The fair booths buzzed with excitement under the scoreboards of Basketball City at Pier 36. To conclude its opening day, NADA Art Fair hosted the talk Diversity in Practice in partnership with Artadia, a non-profit that supports artists through a merit-based awards program. Ian Alteveer, Associate Curator at The Met’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Amanda Hunt, Assistant Curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, led the discussion.
Diversity in the arts is not a new demand, and artists are an especially homogenous (white male) demographic. Alteveer and Hunt, as curators of major museums in New York City, focused on the role of the institutional collection in addressing diversity. How can a curatorial practice fully utilize the resources of a museum to expand a collection and to encourage the inclusion of women artists and artists of color?
Hunt recalled a recent visit to The Met, in which she gravitated towards the portrait of Juan de Pareja by Diego Velázquez. She described this regal portrait of a man of color and “the power of seeing that person, that body, that image in the space of The Met, even in 2016.” Hunt believes that it is important to open up the exclusive canon and consider art history in a contemporary context.
Alteveer nodded at the mention of the Velázquez, chiming in to emphasize “what it means to have a portrait of a person of color in the European paintings gallery” and its relevance to today’s sociopolitical struggles. Alteveer firmly believes that there is “a place for the encyclopedic museum,” and he pointed out The Artist Project as an initiative to incorporate diverse voices “in the halls of somewhere as traditional as The Met.” The video series, now in its sixth season, invites artists to share their favorite works from the largest American art museum.
Hunt sees the Studio Museum as a fundamentally diverse space, in contrast to The Met’s reputation, and she stresses the vital roles that residency programs and institutional collections play in increasing diversity. As the curator for this year’s Artist-in-Residence at Studio Museum, Hunt describes this relationship as “supporting a practice over time by bringing in an entire collection, caring for it, traveling it, exhibiting it over and over through different thematic exhibitions.” This advocacy for a whole career and person is “paramount to what we do at the [Studio Museum],” Hunt said.
“There is a lot of pressure—and I think there should be—to collect diversely,” Alteveer observed.
He acknowledged that for those in positions of privilege and power, diversity must be a constant concern. He offered up an anecdote of sitting in his office and reviewing his bulletin board of acquisition projects. As he read through the names, he felt surprised and disappointed that every single artist was a man. “I was annoyed with myself,” he admitted, and he learned that it is a conscious push to acquire the work of women and artists of color. He also applauded his colleague Kelly Baum for her efforts to bring more women artists into The Met’s collection.
“Curating is about educating and engaging the public,” Hunt explained, but it is equally important to discuss diversity with colleagues across institutions. The art world has lots of room for improvement in regards to diversity, but it is a good sign that these conversations are happening in positions of power at major arts museums.
Be sure to add NADA to your chaotic Frieze Week, and pick up a few free posters before you head inside. The New Art Dealers Alliance Art Fair runs through Sunday, May 8.
Subscribe to Art Report’s official newsletter for more stories you don’t want to miss.