What the Photography Show’s Executive Director Has Her Eye On Right Now

We caught up with Lydia Melamed Johnson ahead of the fair's return to the Park Avenue Armory

Lydia Melamed Johnson (2024)

Lydia Melamed Johnson believes the best days of photography have yet to come—and in that light, she knows the medium deserves a fair befitting its many forms.  

Johnson, who was named the Executive Director of The Photography Show presented by AIPAD in the fall of 2023, is at once ebullient and considered in her passion for photography. She has a profound appreciation for art collecting—one she shares with her husband—and Johnson could quickly rattle off the names of dozens of contemporary photographers who inspire her. This enthusiasm is paired with a staid sense of responsibility for her role helming the longest-running and leading fair dedicated to photography as it enters its 43rd year (the fair runs April 25-28, 2024). 

Under Johnson, this has meant a return to form; The Photography Show will return to the grandeur of the Park Avenue Armory, for the first time since 2016. With 76 international exhibitors participating, the fair is also bringing on a remarkable selection of newcomer galleries including ELLEPHANT, Marshall Gallery, Olivier Waltman, and The Third Gallery Aya.  

The lead-up to the fair means long days, but Johnson makes sure to spend her cherished time with her husband and young daughter, enjoying life’s little pleasures—a watch she was gifted from loved ones reminds her that every minute is precious. One of her favorite splurges is a bouquet of tulips from the Union Square Farmer’s Market.  

Ahead of the fair, we caught up with Johnson, who shared a few of the artists who have caught her keen eye, and what she values in her day-to-day life.

What is the last thing that you splurged on?
A photograph by Theis Wendt from The Ravestijn Gallery and a game-changing travel stroller that made flying with my newborn actually manageable, even through LAX.

What is something that you’re saving up for?
Rather on the nose, but a photograph from the upcoming fair. My husband and I love walking through the fair once a day together during the run-of-show, discussing and seeing which works we continue to return to over and over again. We make the decision on Sunday but at the 2022 fair, we knew right away we wanted a small work by Paul Cupido at IBASHO.

What would you buy if you found $100?
Flowers. There is a fabulous tulip grower at the Union Square Farmers Market who I would buy bundles from every week.

What makes you feel like a million bucks?
My daughter’s smile, helping a member of my small team accomplish a goal we’ve set together… and a Dries van Noten suit.

two white women look out of the picture, they are seated at a small table with flowers in an office like setting, both are dressed professionally, on the wall behind them is a photograph of two black women on a couch in what appears to be a 1970s intertior

Cathy Kaplan and Lydia Melamed Johnson, in a Dries van Noten blazer, seated in front of a work by  Mickeleane Thomas. Photo: Michael Priest Photography.

What do you think is your greatest asset?
Big thinking with excruciating attention to detail. My ability to step back and see the larger circumstances and situation, while understanding the minutiae that will get it done.

What do you most value in a work of art?
Emotional resonance.

Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention?
David Alekhuogie. A Nigerian-American artist, who shows with Yancey Richardson. Juxtaposing African traditional textiles with canonical elements, such as Man Ray’s photographs of African masks, and personal interventions, like including his own hand, the multidimensional works are spectacular and speak to a layered understanding of self. Each time you look, there is something new to explore.

David Alekhuogie, Scramble for Africa 2-2 (2023). Courtesy of Lydia Melamed Johnson.

Monty the dog sits near a Theis Wendt photograph.

Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet gotten their due?
There are so many to choose from, and especially, many women artists who have produced incredible work for years. Two that immediately spring to mind are Diana López (Henrique Faria) and Danielle Nelson-Mourning (Weston Gallery). Though the work varies greatly between the two and holds powers in contrasting ways, they are each investigating identity, femininity, the scope of societal expectations across history and the new frontier of the internet, and each commanding their own spaces with deeply insightful art.

What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world?
Sauvignon blanc.

What is your most treasured possession?
My watch, a gift from my husband and close family for my 30th birthday. It is treasured because of its givers, its craftsmanship, and the brand’s long history but it also reminds me to invest my time wisely, whether on work, family, friends, or rest. I look forward to a moment when I’ll pass it on to my daughter and she’ll learn the value of her family, history, and time.

What’s been your best investment?
A work on paper by Louis Fratino. I fell for his work years ago and was lucky enough to snag one of his small works done during the pandemic, a dreamy interior scene that is the only work of art we have in our bedroom.

What is something small that means the world to you?
Gratitude. When I have done my utmost to help someone and it is acknowledged.

What’s not worth the hype?

What do you believe is a worthy cause?
Supporting women’s pay equity. The fact that we are still discussing this, and the even larger disparity for BIPOC women, is mind boggling to me. It is nonsensical that equal work does not equate to equal pay in 2024.

a woman in a blue blazer holding a paper cup of coffee and her cell phone and standing on the sidewalk in front of a building with signs for "the photography show presented by AIPAD" — on the revolving doors are two photographs on of a nude person in a green wig with a fig leaf covering their body and another of a woman in a red dress that looks like its from another century

Lydia in front of the ICP activation of Catherine Opie on the revolving doors and Bridgette Lacombe works. Credit Andy Ryan.

What do you aspire to?
Make a positive difference in the future of AIPAD. I came into an organization with a long and storied history at a transitional moment and I hope my contribution can be a positive one that helps move this community forward. Our first phase was relaunching The Photography Show and the second phase is returning to the Park Avenue Armory this year, to a venue that can hold its own next to the magnificent material that our dealers bring from all over the world. Watch this space for the next big steps.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.