Carol Kino profiles Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller, an Iranian expatriate dealer with familial ties to the exiled Empress, who is the common thread in many successful Iranian artist’s careers. One of the secrets of Heller’s success is her personality and willingness to play the role of social connector:
“After she opens a show, you go back to her home, and she and her mother have cooked all of this incredible Persian food,” said Lisa Dennison, the chairwoman of Sotheby’s North and South America and another longtime friend. “I hesitate to say no to an invitation, ever. You meet such interesting people.”
Kino gives a detailed history of her evolution from Brown student to embedded art presence but Heller’s real achievement is having stuck with her countrymen through decades of adversity until the present time when the world seems besotted with Iranian contemporary art:
Since she set up shop in 1982, Ms. Heller has been a major conduit in the West for all things involving Iranian art and artists. “I get over 400 e-mails every week from artists, critics and reporters,” she said while showing a visitor around her gallery on a recent afternoon, “all wanting something to do with Iran.”
Although she also shows many Westerners, like the painter Martin Saar, and secondary-market modern work is her bread and butter, Ms. Heller is generally regarded as the only dealer in New York — if not the West — to have doggedly promoted Iranian art for decades.
“She’s been really critical in sustaining Iranian art in diaspora,” said the filmmaker and multimedia artist Shoja Azari, a member of Ms. Heller’s stable, who also collaborates on the films of his companion, Ms. Neshat. “Now Iranian art is becoming vogue, but it wasn’t like this 10 or 15 years ago. She was really persistent.”
Ms. Neshat said Ms. Heller had also helped foster a strong sense of community. “Many artists give work to her for group shows,” she said, “because she has become a force among us Iranian artists in New York, and we want to be part of it.”
Iranian Artists Shine, Aided by an Expatriate (New York Times)