I first met Taliesin Thomas at one of my side projects, ARTS BAR, a pop up cocktail bar at the Arts Center in Troy. She was rolling with Ali Herrmann, a Troy based mixed media artist that night. TT is larger than life and unforgettable. Since that fateful meet we have spent many late nights discussing esoteric philosophies of arts and culture, and the value proposition of Upstate NY. You may recognize her as an occasional guest writer here at ACE! When she recently scored a gig with Hyperallergic to cover the Hudson Valley art scene, I knew it was time to give her a formal introduction.
Please state your name, title, what you do for a living in the creative world.
My name is Taliesin Thomas and my current professional roles are both local-focused and global-centric. Since 2007, I am the Founding Director of AW Asia and the Collections Manager for Art Issue Editions—two private art collections based in New York. The AW Asia collection is comprised of contemporary Chinese art and photography, including rare artworks by many of China’s leading figures such as Ai Weiwei, Zhang Xiaogang, and Zeng Fanzhi (among others). The Art Issue Editions collection is composed of primarily Western contemporary artists, including Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, KAWS, and Daniel Arsham among other celebrated figures. We work behind the scenes to loan the artworks in these collections to major museums worldwide in addition to doing special curatorial projects, collaborations, and publications with Princeton University Press and other prominent publishers. One of our most important recent projects, for example, is a partnership with the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC to present a comprehensive retrospective of contemporary Chinese photography that is also a promised gift. Since moving upstate, I have become immersed in the dynamic creative scene in the region, and I now oversee Artist Initiatives at The Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy in addition to teaching and regular arts writing.
How did you end up moving into this career? Were you always interested in art?
I have been involved in the pursuit of art since the earliest time of my life. During my nearly 30-year career I have worked in various professional capacities including the artist studio, museum, commercial gallery, artist residency, and art foundation setting. I studied advanced art in high school and that inspired me to do my undergraduate degree in fine arts at Bennington College. Over time, my practice and inclinations shifted, and I became more interested in the theoretical and philosophical dimensions of art. The vast literature on aesthetics is a great source of stimulation, and I call myself an artist-maker turned artist-philosopher. This path propelled me to do my graduate work at Columbia University which led to a Ph.D. in Art Theory and Philosophy with the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts.
What’s a typical day look like for you work wise?
I often refer to my work life as a ‘grab-bag’ experience—every day brings something exciting across my desk! On any given day I interface with a range of colleagues in various sectors of the international art industry, including ongoing dialogues with artists, curators, museums, galleries, organizations, auction houses, art storage facilities, and shipping companies as well as special areas of research and writing as it relates to our projects. From my desk in Troy, I oversee the movement of artworks from our collection to get them around the globe to be enjoyed by others while simultaneously engaging with the local and regional arts scene in the most meaningful ways—I feel constant gratitude for this professional connectivity.
What caused you to decide to move to the Capital Region, it seems like you were in a pretty amazing scene down in the city…
I appreciate this question—the existential intensity of the pandemic revealed an irreversible perspective on the ‘quality of life’ concept, and that propelled me out of the urban hustle. I lived in Brooklyn for 19 years and built up my professional standing before relocating to the Hudson Valley. Working for a passionate globe-trotting art collector is a unique position, and that is how I was able to bring our independent office to Troy. I embrace the whole of New York—the city, Upstate, and the entire Empire region—as a magnificently inter-connected arts eco-system. I big-red-heart New York!
You mentioned that you started working more locally as well, specifically that Arts Center of the Capital Region. Can you tell us more about your program there?
The Arts Center in Troy is home to a robust arts program of year-round classes and exhibitions. As the Director of Artist Initiatives, I oversee two distinct programs: Artist Training and Critical Forum. The Artist Training program hosts the ‘Secret Sauce‘ series and we are organizing another terrific line-up of speakers for this coming fall. The ‘Critical Forum‘ program is an intensive professional development opportunity for emerging and mid-career artists. A maximum of twelve participants are chosen for this program through an open-call application process. The application cycle for this year’s Critical Forum cohort will be open from March 1 to April 1—heads-up artists: Apply! The cohort meets monthly over a six-month period at The Arts Center for group critiques that also include invited arts professionals from the region.
Finally, you recently picked up a great gig, tell us about Hyperallergic! Also, any other things up your sleeve we should know about?
Since moving to the Hudson Valley, I have been a regular arts reviewer for Chronogram. This has allowed me to network with many incredible colleagues and organizations and is my continued aim to promote artists and exhibitions in our region. My interview with artist Jeffrey Gibson (based in Hudson) for Chronogram was very meaningful as a few months ago it was announced that he will represent the United States at the 60th Venice Biennale this year. I was recently approached by Hyperallergic to establish a Hudson Valley arts preview column, and that has been an outstanding fit thus far! It is a continued joy to align the flourishing creative scene in upstate New York and to be an active contributor in the Troy arts community and beyond.