New York’s Art Professionals’ Advice f...

New York’s Art Professionals’ Advice for the Art World Novice

Past re-runs of Bravo’s Gallery Girls, the reality of working in the arts isn’t widely known. Working as an artist, editor, or gallerist in New York City can be profoundly enriching and challenging and there are unlimited paths to “making it”. Here are some art professionals discussing how they made their way in the beginning.

Indira Cesarine, Artist and Owner of The Untitled Space Gallery.

Indira Cesarine Curator and gallery owner Indira Cesarine at "Cardiac Insomniac: A Solo Show of Works by ANGE" Artist Reception. The Untitled Space gallery, New York.

What was your experience like first working in the arts in New York?

I started my career in the arts as an artist, and gained a lot of experience exhibiting my own work with galleries and institutions. When I launched The Untitled Magazine, I produced many exhibitions featuring the original productions of the magazine. Our early issues focused on photography as well as video art.

Later, I collaborated with Gary Krimershmoys when he launched VOHN Gallery in New York and we did several exhibits together, including a solo show with artist Alexander Melamid and a group show titled “Autoimmune”.  I was inspired to open my own gallery after that and The Untitled Space was born!

How would you describe the culture and day-to-day of working in the arts?

It’s very fast paced, particularly when you have a calendar of exhibits that are constantly revolving in a gallery setting.

What would your advice be for someone just starting out?

I think it’s important first of all if you are serious about working in the arts to focus on an educational background that is going to give you the support you need. It’s important to understand the history of art in order to have perspective on contemporary art. I would recommend interning at a variety of galleries, museums or directly with artists to gain insight on the workflow of the art market and the art scene.  I also think it’s really important to be passionate about it.  You should want to live and breathe art, otherwise you will never survive as it requires a lot of dedication!

Iván Sikic, Artist.

Ivan Sikic_Artist-Art Professional

What was your experience like first working in the arts in New York?

I found that there were two main things that any artist in this city needs in order to continue moving forward: constantly seek and establish a network and community of fellow artists, critics, curators and art lovers in general, and also to set up a working space (which could take the shape of a studio or any other form the artist feels best suits their practice), where you can develop your practice, but most importantly where you can invite others to come and witness your process and exchange ideas, thoughts, and critique on your work.

How would you describe the culture and day-to-day of working in the arts?

One of my biggest observations of the culture of the working artist in New York, is perhaps the fact that this city is extremely ‘market conscious’. This can be a challenge sometimes, as I have found that sometimes your work will be judged less by its integrity, and more by its ‘sellability’. However, I continue to be amazed by how generous people in the NY art world are. There is always someone interested in finding out more about your practice, and as long as you have the self-discipline and commitment to keep questioning, developing and creating in your studio (or whatever space you decide to use), everything else will follow.

What would your advice be for someone just starting out?

As much of a cliché as it may sound, I will re-inforce the idea that it’s important to have and keep a ‘day job’. However, I will add the following to this note of advice: When I was younger, I invested a few years working in an industry that had some detachment to the art world in its day to day operations, and where I was able to develop another career where the pay was good, and the work wasn’t soul destroying (for the most part). This happened to me by chance (I was, and continue to work as a photo producer), but I would encourage anyone who is just starting to seriously consider actively looking for a job of this sort.

I am extremely grateful that I was able to develop this other side, which meant that I could fund my life and my arts practice to the point that I didn’t and still don’t necessarily depend on whether I sell an artwork or not. This also has another huge benefit: my practice is, fortunately, not necessarily tied to pleasing a particular market or set of collectors, which gives me the opportunity to be as free as I want with my work. Even though this relationship with my work changed after I started being represented by a gallery (once this relationship began to exist, I realized that I also have a responsibility to them now), having the piece of mind that I don’t necessarily need to rely on selling my art is extremely liberating.

Molly Krause, Publicist and Founder of Molly Krause Communications.

Molly Krause-Publicist-Art Professional-Molly Krause Communications

What was your experience like first working in the arts?

In college I interned in the PR department of Christie’s. My main task each morning was compiling and formatting the daily art market news roundup for international companywide distribution. When there was a sale going on, they would let me just pop down to watch it. They were great to me. The people you meet early on in the art world will likely be present down the road as well. Years later, I often run into my former supervisors at Christie’s at random events that are part of my current day-to-day. And one of my current clients, Anne Spalter, is on the NYFA board with Toby Usnik, who was a role model for me as a Christie’s intern. It’s a small world!

Jacob Rhodes, Founder and Director of Field Projects.

Jacob Rhodes-Founder and Director of Field Projects-Art Professionals

What was your experience like first working in the arts in New York?

I worked as a freelance Art Handler for a LES galleries and some museums. It’s funny work because everybody is either a musician or artists, and the artists are trying to stay connected to the art world but are invariably seen as labor and not potential artists for the art institutes. You also don’t get paid much so you end up scraping by! [My first tasks included] hanging shows, delivering art to collectors via the MTA, patching, painting, wrapping, shipping art, pouring wine!!!

How would you describe the culture and day-to-day of working in the arts?

Self motivating. I think there is a lot of independence and because of that a lot of responsibility falls on your own shoulders. It’s always up to you to go and find people to come and see the shows and find people who could potentially buy the work or write about the artists. It’s an aspect I like about the art world but can also lead to narcissistic behavior in some unbalanced individuals.

