INSIGHTS | Conversation with Nina Levent (Sapar Contemporary)

This year, in the DISCOVERY section at Art Brussels 2020, discoveries from emerging artists will be presented in a new format. Galleries will either present a single artist or an interesting dialogue between two artists. Sapar Contemporary from New York will present a project by Phoebe Boswell, created for Geneva’s new railway station. As part Art Brussels Insights, we spoke with Nina Levent, director of Sapar Contemporary, about the gallery and the upcoming presentation in DISCOVERY at Art Brussels 2020.

Conversation with Nina Levent (director, Sapar Contemporary)
And Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte.

Can you introduce us to Sapar Contemporary?
Sapar Contemporary works with international artists who span three generations and five continents. They engage in global conversations and develop vocabularies that resonate as strongly in Baku, Almaty and Istanbul as they do in New York, Berlin, Paris and Mexico City. Their artistic practices vary from meditative traditional ink painting to writing programming code. What connects them are the artists’ capacity for empathy, insight, and imagination, their whimsy and generosity of spirit, as well as the rigour and depth of their studio practice. We bring together visual artists and creative minds of other disciplines: scientists, engineers, architects, performers, musicians and perfumers. Sapar Contemporary also commissions works that are site-specific but infused with the sensibilities, materialities and traditions of the artists’ backgrounds. 

Can you tell us more about the Sapar Contemporary Incubator?
Sapar Contemporary has launched a Neo Nomad Incubator focused on the emerging art scene and cultural traditions of Central Asia. The program is headquartered in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The first edition of the Neo Nomad Incubator evolved around the notion of traditional and digital nomadism and aesthetics connected to nomadic experiences. The project explored the relationships between traditional nomadic cultures of Central Asia and the Middle East, and realities of migration, globalization and hyper-mobility. Current Incubator efforts are focused on unique art trends emerging in Central Asia, South-east Russia and Mongolia.  

What does being part of Art Brussels 2020 for the first time mean for Sapar Contemporary?
We are very excited. This is our only European fair in 2020. We have long been thinking about Brussels, because we have a very global and intergenerational focus that I think will speak to the Brussels collectors.

What will you be presenting in DISCOVERY at Art Brussels 2020?
We are presenting Subway at Art Brussels, a project by Phoebe Boswell (Kenya/UK) created for Geneva’s new railway station. It consists of the original working drawings through which Phoebe created Platform for the station that will be unveiled in the spring of 2020, just before Art Brussels.

How would Phoebe Boswell describe the project herself?
Phoebe told us the following: “We are living in dark times. Both politically and socially. We all suffer. We sit on our smart phones and have forgotten how to see people. I see the simplicity of exploring and celebrating the human gestures of people who may never meet, who may indeed fear each other or what ‘the other’ represents, as a generous yet radical proposition. The railway is a symbol of movement, of migration, of connecting place and people. The railway too, historically, has been a symbol of boundary, of border, of polarity. European railways all across Africa delineate their ‘property’, splicing communities and causing irreversible damage. As the world becomes increasingly hostile, polarized, violent against difference, I find myself returning again and again to Glissant’s Poetics of Relation. Borders need to be porous; difference must be acknowledged and celebrated, and we all need to be able and willing to see each other as we are. My video works will consist of montages of animated drawn portraits of people from various parts of the world, staring into the camera in whichever way they choose, as if gazing at an unknown person. As these montages play out, different narratives will be formed. There will inevitably be moments that feel like solidarity and moments that feel like tension, like conflict. The serendipitous nature of this simple looping technology to permit various conversations will allow the public to begin to think how they themselves interact with others, which interactions make them uncomfortable and which fill them with joy.”

What is Phoebe Boswell’s background?
Phoebe was born in Nairobi and brought up as an expatriate in the Middle East. She studied painting at the Slade School of Art and 2D Animation at Central St Martins, London. She currently lives and works in London and in her work, she combines traditional draftswomanship and digital technology to create drawings, animations and installations. She was nominated and shortlisted for the Art Foundation’s Animation Fellowship 2012 and was the first recipient of the Sky Academy Arts Scholarship. She participated in the Gothenburg International Biennial of Contemporary Art 2015 and the Biennial of Moving Images 2016 at the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva.

Can you describe the current art scene in downtown Tribeca?
We are taking in a lot of refugees from Chelsea and other more commercialized areas of Manhattan. The scene in Tribeca is vibrant and small enough to attract a discerning collector who does not want to have a supermarket art experience but prefers to make her own discovery. Do come to visit!

How do you look at Brussels from New York?
We look at Brussels as one of the most important art cities in Europe with very discerning collectors. One of the artists we represent, Gabriela Albergaria has just moved to Brussels. 

Are there favourite local places in New York that you would recommend for art lovers?
Well, Let’s see. Personally, I love off-the-beaten path places, so for those who have been to the Met, MoMA and Chelsea, I would advise the Morgan Library Museum, Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, and the Hispanic Society (perhaps my favourite jewel of the city). I would always recommend a stroll in Tribeca though the galleries, then heading to the Drawing Center and further to the Rubin Museum. 

Do you have any advice for young, aspiring art collectors?
Well, if you are considering collecting or have bought a few pieces, here are the things I would keep in mind: 1. LOOK at art, really look, ponder, register your gut reactions. Think about what type of art, medium, period, style, attracts you. Narrow your focus gradually; 2. LISTEN to conversations about art, NOT the sales pitches, but ask questions, be curious, listen to artists, and gallerists. I always know if someone is a passionate or savvy collector by the questions they ask. Listen to advisors by all means, understand the value of the piece, and then make up your own mind; 3. TRUST your intuition, trust your inner response. You do not need to be in love with every blue-chip work or the current hottest painter. Trust your eyes more than the recent list of “top ten artists everyone” should know. Make your own lists of artists. Humans were art animals long before there was ever an art market.

1-5. Installation views at Sapar Contemporary, New York, NY
6. Nina Levent

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