Meredith Harper, from gallery to auction house, developing skill sets along the way
WORKING AT AN AUCTION HOUSE OFFERS A WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY FOR THOSE WHO LOVE OF ART AND WANT TO COMBINE THAT PASSION WITH BUSINESS MANAGEMENT AND EXPERTISE. IT IS PREFERABLE TO HAVE AN ART HISTORY DEGREE OR AT LEAST A MINOR IN THE FIELD. IDEALLY, A DOUBLE MAJOR IN BUSINESS AND ART ESTABLISHES A SOLID PLATFORM ON WHICH TO COMBINE AN LOVE OF ART WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF BUSINESS AND LEADERSHIP SKILLS.
GROUNDED IN TRADITION AND CULTURE, THE AUCTION MARKET IS AN AGGRESSIVE FIELD, INTERNATIONAL IN SCOPE AND TECHNICAL INNOVATION. COLLECTORS ARE PREDOMINANTLY SUCCESSFUL AND UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS AND THE DAY TO DAY EXPERIENCE IS AS EXCITING AND EVER-CHANGING AS NEW MATERIAL, NEW SALES AND NEW BUYERS AND SELLERS EMERGE ON THE SCENE. THE ONE CAVEAT, OF COURSE, WITH ALL THESE PERKS, IS THAT IT IS A HIGHLY DEMANDING, COMPETITIVE 24/7 KIND OF JOB!
MEREDITH HARPER, AFTER HER POSITION AS ASSISTANT TO THE BRILLIANT FRANCES BEATTY AT RICHARD FEIGEN, TOOK THE NEXT NATURAL STEP TO EXPAND HER PROFESSIONAL EXPERTISE IN THE BUSINESS OF ART AND JOINED CHRISTIE’S AUCTION HOUSE. TODAY, THE LRFA BLOG IS PLEASED TO POST MEREDITH’S EXPERIENCE IN THIS INTEGRAL PART OF THE ART MARKET.
WELCOME BACK, MEREDITH. YOUR NEXT APPOINTMENT WAS AT CHRISTIE’S. WHAT PROMPTED YOUR DECISION TO ENTER THE AUCTION WORLD? IN WHICH DEPARTMENTS DID YOU WORK AND WHAT WERE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES?
The auction world seemed like the next logical step. I worked in the Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary departments specializing in works on paper, and became a VP and ran those sales for several years before I moved to Private Sales. On a daily basis you’re exposed to an incredible amount of art work, literally “the good, the bad and the ugly”, i.e. extraordinary museum quality art, a lot of generally wonderful works of mid-range art, some mediocre and/or kitschy things with less art historical value, and plenty of reproductions and fakes (that don’t make it into the sales, of course!). I literally saw it ALL, and it was an incredible education in the real world to follow my two academic degrees.
WHICH DEPARTMENTS WERE THE MOST INTERESTING AND WHAT MATERIAL DID YOU ENJOY HANDLING THE MOST? HOW DOES AN AUCTION DEPARTMENT DECIDE WHAT WORKS ARE BEST SUITED FOR THE AUCTION PLATFORM OR FOR PRIVATE SALES?
Auctions get so much publicity, and they’re really about the competition that’s created to occur in a single moment. So many variables can affect that, many of which have nothing to do with the aesthetic quality of a work of art. So some artworks are better suited for this kind of public competition, whereas others works may be more subtle, or might be important but get overshadowed in an packed catalogue and viewing and simply show better in a quieter environment. Also many collectors prefer the the anonymity of the world not knowing that they’re selling an artwork, or taking the risk of what might happen in that passing moment in the auction room.
ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED LONG TERM COLLECTORS AND DEALERS IS ROBERT MNUCHIN, HIS GALLERY LOCATED IN AN ELEGANT TOWNHOUSE ON EAST 78TH STREET.
AS THE DIRECTOR OF C&M ARTS, WHAT WERE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES?
Working for Robert was an incredible experience. I was one of three directors at the time, including Jennifer Vorbach (who was also a partner) and Robert Pincus-Witten. We did everything — organized exhibitions, brought in and sold artworks, planned the art fairs. I was also responsible for working with the Estate of Joseph Cornell. And at that time Robert had a “trading floor” mentality about our working together (himself included), from his past at Goldman Sachs, and we all shared an office so that everyone knew what was going on at any given time. We were very much a team.
THE GALLERY HAS REMARKABLE MATERIAL AND OFTEN CURATES EXHIBITIONS OF MUSEUM QUALITY. WHICH ARTISTS AND EXHIBITIONS AT C&M (NOW MNUCHIN GALLERY) WERE PARTICULARLY MEANINGFUL TO YOU DURING THE TIME YOU WERE DIRECTOR?
That was an amazing time. We didn’t feel the need to do huge blockbusters in which you were just overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of artworks … while the shows were certainly comprehensive we still wanted visitors to have the space to be drawn in and spend time with the individual works of art. Our shows were tightly curated and I always said I felt like the they were “small and perfectly formed”. I’m so proud that we did an an incredible survey of neo-Classical Picasso well before the market picked back up on this period in his work; several late de Kooning exhibitions, David Hammons’ first New York gallery exhibition in years, and Jeff Koons’ first ever retrospective.
HAVING DEVELOPED PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE IN BOTH THE GALLERY AND AUCTION WORLDS, AT TOP-LEVEL VENUES, MEREDITH DECIDED TO TAKE A BRAVE STEP, THAT OF SOLE PROPRIETOR AND ENTREPRENEUR OF MEREDITH HARPER FINE ART. CREATING, MANAGING AND EXPANDING ONE’S OWN BUSINESS DEMANDS PERSEVERANCE, FORTITUDE AND A SPECIFIC CHARACTER.
THE LRFA BLOG LOOKS FORWARD TO SHARING MEREDITH’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS AS ADVISOR AND CURATOR IN THE NEXT POST. THANK YOU FOR FOLLOWING!