The curator of Artnet Auctions’ Post-War Abstraction sale on how he keeps one foot in history and another in contemporary art

Dakota Sica has feet in two worlds.

As director of the Leslie Feely Gallery, he is an advocate of color field painting and abstract expressionism. Meanwhile, at his Brooklyn space, the Java Project, Sica works to boost the careers of young and emerging artists.

Working in both environments has allowed Sica to span the arc of art history. He observes firsthand how younger artists learn from the breakthroughs of their predecessors. “I can see these beautiful crossovers where younger artists look back into history and build on those foundations,” he said.

on the occasion”Post-war abstraction‘, a carefully curated selection of vibrant abstract paintings for sale on Artnet, we sat down with Sica, the exhibition’s guest curator, to learn more about his career, his collection and his inspiration for abstract painting and color field painting.

Installation view left to right of Kenneth Noland, Brice Marden, Friedel Dzubas (two paintings), Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Poons and another Helen Frankenthaler. Photo by Yael Eban.

Tell us more about your background. When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in art?

I’ve been interested in art my whole life and actually started out as a maker. I studied sculpture at the Pratt Institute and studied abroad at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam.

After graduating I worked with artists like David LaChapelle and Dustin Yellin before I started curating. I started organizing shows for friends and other artists. Eventually I opened a gallery in Brooklyn called Java Project. It started out as a non-commercial venue. Over time I started selling work from the space and some of the artists we had exhibited had great success. That’s when I realized I could sell art on a larger scale. And that’s when I accepted a role at the Leslie Feely Gallery, where I’m currently the director.

Dakota Sica at home with paintings by Larry Poons and Robert Motherwell and sculptures by Michael Dickey and Lynn Chadwick. Photo by Yael Eban.

What inspired you to start the Java project? What were you looking for in the artists you exhibited there?

Space is hard to come by in New York City. There aren’t many places in New York that can create opportunities for young, aspiring artists by offering them a platform for solo exhibitions with no financial goal. The Java project grew out of my desire to give my friends and their friends a space to do whatever they wanted.

This was made possible through the generosity of Ori Geva, graduate of Pratt, owner of Java Studios and son of Israel’s prominent artist Tsibi Geva. This support has allowed me to create a space for artists to bring their work together in one place.

Once these artists were able, they could bring curators and gallerists into the exhibition to see their work as a whole, eventually leading to their inclusion in group shows and for some by larger galleries. I wanted to give these artists a launch pad to be recognized.

Continue to your time at the Leslie Feely Gallery. How long have you been Director and what initiatives from your tenure are you particularly proud of?

I’ve been working with Leslie Feely for eight years and we have a very strong focus on color field painting. Leslie worked with many color field painters throughout her life, such as Jules Olitski, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland and Friedel Dzubas. Basically, I’m continuing that tradition by educating collectors about their work today. Finding incredible quality objects in the genre of color field painting has been my focus and passion.

It’s like two different worlds. I have the Java project in Brooklyn with young, upcoming artists. Meanwhile, Leslie Feely is a gallery on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side that showcases established names in color field painting.

Installation view by Frank Stella. Photo by Yael Eban.

The genre of color field painting is often overlooked by younger collectors. As a collector and gallery director, what drew you to this period?

In my early art history courses we got to know all these artists and eras. I remember reading Pratt Greenberg and studying color theory at the same time. We take for granted those principles that seem simple to us today – for example, Josef Albers’ homage to the square was a breakthrough in painting and changed the way we think and experience color.

In a way, I’ve always wanted to collect these principles of art history. I collect post-war art with an emphasis on color field and abstract expressionist paintings and in connection with this I wanted to collect artists of my generation. It is rewarding to live with both the groundbreaking work of post-war artists and the work of the younger generation that carries the torch.

Painting on paper by Helen Frankenthaler and Josef Albers. Photo by Yael Eban.

What’s the first piece you ever collected? How has your collection developed since then?

The first piece I ever bought was a Josef Albers print at auction. I remember this being a very big buy for me at the time, I was shaking on the phone bidding on this piece. There are some dealers who only sell art and they don’t own any art or keep anything for their collection. That was the moment when I decided to get more involved and live with these objects.

First, I built up a print collection of editions. Over the years I sold my prints and started buying unique works on paper. Now I’m in the process of selling the works on paper to buy canvases. Collecting editions is a great way to start a collection of bigger names. To come full circle, I am now a board member of the International Fine Print Dealers Association, a wonderful organization of print dealers.

Two paintings on canvas by Helen Frankenthaler. Photo by Yael Eban.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about collecting?

That sounds a bit far-fetched, but I think when you see a really great work of art, you feel it in your stomach. It’s almost like a punch or butterflies. And that’s often the case when I’m buying: when I have a really instinctive reaction to an artwork. Learning to trust this instinct is crucial.

You also have to see as much art as possible. Walk through the galleries and shows to understand what appeals to you. One thing I always keep in mind when collecting is that you can never overpay for a great piece of art and you can never underpay for a bad piece of art. Make sure what you buy is of the highest quality because that always seems to catch on. My good friend and fellow art dealer Susan Dishell told me that. I appreciate their insight and friendship.

Dakota Sica with painting by Max Wade courtesy of Sid Motion Gallery and David Zwirner’s Platform. Photo by Yael Eban.

What excites you most about curating”post-war abstraction” at Artnet auctions?

I am very excited about this sale because it allows me to bring together a group of artworks that can live together. It is a time capsule of an era – an overview of the painting of the Color Field and Ab-Ex movements. These are works that are important to me, by artists that I collect.

This is a very carefully crafted and curated sale, a distilled group of artworks. There are a few surprising new names that some more seasoned collectors may not be aware of, and also affordable prices for new collectors to explore works by notable artists.

Post-war abstractioncurated by Dakota Sica, is live at Artnet Auctions now through February 10th.

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