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A screen grab of the many exhibitions at La MaMa Galleria, including Visual AIDS' summer exhibitions.

La MaMa, the world renowned cultural organization, is the kind of place that gives New York its magic. Started in 1961 by the legendary Ellen Stewart (1919-2011) as a small theater space dedicated to experimental theater and performance, it is now a series of theaters, and programs that provoke, educate, delight and challenge artists and audiences alike. Thirty years ago La Mama also opened up an art gallery, called La MaMa Galleria. Home to many exhibitions over the last 30 years, it has also hosted the annual Visual AIDS summer exhibition since 2010. Honoring the past, and looking towards the future, Gallery Director Matt Nasser talks to Visual AIDS.

Visual AIDS: How does La MaMa Galleria fit into Ellen Stewart's historic and important vision?
Matt Nasser: When Ellen founded La Galleria in 1984, she wanted to create a space for interdisciplinary artists. She had actors, directors, set and costume designers that also created visual art and visual artists, such as Chris Tanner, John Kelly, and many others that were also performers. Today, La Galleria has become a core program of La MaMa and is dedicated to supporting the dialogue between the visual arts, new media, and performance.

Visual AIDS: For the first time ever, La MaMa is hosting an art auction. Why?
MN: The Auction benefits our expanded visual arts programming at La MaMa and the move and renovation of a new gallery space at 47 Great Jones Street in in the fall of 2014.

Visual AIDS: This is a big step for the gallery. How does the art auction and party differ from the infamous parties that helped to keep the lights on?
MN: This fundraiser is a bit more grown up. We are focusing on the Artwork and less on performance. We want to create an atmosphere of celebration and lubricate all of the potential bidders with great food and drink. Guests will be greeted with champagne and the New York Mandolin ensemble playing in the background followed by cocktails and amazing hors’dourves created specifically for the event by Veselka, an east village institution.

Visual AIDS: As part of the auction and party, people can also purchase an opportunity to have an exhibition in the space through a "lottery". How does that work?
MN: Basically, its a chance to skip the line so to speak. 100 gives anyone a chance to have a three week exhibit at our new gallery space. The tickets are fully transferable so anyone can buy a ticket and give it to the artist of their choice. Once we have a winner, we will work with them on when their exhibit will be in our next season. We will help with install, cover opening costs, assist with press and have the exhibit professionally photographed. The odds are pretty good and the more tickets you buy the better your chances.

Visual AIDS: As part of the New York downtown scene, and through your work at La MaMa you have been part of, and witnessed many wonderful art moments. What is one of your favorite memories of being part of the Galleria?
MN: A memory that really makes me proud is working on the Garry Hayes (1961-2010) exhibition. When he fell ill a few years back, we decided to completely shift the gallery schedule to exhibit Garry's exploding books. I worked closely with his friends and the great Paul Bridgewater to put the exhibition together. I remember the opening and how happy Garry looked. He was holding court on our gallery bench with a big smile on his face and I thought in that moment how privileged I was to have a job that could give an artist a moment like that. I was also so grateful that La MaMa was flexible enough to accommodate a schedule change last minute. Garry passed away a day before his show closed.

La MaMa Galleria's art auction runs until May 3rd and closes with a cocktail party.
Below is more information about Visual AIDS artist member Garry Hayes, and the Visual AIDS exhibitions at La MaMa. Soon, Visual AIDS will be announcing the summer 2014 exhibition.

Garry Hayes