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The Art World Works From Home: Venice Biennale Artistic Director Cecilia Alemani Is Spending Her Days Doing Skype Studio Visit Marathons

The art world may be on lockdown, but it certainly does not stop. During this unprecedented time, we're checking in with art-world professionals, collectors, and artists to get a glimpse into how they are working from home.

We recently caught up with curator Cecilia Alemani, the newly announced artistic director of the 59th edition of the Venice Biennale and the director and chief curator of High Line Art. It's fair to say she is probably one of the busiest people in the art world—but like many of us, she's adjusting to a new, slower pace of life right now.

Read on to hear how she's doing research for the 2021 Venice Biennale on Skype and trying to limit her screen time at the same time.

Where is your new "office"? 

In the bedroom of a house in Connecticut.

Cecilia Alemani's home office. Image courtesy Cecilia Alemani.

Cecilia Alemani's home office. Image courtesy Cecilia Alemani.

What are you working on right now (and were any projects interrupted by the lockdown)?

I am working in the High Line as we figure out the new season, and I am working on the Venice Biennale—so reading a lot, and doing virtual studio visits.

How has your work changed now that you are doing it from home?

Well, for the High Line, it meant that we had to interrupt the physical installation, as the park is closed to the public. We are also working on the next round of proposals for the High Line Plinth, which is something we can do remotely.

For Venice, the main difference is that I cannot travel for a few months, so I had to readjust to the reality of doing dozens of studio visits via Skype every week.

Simone Leigh, Brick House at the "spur," the last section of the original structure of the High Line to be converted into public space in New York. Photo courtesy of the High Line.

Simone Leigh, Brick House, one of the recent High Line Art installations. Photo courtesy of the High Line.

What are you reading, both online and off?

The Life of Plants, A Metaphysics of Mixture by Emanuele Coccia.

Have you visited any good virtual exhibitions recently?

Not really, to be honest. I appreciate all the virtual programming that museums and galleries offer, but it also means more time in front of my screen…

Have you taken up any new hobbies?

Cooking, playing with mud with my son, and rowing on rowing machine I found in the basement.

What is the first place you want to travel to once this is over?

Venice 😉

If you are feeling stuck while self-isolating, what's your best method for getting un-stuck?

I talk to my family and friends.

What was the last TV show, movie, or YouTube video you watched?

Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 10, Totoro, and then this video.

Katharina Fritsch, Madonnenfigur | Madonna Figure, 1987 Photo: Ivo Faber © Katharina Fritsch / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of the Moderna Museet.

If you could have one famous work of art with you, what would it be?

Katharina Fritsch, Madonna (1987).

What are you most looking forward to doing once social distancing has been lifted?  

Go to a restaurant with my friends, watch a movie on the big screen, and drink a margarita!

Favorite recipe to cook at home? 

Mina Stone's chickpea stew:

  • 1 16-ounce bag of dried chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 handfuls of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus more for serving
  • 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Greek yogurt, for serving
  • Soak the dried chickpeas overnight in plenty of water, at least 6 hours.

    When you are ready to make the stew, drain the chickpeas in a colander and rinse them well. Leaving them in the colander, dust the chickpeas with the baking soda (which serves as a tenderizer) and then toss them to incorporate the baking soda, using your hands. Let the chickpeas sit for 30 minutes and then rinse them very well, 3 or 4 times, in order to remove all the baking soda.

    Place the chickpeas in large, heavy pot filled with enough water to barely cover them. Bring the chickpeas to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes. The chickpeas will start to give off a white froth. Skim this 2 or 3 times, and then don't worry about it.

    Mina Stone's "Spicy Chickpea Stew. Courtesy of Cooking for Artists.

    Cover and simmer until the chickpeas are very tender but not falling apart, about 30 to 40 more minutes. Meanwhile, generously drizzle some olive oil into a medium sauté pan. Add the onions, garlic, and jalapeño or serrano pepper to the pan. Sauté over medium-high heat until everything is just starting to soften, about a minute or two. Add a generous pinch of salt and then add the bay leaves, cumin seeds, coriander, hot red pepper flakes, and chopped parsley. Sauté the onion mixture until it is soft and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and stir, cooking sauce for another 5 minutes.

    When the chickpeas are done, remove enough of the cooking water so that the top layer of chickpeas is dry (think 2 inches of water below the chickpeas). Add the onion/tomato mixture to the chickpeas and give a good stir. There should be just enough liquid to barely cover the top of the chickpeas; add more water if necessary. Simmer for about 30 minutes so that all the ingredients meld together. Let the stew cool for a few minutes and then add cup olive oil, stirring to combine. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed. Serve with a spoonful of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of parsley in every bowl.

    Adapted from Mina Stone: Cooking for Artists.

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