Frank Talks

Alia Williams – Director of Jeffrey Deitch’s New York Gallery

Alia Williams
Alia Williams

We are thrilled to bring you this week’s Frank Talk with Alia Williams! Alia is the Director of Jeffrey Deitch’s New York gallery. Williams has organized such exhibitions as Punch, curated by Nina Chanel Abney in New York in 2018 and Los Angeles in 2019, as well as People in Los Angeles in 2019. Williams has also organized special art fair presentations including JR: SO CLOSE at The Armory Show in 2018 and Austin Lee ❀✿✿✿❀ at The Armory Show in 2020. Earlier this year, Williams served as a juror for the New York Academy of Art 2020 Summer Exhibition. Prior to joining Jeffrey Deitch, Williams worked at Art Production Fund, Third Eye, and Arthena, an art investment fund. Born and raised in Chicago, Williams earned a BA in Art History from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a MA in Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York. Have a great holiday weekend, stay safe, wear a mask, and enjoy this Frank Talk with Alia!

What was your first job in the Arts? 

My first job was a summer art apprenticeship with After School Matters in Chicago. I was 15.

What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?

I wasn’t cut out to be an artist.

Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?

I always knew I wanted to work in the arts, so once I realized creating art wasn’t my strong suit I decided to find other ways to support the industry.

What do you do now? 

I’m currently the Director of Jeffrey Deitch Gallery—I work closely with artists to realize curatorial exhibitions and special projects, while running our NY gallery spaces.

Where are you from? 

Born and raised in Chicago, but have spent the last 5 years in NYC.

What is the arts community like there? 

Chicago art museums, like the Art Institute and MCA, have always been some of the best in the world, but I’ve been more focused Chicago’s gallery scene over the past 5-10 years. Some of my favorites include Mariane Ibrahim Gallery and Rhona Hoffman. 

Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?

Growing up, I had very limited access to the art market so I was forced to go out on my own and explore. Eventually this led me to NYC where I knew enough people to count on one hand. I am very proactive about finding missed opportunities and hustling, which is exactly what you need to be doing working on behalf of a visionary like Jeffrey.

What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?

Be prepared to do everything—from running to get coffee to selling high value work at a moment’s notice.

What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?

Bringing to life the visions of some of the world’s best young contemporary artists like Austin Lee and Nina Chanel Abney.

What has been a challenge for you?

With so much going on, it’s hard to keep up with the latest & greatest. It kills me, but it always feels like there is more great art out there than I have time to see.

What is something you do every day at the office (or your current home office)?

I don’t drink coffee, so I make myself multiple cups of tea during the day to keep my mojo.

What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?

Nothing comes to mind immediately but I’m sure there is something…

What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?

Offer clear expectations, have a willingness to listen, give (and receive) constructive feedback, be realistic but positive—pretty much the same for both.

What do you think makes a person hirable?

Be proactive and teachable.

What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace? Any good tips for a giving a great interview?

Being an expert in your role will put you near the top of the pack, but to truly stand out, combine your expertise with 1 or 2 other skills to create a talent grouping that is uniquely yours. 

Is there any advice you would like to give people entering the art world?

When starting out, don’t be afraid to take a position you feel is low on the ladder-  you are gaining access to a highly valuable set of skills and knowledge in the process.

What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?

Outside of Punch, curated by Nina Chanel Abney in our LA gallery, the Noah Davis show at David Zwirner absolutely blew my mind. It was so good that I went back for a 2nd viewing.

If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?

Alake Shilling, Austin Lee, Pat Phillips, Nina Chanel Abney, Janiva Ellis, and Cindy Ji Hye Kim—I had to add a 6th.

What artwork is in your home office?

I have works by Kyle Vu-Dunn, Signe Pierce, and Al Freeman in my living room-turned-office. I’m holding a spot on the wall for a recent work by Lucia Hierro that I’m excited to enjoy. The work is in a group exhibition at the Gracie Mansion about art and social justice, which is very timely given the current climate.

What is your greatest WFH challenge? Or a WFH luxury you don’t want to lose ever again?

I recently moved so there are lots of things to get done around the apartment that have been distracting me. A luxury is being in complete control of my time—I can make my own “schedule” and “routine” without having to run to the train or wait on an Uber. Every email is sent from the comfort of my couch.