How an Art Curator Survives Basel

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Jenée-Daria Strand

Art Basel season in Miami Beach is underway, and if the celebrity-studded parties of yore and the infamous six-figure banana duct-taped to the wall were any indication, we’re in for a season of chaos, beaches, and a (modest) smattering of art. For those of you earnestly in it for the latter, the New Art Dealers Alliance, or NADA, is partnering with TD Bank to reprise “Curated Spotlight,” a fan-favorite selection of works from exhibiting galleries across the country. This year’s spotlight was curated by Jenée-Daria Strand, assistant curator at the Public Art Fund, who follows in the footsteps of Ebony Haynes and Kendra Jayne Patrick in the role. Strand has singled out works from the likes of Colombian-born visual artist and photographer Camila Falquez and Chicago-based Iranian mixed-media artist Azadeh Gholizadeh. We caught up with Strand a few days before she flew down to Florida. “This was my first foray into having any sort of platform to showcase artists,” she said. “It’s incredibly special.”

Strand currently lives in Queens, and you can catch a glimpse of her day-to-day in the New York art world via her day-in-the-life vlogs, in which she openly channels series-finale Insecure energy and captures the fine balance between the glamour of galleries and the humdrum administrative duties that go into running them. How does a New York curator gear up for the Miami mayhem? “I’m a Virgo, so I always have a list,” she says. Also on deck: plans for massages and prayers for a beach with no one else on it.

Tell me a little bit about curating this selection for NADA Miami. What kind of work did you look for, and what was your process? 
This will be my first Art Basel experience and my first time curating for the fair. It’s a really great introduction to all of those stories I hear about Basel — the energy, the nonstop experience of art, the camaraderie over the course of a week. I was really interested in artists whose practices embody a holistic realm, either a multiplicity of mediums or stories.

What’s your No. 1 rule for making a day-in-the-life vlog? What kinds of days are worth picking up the camera for? 
I think my days filled with art are the days worth vlogging. A lot of curatorial work is administrative, and I think people don’t realize that. So I try to show the sides of what people assume the work to be, coupled with a few shots of me sitting at my desk and writing and working until late at night when I was combining grad school and working full time at the museum. I try to show a balance of the fun side but also the work that needs to be done before you indulge in it.

What’s your top rule for good gallery etiquette? 
Assume that no one knows you. Folks can tend to walk into the room and have an air of either being incredibly well known or assuming their work speaks beyond their presence — which, of course, we all hope for that. But there’s a special kind of connection I feel when I walk into a gallery and meet folks who are incredibly humble and gracious, just kind individuals. The assumption that no one knows my work allows me to walk into the room and really put myself ahead of what I do, which I think is important.

It’s freezing here in New York, but soon you’ll be warm in Miami Beach. What’s your biggest rule for packing?  
I’m a Virgo, so I always have a list. I have a list of every single outfit I’m going to wear; I have a list of every single accessory and all the shoes and everything that will be paired with my clothes. Having a game plan and itinerary is the best way to approach Miami.

I have a theory that all curators are inherently chic, and perusing your Instagram confirms it. What’s your No. 1 fashion rule? 
Run toward what feels right for you and not necessarily which brand is currently trending. There’s a tendency to look toward luxury, but there are a lot of incredible small brands and small up-and-coming artists who are doing amazing work but may not necessarily have the presence of a label.

Any particular outfit on that Virgo list that you’re excited about? 
I’m actually wearing a few pieces from the Los Angeles–based brand Rabôt, which reached out to me offering some pieces for Miami. The clothes are just elevated and effortless: a lot of prints, a few fringe pieces, a great balance of structural material that also has ease and flow. Even though I’m from New York, I can’t be one of the people wearing all black. I have to incorporate color, even in the winter. Especially on Madison Avenue and 59th Street, which is where our offices are. All I see are finance bros in khakis 24/7. I’m going to be that girl in bright red and leopard.

Let’s get into those Basel parties. What’s your No. 1 rule for engaging with people at parties? I’m a Taurus, so I don’t engage at all.
I feel that so deeply. I would say, ask unexpected questions. Everyone’s always asking, “What do you do? What’s your connection to the art world?” I’m more interested in “What has excited you lately? What have you seen to inspire a new revelation in your work that has driven a new thought line for you?” Questions that get into the essence of who a person is, not what they do.

What’s your top rule for meeting famous art-world people?
My rule for myself lately has been to get out of my shell. There are so many people I meet, and because I revere them or respect them so deeply, I tend to stay meek within the interaction. But lately, I’ve been trying to just ask the question I want to ask, to really treat them as a human. Oftentimes, we can get starstruck and forget they’re humans just like us. So my rule is to treat them like we’re friends already, and conversation can come after.

Any Miami restaurants you’re excited about? Any rules for ordering food?
I’m putting together my restaurant list right now. I put out a call on Instagram for suggestions and have to go through that and schedule my reservations. Just Virgo stuff. In terms of ordering, I play it safe and go for what I know. I tend to pick a meal adjacent to something I’ve tried before or in the wheelhouse of my taste buds. It depends on the cuisine, but because of Miami’s warm weather, I’d say I love oysters, I love pasta. My family’s Caribbean, so I eat that a lot. My default would be either a good burger or a steak. And French fries. You can never go wrong with fries.

Fries and oysters. 
Ideal meal.

What’s the last app you downloaded? 
Superhuman. It’s an app for meditation to get your day started. I like to have some voice outside of my own that’s speaking well over me before I start my day. I used to spend my mornings listening to Oprah’s motivation or graduation speeches on YouTube. They’re so good. I actually noticed a difference when I started my day with Oprah.

You went to school in Florida. What are some of your favorite quintessential Miami experiences? 
An overcrowded beach during spring break in undergrad — but I’m hoping this experience is nothing like that. I’m hoping for absolute serenity and calm. My hotel has a private beach, so I know at least there will be a lot less people than there are on South Beach. I’m hoping for a massage amid the craze of all the art obligations.

What’s your No. 1 rule for walking on the street in New York City versus Miami? 
For New York, I feel, like, a Fran Lebowitz level of fury about this: There used to be a code of conduct on a New York street, where you walk on the right side always, no matter what direction you’re going, and you’re looking where you’re going. Nowadays, everyone’s on their phone, people have adopted this kind of European model of walking on the left side, and I don’t understand. I think my advice for Miami is the same: a really good outfit and plowing through the crowd are the best way.

How an Art Curator Survives Basel