Joeonna Belloardo-Samuels is very busy these days. In addition to her role as director at Jack Shainman Gallery, the art dealer was recently tapped to curate NADA Miami’s Curated Spotlight, a special section dedicated to eight solo presentations by up-and-coming galleries.
Belloardo-Samuels has gained a considerable reputation for both her work at Jack Shainmain, where she has shepherded the careers of artists like Hank Willis Thomas, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Nina Chanel Abney since 2008. In 2017, the dealer launched We Buy Gold, a project space in Brooklyn presenting exhibitions, commissioned projects, and public events. She was also a founding director of For Freedoms, an artist-run Super PAC that recently launched a news network at the Brooklyn Museum and aims to use art “to inspire deeper political engagement.”
The Curated Spotlight was introduced at last year’s Miami fair, when it was curated by Ebony L. Haynes, NADA’s board co-president and the director of 52 Walker, a buzzy new gallery operated under David Zwirner since late 2021.
ARTnews caught up with Belloardo-Samuels as she hustled from a taxi in lower Manhattan to Chelsea to discuss her approach to NADA’s Curated Spotlight, rejecting the idea of curation, and the critical role new gallerists play in protecting young artists.
This interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
ARTnews: How did you decide to take on the Curated Spotlight?
Joeonna Belloardo-Samuels: Ebony and [NADA executive director] Heather Hubbs asked me if I’d be interested in doing Spotlight. I was a bit hesitant because of how crazy this season is. But I don’t say no to things. I’m super glad that I did it. I thought it would be a really exciting way to discover artists.
As much as I would like to think that I see a lot, I don’t think any of us have the time or capacity to see as much as we want to. So, for me, it was really great to be able to look at this huge group of galleries. Some of the galleries—a lot of them—I’m familiar with, but not super closely. And then there are artists that I’ve either heard of or never heard of, or wanted to know more about, and it was super fun to get to spend time with their work in that way. I’m really excited about getting to know the group that I selected even further when they finally show up and put the works on the walls. You never know exactly what’s going to show up. That’s the nature of the art fair … It’s really up to them.
Did the position spur you to expand your relationships with the artists that you were looking at?
Absolutely. It’s super important for all of us, as viewers, to have exercises of going outside our normal methods of discovery. Otherwise, I think that, in art and in life, we can get trapped in little circles. It’s nice to have an opportunity to be forced to look elsewhere.
Would you say you took a different approach to your Spotlight from your role at Jake Shainman?
It’s a totally different thing. Being at a gallery with a roster like Jack Shainman, we’re always looking and never looking. We don’t take on new artists often. You’re really neck deep in working with a roster over a long period of time. It felt totally different to be out there looking at a lot of artists at the same time.
Did you have an overriding theme or premise you wanted to explore as you were seeking out artists?
I certainly get the question about an organizing principle a lot. But I wanted to reject that idea. Maybe that’s also a rejection of the idea of curating, and that it’s really more organizing … There are underlying factors in the way that my eyes work, but I’m not necessarily trying to suppose any ideas on what this group would look like.
The Curated Spotlight is more about artists that I was excited to look at. I hope that they are in conversation, and I do expect them to be in conversation with each other—maybe not all the same conversation—but I do think there are a lot of connecting points throughout. I’m excited to see how that happens naturally, and I’m less interested in what ultimately would kind of feel like a forced statement. This might be a cop-out.
At Jack Shainman, we have a Kerry James Marshall show up right now. [When we were arranging the show] he requested that we not have a press release. And it has been a really wonderful experience of walking through the show with people and [to see] the way that people are forced to look at the work in new ways. We are so trained to consume these talking points—language can be helpful, for sure—but I’m really into this rejection.
Whenever you go to a museum or a gallery, you go through the process of reading the text and then looking. But that changes your perception immediately of what you’re looking at. A lot of times, I try to not read anything until after I’ve looked at everything a least once. I want to see what my immediate impressions are.
Absolutely. But don’t you think, as a writer or an art person, you are more practiced and used to engaging with the work and looking in that way? The average viewer, especially if they’re not incredibly comfortable in a gallery or not a super-seasoned art viewer, might feel like they need a bit of hand-holding. I also love reading about art. Don’t get me wrong, we have a need for criticism now more than ever. But I agree that it’s nice to look and just find out what you like, and then do an investigation as to why. People who are really familiar with the work can help you with that understanding. But it’s nice to have a hold on it on your own.
You mentioned that there were some connecting points that you saw between the artists that you picked. Could you draw out some that stood out to you?
No way! Not after this conversation we just had. [Laughs] You set yourself up for that.
Could you talk about some of the artists or galleries that you’re excited about?
I am cautious about identifying [specific artists] out of the group. Obviously, I have an affinity for all of them. Pablo [Gómez Uribe] is someone that I don’t know well, but who I met almost a decade ago. I was really attracted to the work, and it was so interesting to find myself looking at the work again, not connecting the name, and feeling that same feeling that I had a decade ago. A week later, I connected in my own head who Pablo was. Those kinds of rediscovery are really exciting.
I’m really interested in what Amy Bravo is going to bring with Swivel Gallery. I have had a close affinity with Swivel because I started We Buy Gold on Nostrand Avenue [in Brooklyn] so many years ago [Swivel is also located on Nostrand]. It was my home for a long time. It’s exciting to see other galleries working in that space and doing such a great job.
Did you find NADA particularly helpful to you as you were a new dealer getting started and building your reputation?
I’m going into my 15th year at Jack Shainman, and because the gallery has been around for so many years, I occupied a strange space [early in my career] in that I was a young dealer, but my shop wasn’t a young place. But I look on with envy of the energy of people who go out and do their own thing. It’s super important for the art world to be as supportive of that as possible. We have to support the ecosystem that we all ride off.
What role can NADA and the Curated Spotlight play within the wider context of Miami and Art Basel?
It’s important to have art fairs outside of the big main one. In terms of cost and access, it’s prohibitive for so many people. I also think collectors and curators are interested in looking beyond the circle that they’re familiar with. They are excited to go to NADA to find out not just who’s just coming up next, but more about what’s in the zeitgeist and what’s percolating.
The most important thing to me about Spotlight, and the reason I did it, is that it gives opportunities to super small galleries that are starting out. To be able to give [those galleries] a little bit more shine and more eyes on them, it’s a really exciting opportunity. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from my best collectors, curator colleagues, and friends who are excited to see who’s in it.
When you are looking around the art world right now, what do you find most exciting or interesting?
The art world is always exciting and always daunting at the same time. What am I excited about? As much as we’re talking about how important it is to support young artists, and I really think that that is important, sometimes it can be fetishized. I’m excited about the legends who’ve been working for decades, coming out of a quieter time, and re-engaging with their work with serious rigor. I feel like I’m seeing that.
From your perspective, how do we move past that fetishization of new artists?
That’s why it’s important to support young dealers. The role of the gallery is so important. We spend so much time talking about the art world in terms of the auctions and the market. But the galleries, and the relationship that artists have with the galleries, and the responsibilities that galleries have to their artists is super important. If galleries don’t have the resources and support to keep going, it leaves artists in an even more vulnerable position. I hope that supporting these dealers is a way of helping that.
We need artists to have places like homes to be in for periods of time so that they can grow with the galleries and the galleries can also grow with the artist. We don’t want it to be a matter of one cannibalizing the next over and over.