My advice to someone starting out in the international art world is to focus on what you really enjoy doing, whether that is writing, curating, working with artists, or raising money for organizations. There are so many facets of the art world that one can work in, the possibilities are enormous, much wider than when I was coming out of grad school. Most importantly, you have to love what you do so I recommend focusing on what one’s strengths and interests are and building a career from there. And being ready to work hard and travel a lot are two key factors as well! If you want to have a quiet job sitting at a desk and going home at 5pm, the contemporary art world might not be the best place for you! If you want to travel, work intensively with artists, and have a constantly evolving career, then this is your place!
Meet everyone. The international art world is run on relationships. This is the core of its business. Which means that you need to get out and meet people in every corner of the field: artists, academics, dealers, curators, fair directors, consultants, art handlers, desk sitters, fabricators, lawyers, etc. You never know who may be on the other side of an email two, five, or ten years from now, but the bigger your network, the better chance you have of getting through to the people that can help you get the job done, whatever it may be.
Don't limit yourself. The art and cultural fields are changing fast, and those who can move ably and intelligently across many different disciplines and practices will have an advantage. There will be time for specializing later. But when you're just starting out, you never know where the opportunities may come from. Think big and broad at the beginning. Think "both/and." Push past your own and others' comfort zone and don't just replicate what the rest are already doing.
Jonathan T. D. Neil, Director, Sotheby's Institute of Art – Los Angeles
My number one piece of advice is to ask questions. It's OK not to know all the answers, but asking good questions demonstrates that you're interested and puts you into a relationship with the person you're talking to. A lot of the art world is built on establishing and developing such relationships.
Choose two art market sectors, one which you already familiar with and one which you know nothing about, and follow them by attending relevant auctions, commercial and public gallery events, and developing a knowledge of “what’s hot, what’s not” in the art world. Follow online art news sites on a daily basis, follow art world twitter and Instagram players. But above all, follow your personal instincts and have faith in your own responses to visual culture.
Open yourself up to the experience of learning and find what is useful in whatever you do. You will not start out as a Museum Director, you will probably not make exceptional amounts of money to begin with, and you certainly will not like everything you are tasked with. Until you understand that your position not only benefits the organization that you work for, but is providing you with essential skills necessary for your success, it is easy to be discontent. Nobody likes a discontent person or employee. Show up on time, put all of your efforts into every task (no matter how mundane), and set yourself up to be lucky.
Be open-minded, committed and try to work with people you really respect. Go with your heart and gut feeling, follow your real interest, do research at every turn.
Dress for the part you want to play. Understand the business goals of the organization. And, you catch more flies with honey. The art market is a business of relationships - cultivating your expertise, building your network, and finding your allies is everything!
Christine Kuan, Director, Sotheby's Institute of Art - New York
Surprisingly, the international art world turns out to be a rather small world. This is less a function of the relative affordability of travel than it is a testament to the efficiency of gossip. Though there are many ways to be successful, here are three universal truths that will always help:
- As you build a career anywhere, including the international art world, the way you conduct yourself and treat those around you will quickly an indelibly affect your reputation and thus your ability to do business: Always take the high road.
- Relationships are the foundation of any good business—they take time to develop, but ultimately the payoff is worth it: Cultivate relationships and surround yourself with good people.
- Knowledge and experience are underrated: Educate yourself at every opportunity and put in the time it takes to become an expert.
Sarah Odenkirk, Associate Director, Sotheby's Institute of Art – Los Angeles