in other words

Everything you ever wanted to know about the art market but didn't know who to ask

#61 Sir David Adjaye Takes On Nation Myths


Guest Sir David Adjaye. Photo Matthew Magelof

Art Agency, Partners
#61 Sir David Adjaye Takes On Nation Myths

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

Sir David Adjaye is the architect behind some of the most interesting buildings of our times, from national museums to social housing. He has described the fraught political process of designing the prize-winning National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in Washington, D.C. in 2016, as eight years of pain. But “these buildings are long overdue,” Adjaye says, “There’s a language they need to bring, which is about the reality rather than the fiction of nation imagery.”

In this podcast with Amy Cappellazzo (co-founder of AAP and a chairman of Sotheby’s) and host Charlotte Burns (executive editor, In Other Words), Adjaye—who has designed the forthcoming expansion of the Studio Museum as well as the plans for the National Cathedral of Ghana—talks about how space can change the way we think about our own histories. “We’ve all been numbed into never dealing with big questions,” he says, asking: “Then what the hell are we all doing here?”

For this and more, tune in today.

Click here for the full transcript

Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words, where we cover everything you ever wanted to know about the art world but didn’t know who to ask. I’m your host, Charlotte Burns and today I’m joined by Sir David Adjaye, the award-winning architect who has designed buildings around the world, from luxury shops to libraries, from museums to social housing.

David Adjaye: I absolutely didn’t want to make a kind of other tableau or a kind of object that just said, “horror, horror, horror.”

Major projects include the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which opened to critical acclaim in 2016, and the forthcoming National Museum of Slavery and Freedom in Cape Coast, Ghana. In addition to buildings, Adjaye designs an array of other products, including furniture.

We’re also joined by Amy Cappellazzo, a chairman at Sotheby’s and a co-founder of Art Agency, Partners.

Amy Cappellazzo: The very existence and success of the museum is its own righteous revenge on how long it took to get there.

Before we get to today’s episode, here’s your regular reminder to subscribe to our In Other Words newsletter at, where you can read our special edition around the Art Basel art fair. Now, onto the show.


Sir David Adjaye

architect, founder of Adjaye Associates

Sir David Adjaye OBE is recognised as a leading architect of his generation. In 2000, he formed his studio Adjaye Associates, where his ingenious use of materials and his sculptural ability established him as an architect with an artist’s sensibility and vision.

With offices in London, New York and Accra and projects spanning across the US, UK, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, his largest project to date, the $540 million Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture, opened on the National Mall in Washington DC in fall of 2016. The museum was named Cultural Event of the Year by the New York Times and the Beazley Design of the Year by the Design Museum.

Adjaye is known for his frequent collaborations with contemporary artists on installations and exhibitions. Most notably, he designed the 56th Venice Art Biennale with curator Okwui Enwezor (2015). The Upper Room, featuring thirteen paintings by Chris Ofili (2002), is now part of the permanent collection of Tate Britain. Further examples include Within Reach, a second installation with Ofili in the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2003) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art for the 21st Century Pavilion that was designed to show Your Black Horizon, a projection work by Olafur Eliasson, at the 2005 Venice Biennale.

Adjaye has held distinguished professorships at the Harvard, Princeton and Yale universities. He has also taught at the Royal College of Art, where he had previously studied, and at the Architectural Association School in London.

In 2017, Adjaye was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen for services to Architecture, following the previous award of an OBE in 2007. The same year, he was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people of the year by TIME magazine. He has additionally received the Design Miami/ Artist of the Year title in 2011, the Wall Street Journal Innovator Award in 2013 and the 2016 Panerai London Design Medal from the London Design Festival.

Amy Cappellazzo

Co-founder of Art Agency, Partners; Executive Vice President, Chairman, Fine Art Division

Amy Cappellazzo is Executive Vice President, Chairman, Fine Art Division at Sotheby’s. Prior to assuming the role, she was a Principal of Art Agency, Partners, which she co-founded. She previously served as a market leader in the field of contemporary art during a tenure of almost thirteen years at Christie’s, where she rose to the post of Chairman of Post-War & Contemporary Development.

While at Christie’s, Cappellazzo was a steward for the sale of some of the most important collections of our time, and she continues to act as a fiduciary for numerous families, foundations and trusts. Additionally, she served as a pioneer in private sales at Christie’s as well as online auctions, the latter through a partnership she fostered with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. During a period when the contemporary art market exploded from what was largely a European and American epicenter to a fully global stage, Cappellazzo directed groundbreaking initiatives at Christie’s that led to record results, with upward of $650m realized in a single evening sale.

Prior to tenure at Christie’s, Cappellazzo was an art advisor, a curator and a key figure in the establishment of Art Basel in Miami Beach.

Cappellazzo received her B.A. in Fine Arts/Art History from New York University, where she was a Presidential Trustee Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in Urban Design from the School of Architecture at Pratt Institute, where she focused on the role of public art in shaping cities. She is a noted Bloomberg expert, speaking internationally on the global art market, and has lectured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York University, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, UCLA, Stanford University and the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. In 2012, she was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve on the board of the New York State Council on the Arts.

Charlotte Burns

executive editor of In Other Words

Charlotte Burns is the editor of In Other Words, our weekly newsletters and podcasts. She was previously the US news and market editor for The Art Newspaper, as well as a regular correspondent for publications such as the Guardian and Monocle. Previously, she worked with the London dealer Anthony d’Offay on special projects. For several years, she was a consultant at the cultural communications agency, Bolton & Quinn. She also worked at Hauser & Wirth in London.

Burns received a Masters degree (with Merit) from the Courtauld Institute in Art and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1890-1945, as well as a first-class B.A. honors degree in English and History of Art from Birmingham University. She moved to New York in 2010.

For more on David Adjaye:

  1. Architecture can combat fake news, says David Adjaye” by India Block for Dezeen, published 7 February 2019
  2. David Adjaye interview: ‘I’m not always looking at the usual references’ ” by Rowan Moore for the Guardian, published 2 August 2014
  3. Architect Sir David Adjaye Believes In The Power Of Architecture To Attain Positive Social Change” by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle for Forbes, published 26 August 2018

The live record

Behind the Scenes with Sir David Adjaye, Amy Cappellazzo and Charlotte Burns

9 Images

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