In Conversation with Isolde Brielmaier: A Downtown New York Art Maven Driving Cultural Impact

In Conversation with Isolde Brielmaier: A Downtown New York Art Maven Driving Cultural Impact

Photo: Mangue Banzima

Photo: Mangue Banzima

Curator, professor, and writer, Isolde Brielmaier, juggles it all. A prestigious career in the arts, a professorship at New York University, motherhood, and marriage, all while decked out in the chicest ensembles. Brielmaier, a former dancer, is a first-generation American of Ugandan and Austrian ancestry, grew up in a culture-driven household, and spent part of her high school years in Hamburg. She brings all of these eclectic experiences, paired along with a Ph.D from Columbia University, to execute forward-thinking, global ideas. Brielmaier has held curatorial roles at the Guggenheim Museum, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and was the former Chief Curator at SCAD.  Having worked with Hugo McCloud and Fred Wilson, Brielmaier is a proponent for artists of color, especially women, and helped develop Turkish artist Hayal Pozanti's recent video installation at WestField World Trade Center. Brielmaier shares aspects of her career and the power of women working together. 

Gallery Gurls: Westfield World Trade Center is this downtown hub for commerce, style, architecture, and the arts. As its Director of Arts & Culture, how do you engage with these ideas when planning curatorial projects?

Isolde Brielmaier: It all comes down to audiences and the many different kinds of people from NYC and beyond who pass through this space. The ideas are up to the artists – they are the creators - and the hope is that the people who move through the Oculus will pause to take in the unexpected – to appreciate the range of art that we present on our screens and within the Oculus itself.

You just inaugurated the Accelerator Talk Series at the Tang Teaching Museum, where you were recently appointed Curator-at-Large, can you tell me more about this panel series?

The Accelerator Series is the Tang Museum’s dynamic conversation series on big ideas and big issues and it seeks to move the dial forward by finding new entry points into discussions that veer from traditional paths. As an open and inclusive public forum for dialogue, exchange and questioning, the aim is to present new perspectives and to disrupt the status quo by encouraging a “getting comfortable with discomfort” attitude in order to think and work through it to drive change. Our first program explored ‘Whiteness” and the idea of “default culture.” Our upcoming program will look at the ideas of migration, immigration and the idea of “walls”… and we always examine these questions in relationship to art and the visual realm.

Photo: Mangue Banzima

Photo: Mangue Banzima

"The social side of the art world for me is about supporting folks in this creative community—artists, organizations, institutions, etc—who work hard and have important things to say through their work."

Perusing through your Instagram account , there is also a very social side to your career. How do you balance the social demands of the art world?

The social side of the art world for me is about supporting folks in this creative community—artists, organizations, institutions, etc—who work hard and have important things to say through their work. And yes it is a balance…it requires prioritizing; sometimes just showing up to deliver a congrats or quietly move through a crowd to see the artwork on display. But I always remain mindful of the balance – the attentiveness given to both the professional but also very much to the personal.

What are some great exhibitions (particularly by women artists) you’ve seen so far and what are you excited about for 2017?

I loved the Alice Neel exhibition curated by Hitlon Als at David Zwirner as well as Wangechi Mutu’s show at Gladstone. So powerful and necessary in these times. I thought Agnes Martin at the Guggenheim was sublime. Pipilotti Rist’s exhibition at the New Museum was a much needed respite from the craze we are currently experiencing in this world. Teresita Fernandez’s show currently up at Lehmann Maupin on the LES is a quiet force. And Sadie Barnett’s exhibition, inspired by the life of her father, at Baxter Street was really potent.

Photo: Mangue Banzima

Photo: Mangue Banzima

"I like the phrase “fierce lady”, and I would say so many of us women occupy and own this moniker, this space."

In your own words, why are you a Nasty Woman?

I like the phrase “fierce lady” (I like the tension between the two words) and I would say so many of us women occupy and own this moniker, this space. We do what we do because of, in spite of, for the love of… All because we have to, we must, because we are the change in this world. It is well-known – and well-documented – that when women do well, communities thrive… That is our past, present and our future. 

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