elements alongside new exuberant paintings and sculptures.
WW: Being a curator oftentimes means shedding light on a topic or a time through art that communicates it. Is there something you’re focused on shedding light on today?
AD: I am very interested in shedding light on areas of the art world that I feel are underrepresented. This could involve focusing on particular communities, but it has also led me to explore ignored mediums, like ceramics. For example, I recently curated “Clay Pop,” the exhibition exploring the younger generation of artists working in ceramics. This community has expanded to include artists like Ruby Neri at the forefront of contemporary ceramics, and artists who came to ceramics from nontraditional backgrounds, like Alake Shilling and Sharif Farrag.
WW: In 2016, you graduated with a master’s in art business from Sotheby’s, and your final project focused on art, e-commerce, and virtual reality. What’s your take on the rise in buying and experiencing art online?
AD: Since graduating in 2016, technology and its role in the art world have evolved quite a bit. Different technologies—from virtual galleries to NFTs and the metaverse—have encouraged new forms of engagement with art and have inspired artists and collectors to be increasingly experimental. I am glad that collectors are supporting artists by acquiring their works in whatever way they can, be that online or in person.
WW: Where do you think the role of technology within art is heading, especially now with the rise of NFTs and the foundation of the metaverse?
AD: It is always difficult to predict where emerging technology will take us, but I’m seeing a lot of exciting experiments being run in the NFT space. The evolving metaverse seems to inspire artists to do new and creative things in alignment with the physical world all while reaching new audiences, like Urs Fischer’s “CHAOS” project of unique digital sculptures. I hope that the art world is able to strike a balance between the physical world and the virtual world. Personally, I think it will be a challenge to find a substitute for experiencing masterpieces in person, like your first time walking into Monet’s paradise at Giverny at le Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, but I am open to seeing how the technology develops.
WW: How has the ongoing pandemic impacted the way you work?
AD: The pandemic allowed me to spend more one-on-one time with collectors and artists! There were fewer big events, fewer distractions, and more of a focus on intimate relationship building. It was a breath of fresh air to go on a walk and have a two-hour phone call with an artist, so I hope that will continue.
WW: Do you collect?
AD: I have collected several special works over the past few years by artists who are friends and artists who I have admired for a long time. Some highlights in my collection include a ceramic sculpture by the New York–based artist Ryan Flores, an incredible drawing by Kenturah Davis, and a collage 2-D work by Lucia Hierro. I am very lucky to be able to live with these beautiful works in my home every day.