A decades-long friendship and strong creative partnership lies at the heart of Alma Zevi's accomplished monograph on the celebrated Swiss sculptor, Not Vital. Harriet Brennan talks to Alma - an art historian and curator, based in London and Venice - about the 10-year undertaking, and life ever since.



House to Watch the Sunset, Not Vital, Tarasp Castle 


Born in London to European parents with a penchant for art and travel, Alma Zevi grew up surrounded by artists and immersed in art from an early age. Weekends were spent exploring galleries in London and Venice, while holidays often took the now-art historian and curator to the Swiss mountains of the Engadin, where a friend of the family was prolifically making and creating. This was no ordinary friend, of course, but the celebrated Swiss artist, Not Vital (born 1948), a creative mind whose influence on Zevi’s career and research interests cannot be overstated. 

Semi-nomadic, Vital would continually come and go from the Engadin, Zevi recalls, although he always returned to the region as his point of artistic reference. Zevi would marvel at his striking, sculptural works, many of which now grace the grounds of Tarasp Castle, a 10th century castle in the Swiss mountains acquired by Vital in 2016. Throughout her early life, Zevi remembers being "captivated" by Vital's stories and adventures, and amazed by “the things he’d seen and made”. 


Interior, Tarasp Castle 


It followed, therefore, that Zevi should write a text on Vital, while studying Art History at The Courtauld Institute, which developed into her thesis - and so too that Vital should ask Zevi to work with him as his Studio Manager. Upon graduating, she began the meticulous task of cataloguing Vital’s numerous works, and the pair worked and travelled together for many years.

Now, Zevi has written an extraordinarily comprehensive 467-page monograph, Not Vital Sculpture, borne of their mutual respect (both professionally and personally), productive working partnership and and long-standing friendship. Not Vital Sculpture, is an intimate tapestry of Vital’s artistic life and work - a framework of scholarship, if you like, encompassing 50 years of his oeuvre to date. A decade in the making, Zevi’s undertaking is truly remarkable. 

“I wanted to write about his life and work in one breath as they’re so connected. His work is so much about how he experiences the world,” Zevi tells Cabana. The book is academically rigorous, and an artistic experience in and of itself; on any page one may be drawn to a specific image or vignette that offers a “window into [Not Vital’s] world”. His work is intentionally mysterious, so, for Zevi, it was important for her analysis not to be exhaustive. “He’s playful as a person and also in his work; there’s humour, he’s curious about everything,” she says.


Swiss sculptor, Not Vital, pictured at Tarasp Castle


The book launched in June 2023, during Art Basel, with an introduction by Diana Segantini, followed by further international launch events, each “intertwined and fine tuned”. Friend and acclaimed architect, Annabelle Selldorf - who designed Vital’s loft in New York - introduced the text at the Swiss Institute in New York.

Reflecting on the 10-year project, Zevi describes it as “testament to a very special friendship” and a unique chance to showcase the oeuvre of a man she hopes can be “universally recognized as one of the greatest sculptors of the last 100 years”.

When not writing, Zevi is one half of Paterson Zevi, a hybrid art agency and consultancy, which evolved from Zevi’s former gallery in Venice. Alongside fellow Courtauld alumnus, Olivia Paterson, the duo work with leading artists, including Frank Auerbach, Joe Tilson and Michael Craig-Martin. Determined to provide a “dynamic platform” for both established and emerging artists, Zevi leverages her artistic network and frequents graduate shows to uncover new talent. A recent find, Katy Stubbs, was discovered via Instagram and has just shown ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ - a debut series of ceramics concerning ideas around deception and magic - at London’s Lyndsey Ingram Gallery.

The agency’s artists are very much aligned with the duo’s personal tastes, says Zevi. “We have an appreciation for beauty, but working with contemporary [artists], we are interested in that which ‘transcends [it].” Often, it is intuitive or instinctive: “art is about communication”, she notes.


The Camel, stainless steel, pictured at Tarasp Castle 


There is an interchangeability between Zevi’s professional curation and her home: “anything shown in the gallery is something I’d happily have in my home, and probably I have comparable pieces from other artists hanging”. Her apartment houses, among others, pieces by Melike Kara, whose works Zevi tries to buy every two to three years - “I love her use of color, her ambiguous yet emotionally-driven narratives and her monumental figures” - sculpture by Violet Dennison, a painting by Alberta Whittle, and pieces by Franz West and Roberto Matta. “I love to live with artists’ furniture, I’ve got a chaise longue by Natalie du Pasquier, [it’s] completely mad.’

Zevi is also co-chair of the National Gallery's Young Ambassadors Steering Committee, which aims to broaden and diversify audiences. With cuts to cultural funding, the committee is finding ever more creative ways to support institutions’ and museum programmes, “because that’s how we’re going to promote and give a platform to the next Tracey Emin or Michael Craig-Martin”. It’s crucial, too, to support artists and drive inclusivity, “making everyone feel welcome and part of that dialogue”.


Alma Zevi, pictured with her book, Not Vital Sculpture

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