Denise Rodríguez Dao is a woman on a mission. Born in Caracas, she studied law before turning her sights on the art world. Having studied at Christie’s in New York, she has recently launched Denise Dao Art, a platform which promotes contemporary art. She wrote her MA thesis on Sofía Ímber and Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, two female power players in Venezuela and has recently moved in Mexico with the aim of promoting artists from Latin America. We spoke to Denise all about her journey, the art scene in Venezuela and her hopes for the future.
When did you first know that you wanted a career in the art world?
Growing up I was always interested in Art. I grew up surrounded by art as my grandfather was a Naïve Art collector. I am passionate about history, music and literature as well and so I tend to call myself an ‘incurable humanist’. When I was a teenager, I began to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter but then went to Law School (Universidad Católica Andrés Bello) since my father is a lawyer and I have great admiration for his work; it seemed like the right road to take. Nevertheless, even though I enjoyed studying Law and believe it gave me great structure, knowledge, skills and valuable life lessons, I saw myself pursuing a more creative career path. That was when in 2017 I started taking two art certificate courses while still studying Law. At the same time I started to intern at the Caracas Contemporary Art Museum in the registry department. Later on, I also collaborated with GBG Arts (gallery in Caracas) doing some freelance writing and interviews.
Can you tell us about Denise Dao Art?
Denise Dao Art was born in 2018. I realized there are endless fashion blogs and so many people promoting fashion brands. And although there are some art bloggers there weren’t any in Venezuela so I started my own blog to promote emerging artists. There I would write reviews on different art venues and exhibits as well as interviews.
Little by little the project expanded and during lockdown I started two video series: #5ArtFunFacts and #5ArtQuestions.
#5ArtFunFacts consists of “5 fun facts” about different art topics ranging from how the art market started to develop in 19th century France, what were artists doing in quarantine, museum mile in Manhattan, New York, to top auction records.
#5ArtQuestions- Is an interview show with different guests from the art world including but not limited to: Lydia Fenet (Christie’s); Caterina Licitra Ponti (Artist); Sarah Hoover (Gagosian) and Gretchen Andrew (art engine artist and internet imperialist).
Through my Instagram, @DeniseDaoArt I also post art exhibits, gallery visits, artist studio visits and more.
What is the art scene like in Venezuela?
The art scene in Venezuela is highly complex. I wrote my MA thesis on a part of it about the gilded age of the Venezuelan art world (1970s-1990s) before Chávez got elected as president and later tackle the complexities and hardships the country faces today with the ongoing criminal regime; through the lens of two collections (Sofía Ímber with the Contemporary Art museum and Patricia Phelps de Cisneros with the Cisneros Collection).
Venezuela has suffered so much in the last two decades and the art world is no exception. It has been 20 years since January 28th, 2001; Chavez fired Sofía Ímber from the Museum that not only had her name but also had been founded and directed by her on live national television. This museum once was one of the top five museums of the hemisphere and has one of the most unique art collections in the world.
Thirty other directors from public cultural institutions were also fired due to a so-called ‘cultural revolution’. Chávez believed that culture was becoming an ‘elite’ and now it was his duty to make it ‘the people’s’ again. A new foundation joined all the collections into one. Museums lost the freedom to ask for private loans or manage their own budget and since 1999 all new acquisitions were forbidden. Nevertheless, in spite of the government’s carelessness and the directors who are accomplices in their crime, the majority of the museum’s employees are hardworking individuals who have been there since Sofía Ímber.
As the situation worsens, on November 12, 2020, the museum of Contemporary Art made breaking news in Venezuela when it was announced that two artworks had been stolen during the pandemic.
You’re also a lawyer, how does that feed into your forays into the art world?
As a lawyer I am critical of the legal system and of how things work. Furthermore, I believe art and law are definitely connected starting from a basic contract to more complex things such as statutory laws or restitutions. During the fall I had the opportunity to intern at Stropheus Art Law Firm in New York and it was a highly enriching experience.
You’re currently studying an MA in the Art Market at Christie’s, how are you finding it?
I already graduated from an MA in the Art Market at Christie’s Education New York in December 2020. It was an amazing experience and I feel so lucky to have been able to do my MA there since I was the last class to graduate because Christie’s Education closed its Masters programs and now it only offers short courses. I learnt so much from my classes and professors and made lifelong friends who are starting exciting and successful careers in the art world.
Which Venezuelan artists should we have on our radar?
There are plenty! Many of them have had to flee the country and are working abroad but there is still a lot of talent there as well. Among the more established I can name: Elias Crespín, Javier Tellez, Deborah Castillo, Érika Ordosgoitti, Rafael Barrios, Ricardo Benaim, Luis Millé and others. But there are also a lot of hot up and coming artists such as Lara Alcántara, Fabiana Cruz, Donaldo Barrios, Elizabeth Cemborain, Alejandro Vega Beuvrin, Javier Vivas, Rafel Rangel, Rigoberto Astupuma, Malu Valerio, Maria Angelica Viso and José Luis García are among my favorite (but there are so many the list could be endless and it is really hard to choose). Also Raul Rodriguez (RARO) is an amazing performance artist and designer who created my Denise Dao Art logo.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
I just relocated to Mexico City and plan to specialize in Contemporary Latin American Art. I also want to continue with Denise Dao Art and keep promoting emerging artists especially women.