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Contemporary Art

Caroline Issa: Fashion's Visionary Curator

Caroline Issa's role as Fashion Director and CEO of Tank Magazine has given her access to the most creative minds in the industry and seen her collaborate with writers, artists, musicians and philosophers from around the world. Rather than following a traditional route in to fashion, Issa began her career in business and finance. Soon, her passion for creative collaboration saw her consulting for the world’s leading designers, helping them cultivate strong brand presence in an ever-shifting industry. As at home discussing economics and current affairs as she is fashion and style, it is this multi-disciplinary approach that she brings to this year's Contemporary Curated. Ahead of the exhibition and sale in London on 21 November, she sat down with Sotheby's Specialist Boris Cornelissen to discuss her influences, collecting across categories and selecting works for the sale

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CAROLINE ISSA AT THE TANK MAGAZINE OFFICES WITH WORKS FROM CONTEMPORARY CURATED. PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHRIS FLOYD. 

Boris Cornelissen: Has art always been a part of your life?

Caroline Issa: I have been lucky that art has always been present in most of my life. My aunt Rose Issa was one of the first curators of contemporary Iranian and Middle Eastern art decades ago, and so I've always been surrounded by her impeccable taste, fascinating collection and collective of filmmakers, sculptors, painters, writers and photographers from that region. As I moved away from the finance industry into a role in fashion publishing in my twenties, the creative world my aunt opened up to me played into my decision to take a leap of faith and learn to manage a creative business, gaining a deep understanding of how the role of art and fashion can make us feel on top of the world.

BC: How has art inspired you?

CI: I've been lucky enough to work with a platform like Tank Magazine that has had art as one of its key subjects consistently throughout its almost 20-year history. Art, just as much as fashion, often inspires an entire issue of the magazine, a photoshoot we conceive, and can be a springboard for a brand campaign or a look. It can also confuse, madden and induce euphoria. But most of all, it makes me think, question and reach further.

 

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COVERS OF TANK MAGAZINE. COURTESY OF CAROLINE ISSA.

BC: Tell us about your interests; do you collect? Who are your favourite artists? Have your tastes changed over time?

CI: I have to confess, I mostly collect fashion but through my work on the magazine as well as through my aunt I have been collecting paintings and photography on a modest scale. I really love supporting emerging artists and photographers whose work I find touches an emotional chord in me, or is just beautiful, plain and simple.

BC:  What do you think drives a great art collector?

CI: A genuine interest verging on passion. Speculative collecting is never so interesting. Connections, research, and affiliation to the artists are always key. Consistency and commitment to particular artists can really help build quality. Relationships made with curators, writers and gallerists as well as artists often inform really strong collections. Collections by great art thinkers, that aren't necessarily collections of art also fascinate me. Seth Sieglaub's textile collectionThe Stuff That Matters. Textiles collected by Seth Siegelaub, that was exhibited at Raven Row gallery in 2012 is astonishing.

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The Stuff that Matters

INSTALLATION VIEW OF THE STUFF THAT MATTERS, TEXTILES COLLECTED BY SETH SIEGLAUB, RAVEN ROW, LONDON, 2012. COURTESY OF RAVEN ROW, LONDON. 

BC: In what ways do you feel art and fashion are connected?

CI: Fashion exists in art and art in fashion. They are both highly creative. However, there is a clear distinction between how the fashion industry and the art world exist and operate. Art is there to question everything, fashion does not really have a critical quality in its everyday in the same way. Both have commercial dimensions, but perhaps fashion is a business whereas art is many things and business is simply one necessary aspect of it.

BC: What attracted you to the collaboration with Sotheby's and Contemporary Curated?

CI: It's a pretty amazing exercise in fantasy collecting! It's nice to dream isn't it? It's been both a delight and an education.

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NINA BEIER, PORTRAIT MODE, 2011. ESTIMATE: £3,000–4,000. 

BC: How do you go about choosing works for a curated auction?

CI: It's a mixture of education and rediscovery, finding things that catches one's eye, seeking out unusual or rare finds, and looking up the artists or historical pieces that were new to me. Some of the works spoke to me because they used materials – say textiles – very well (like Nina Bier), some because the artist themselves inspire me. 

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BC: Tell us about the works you have chosen and what drew you to them. Your selection includes several works by contemporary photographers. Does your interest in photography stem from fashion or is a particular medium that you like?

CI: Obviously we work with a lot of photography in the magazine. The subtlety of Roe Etheridge's commentary on product photography, which is something we work on a lot through the magazine, is very appealing. Wolfgang Tillmans has such an interesting understanding of subculture, clothing, the body and the everyday, his surroundings, basically, as well as portraiture and abstraction, and his "complete disregard of traditional hierarchies" has informed his books and display for so long now. The Nan Goldin, though more recent and quite unusual, is touching. Eileen Quinlan's constructed sets using mirrors, smoke and coloured fabrics "in which an abstract, visual reality is constructed" reflects some of the mechanisms we use in constructing fashion editorial – a truly fascinating process.

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NAN GOLDIN, SIMON AND JESSICA KISSING IN YVON'S POOL, 2001. ESTIMATE: £6,000–8,000. 

BC: Tank Magazine features an impressive list of contributors from the fields of fashion, visual arts and socio-economic analyses. Does this multi-dimensional approach also reflect how you look at art?

CI: Thank you! We are very proud of the breadth of what Tank has covered in its nearly 20 years in print. It has always been the cornerstone of the magazine to cover fashion, art, architecture and current affairs in depth in equal measure, and from diverse perspectives, so we work with many writers, philosophers, and economic commentators.

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BARBARA KRUGER, DON'T MAKE ME ANGRY, 1999. ESTIMATE: £1,000–1,500. 

So, yes, I would say it affects my approach in the sense that I am interested in the wider implication of the work, be that the social and political connotation of Wolfgang Tillmans wider work (his programme at Between Bridges and pro-European poster campaign are both hugely important), or the direct sloganeering and feminism of Barbara Kruger, who features in the sale, and the places this has existed as public art.

 

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