What would your advice be for someone just starting out?

I would say that being an artist or gallery owner are two sides of the same coin: They both should bring something to the relationship. They both should intellectually challenge and encourage each other to grow together and individually.

The gallerist should seek out unique individual voices they can believe in and encourage them to push their practice. I don’t mean in the cookie cutter grad school way but in an individual way. Not every artist is meant to make big paintings or do installations or be in Artforum. In fact these clichés are usually offered when a critic or viewer doesn’t understand the artist or what would be best for the artwork. Sometimes the best artwork that can be made by an artist is nothing like what is sell-able, fashionable or even digestible by the art world. I always look for artists who make work for their own pleasure. Those are the artists who will still be making work in their eighties, and who’s work I can’t wait to see evolve.

Kelani Nichole, Owner, TRANSFER.

Kelani Nichole-Owner-TRANSFER Gallery-art professionals

What was your experience like first working in the arts?

I started my gallery three years ago with no institutional art world experience.  I cut my teeth with a talented DIY curatorial collective in Philadelphia where I learned the ins-and-outs of running an exhibition space, supporting artists, and producing killer shows – everything was hands-on and built with sweat equity from construction, lighting, wiring, installation, to exhibition design, curatorial practice/critique, PR, party prep, hosting/running events, and cleanup/de-install.  We did it all together, no defined roles just everyone ‘all in’, for every exhibition.

How would you describe the culture and day-to-day of working in the arts?

It’s both awful and wonderful – cut-throat, hurry-up-and-wait, nepotistic, ego-driven madness and at the same time immensely humbling to be a part of shaping the taste of our generation and supporting artists who are pushing at the boundaries of our contemporary human experience.

What would your advice be for someone just starting out?

Just fucking do it.  Find a sustainable means to get your ideas out into the world.  Skirt the institution until you can infiltrate. Don’t imitate, there’s no point.  Competition is useless, collaboration is everything.  Be humble, learn from mentors and get used to the fact right now that you will not be compensated for your time in the short-term…the art world is a long-term labor of love.

Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos, Conceptual Artist.

Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos-Greek Artist-Art Professional-Contemporary Artist-New York

How would you describe the culture and day-to-day of working in the arts?

Amazing people, great opportunities but at the same time it is a constant hustle. I realized how different New York is from other places last spring when Sean Naftel (another amazing New York artist) and I were in Denmark for a show at Kunsthal Aarhus. There, the artists benefit from a great support from the government and can live and work without the big pressure to show and sell their work. So everyone is more relaxed. I don’t say that one system is better than the other. It depends on the personality of the person. I am much more creative under pressure.

What would your advice be for someone just starting out?

When I first arrived in New York, I thought that my job as an artist was just to make art in my studio and, one day, someone will somehow “discover me” and launch my career. I don’t say these things do not happen but you should not only count on that scenario. If I had an advice to give, it would be “be creative… In your work but also in the way you envision your professional path”. We all want to be included in great groups shows, have a solo show, sign with a gallery and just be an artist that makes art…  But until that happens New York offers so many other ways to make and show your work.

Check out Kosmatopoulos’ photographic commentary on ethnography in Tehran and her hand sculptures on post-internet age communication.

Catinca Tabacaru, Owner, Catinca Tabacaru Gallery.

Catinca Tabacaru-Art Professional-Gallery Owner

What was your experience like first working in the arts in New York?

I was a human rights attorney before I entered the art world.  Upon deciding that I no longer wanted to practice law, I walked around galleries looking for a connection, someone who would want to adopt me and teach me the strings.

My first and only job at a New York Gallery was at Leo Kesting on Greenwich Street.  Dave and Johnny taught me about lights and hanging art works, and I painted a few walls.  A few months later, they took me down to Miami with them and I painted more walls there.  I knew instantly that I needed to have my own space in the fair and kept insisting until they finally gave in and offered me what was pretty much a closet.  I LOVED that closet and took great care in transforming it into a little white box.  Let’s just say that I was hanging 2x4s with chains from a very high ceiling and clamping lights onto them to light the four paintings I showed that year.  That was Fountain Miami 2009.  After that, the universe kept opening up opportunities.  Every project I took on birthed several others.  After Fountain Miami that year, I volunteered for the NYCLU to curate their June JUST ART Benefit.  I told them I was a curator.  Fake-it-till-you-make-it at its best in this case.  The exhibition turned out beautifully and all but sold out raising quite a pretty penny for the Charity.  I curated that show in four parts centered around 4 major issues the NYCLU was dealing with at the time:  Censorship, Surveillance, Reproductive Rights and Immigration… I may not have had much experience with curating, but I certainly knew my way around civil rights.  Turned out I have a pretty good eye thankfully and many of the artists I put in that show I’m still working with today.  Several are represented by my LES gallery.

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Lorraine is a cultural writer and editor based out of the Lower East Side. She has previously been published by Artnet News, Art Zealous, and is currently Assistant Editor at Where New York and IN New York, where she oversees both dining and gallery coverage. When not writing she co-produces a video series “Artists of New York,” focused on artists especially influenced by New York as their space.