Twenty minutes from downtown Zurich, in the hills of Wollerau, Switzerland, independent film producer Eva Maria Daniels transformed her home into the Diller Daniels gallery, which officially opened on 11 March. A bridge between her Icelandic roots, her years working around the US and her future in Switzerland, the space embodies Daniels’ international scope and diverse passions. It’s also a cultural gift to her young son, Henry. Amidst the Covid crisis, Daniels was diagnosed with cancer and through her strife, pioneered this portal to the arts. Its inaugural exhibition Life in a Day will run 18 March to 29 April and contrasts the escapism of two contemporary Icelandic artists. In fact, Daniels—who has a longterm partnership with A24 and has produced the films Joe Bell, Hold the Dark and End of Sentence—will focus solely on Icelandic artists. We spoke with Daniels about her mission and vision.
Can you share a bit about the origin of this project? What made you go down this curatorial path and develop this space?
I’m always looking for ways to dissect my creative journey. I was born and raised in Iceland, but I’ve never really lived and worked there since I left at the age of 22. I’ve been a serial mover since then, making a home for myself in seven different cities, one after another, but with New York at the center of it, where I’ve spent most of my adult years. At the same time, I’m constantly looking for ways to stay better connected to my roots, especially since having my son in 2017. So to work exclusively with Icelandic artists felt like the most exciting way forward as we made the decision to move from Brooklyn to Zurich to stay closer to family.
As a film producer, I love storytelling, but I’ve always been equally as passionate about art, design and food, so I wanted to use the opportunity of this move to try and combine all those different worlds and give them one voice. I’ve been working from home for over 10 years to keep my overhead low, which also allows me to take more risks, so I’m hoping this new concept will also be an inspiration to others who share those same interests. I’ve learned that you can only look to yourself and what truly makes you happy to find real success and so after going through stage three cancer (which I was blessed to beat) during Covid, the decision came easy to try and combine all my sparkles of joy into one. The food-, design-, art- and film- obsessed.
How did you transform the architecture of your space to accommodate art like this? Who did you work with? What does this space provide for artists?
We were lucky to find a unique property (just a few minutes from my in-laws) that needed a renovation and fit our budget and I was able to design with a live/work concept in mind. I did the design myself and worked with a local company for the labor. It took 12 weeks from start to finish, since we didn’t need to do that much of the heavier type construction work—just a few walls that had to be taken down and the replacement of the floors, new kitchen, one new bathroom, and the creation of the gallery cube that sits in the center of the second floor with direct access to a terrace overlooking Lake Zurich. The goal is to champion the careers of Iceland’s most dynamic emerging and established artists and introduce their art to an international audience in a casual and personal setting. The idea is to build upon this platform and be able to offer residencies in the future.
I wanted to create a destination where you could experience art outside of a traditional gallery or institutional context
Can you tell us about this idea of being a portal to art in a home?
I wanted to create a destination where you could experience art outside of a traditional gallery or institutional context. A meeting point between all disciplines but deeply rooted in art, design, entertainment and culinary appreciation. A destination for both established and a new breed of collectors where I could champion the careers of Icelandic artists and entertain very small groups at a time. It’s kid-friendly and it’s silly-friendly. It’s online and it’s personal. I don’t think there’s precedence for this in Switzerland and that’s why I’m excited to have our physical location here.
How did you develop your debut exhibition Life in a Day?
I’ve always been drawn to escapism and so for me, when I was able to get lost in a movie as a kid, that was my first great escape and revelation in the art world. Having worked my entire career in film, in March of 2020, right around the beginning of the pandemic—I was diagnosed with cancer of unknown primary; it had spread to my lymph nodes and I was labeled stage three. I found myself in a position where I really wanted some instant gratification, some quicker return on investment with beautiful things and joy points.
Throughout my career I have collected art, hosted various art shows and I always have known this is something that I love and brings me and other people joy. I wanted to prioritize this. I also knew I wanted to be sharing my career with my family and my young son Henry, who is now three—I wanted to connect to our roots and so putting together the idea for the first show became something that took over me and developed in such an organic way as I was looking for a destination to experience art without walking into a traditional gallery or institution.
While Steingrímur is a painter and Sigtryggur favors works on paper and energetic, sonological performances, they share an affinity for emotion and a near-disregard for the formal tenets of art-making which I’m very much drawn to. I had purchased work by Steingrimur last summer for my personal collection and visited him at his studio in Reykjavik and fell in love with his process and the energy around him. Without thinking about it, his work drew me to Sigtryggur’s work—without knowing they had a personal relationship. There’s impulsiveness and quickness to their work that I very much relate to in my own life, I literally see my own life in a day when I’m around their work.
Do you see storytelling similarities/parallels between the work you do as a film producer and your art curation?
For me I don’t see a clear line between the two. Both worlds are masters of creating new worlds. You need to have passion and focus to do anything well. You need to show up and be on time. Then you need to put in the hours and work hard, and for creative work you need to have a decent eye as well. To me, it’s exactly that for both film and art. I don’t think I’m great at anything except trying to follow the above and surround myself with the right people. When I lived in California in 2010 to 2013, I plotted my first efforts of trying to combine the two worlds when I hosted a few art gallery pop-ups showcasing some emerging (mostly American) artists that I was inspired by and I got a few actors to help me host—including Marisa Tomei and Dakota Johnson. The guest list and the clients were mostly from the film world and the whole thing felt so organic as if these two worlds were one.
What sort of viewing room tech are you providing now?
I’m using the services developed by ArtLogic and have been loving the experience of using their platform. They make it so easy for you to create your own voice through their technology. I try to create a personal story in the online viewing room, more so than providing anything more technologically complex than that, but it’s also a place where guests can purchase available artworks directly.
Images courtesy of Filippo Bamberghi