Gray gallery director, Laura Lester: her perspective on working in both the auction and gallery worlds

by leslierankowfinearts

Richard Gray Gallery  Director Laura Lester

IN 2014, Christie’s hired more than 115 people in the Americas and that number has been surpassed since the year of the survey. “It’s a reflection of the growth of the art market overall and increased participation from new and young collectors who have a passion for everything from fine art to design, jewels, watches and wine”, according to the company.  Offering a variety of experiences, auction houses are one of the top employers for those hooked on art. These are sought-after jobs. Jessica Phillips, human resource and systems administrator at Sotheby’s, said, “We look for candidates who are passionate about the arts. Everyone goes through a rigorous process in his or her knowledge of the art world. We look for applicants who realize the scope [of working in an auction house], who are interested in seeing the art they’ve once studied.” According to Kathleen Doyle, chairman and CEO of Doyle New York, “talented, smart and energetic candidates for employment are drawn to working in the art field because of their passion.”

Jane Freilicher
Whitney Museum of American Art

Trish Walsh, marketing and communications manager at Phillips told us, “People who join us with an interest in being specialists have a strong interest in art as a business, have studied art history and have interned at auction houses and galleries. So they have a good understanding of the business and a strong interest in having a career in an auction house.”

The Observer, Marissa Mule, 02/23/15

CERTAINLY, LAURA LESTER, RECENTLY APPOINTED DIRECTOR OF THE PRESTIGIOUS RICHARD GRAY GALLERY CHICAGO/NEW YORK, MEETS ALL THE REQUISITES NECESSARY TO WORK IN AN AUCTION HOUSE. APART FROM A LOVE OF ART, SHE HAS GREAT PERSONAL STYLE, AN ARTICULATE AND INTELLIGENT PERSONALITY AND A DEDICATION TO HARD WORK AND BEING AVAILABLE 24/7. ALL GREAT ASSETS IN ANY FIELD BUT CRUCIAL, IN THE OPINION OF THE LRFA BLOG, TO WORKING IN THE ART WORLD.

https://www.richardgraygallery.com/

Lee Krasner
Another Storm, 1963
Estate represented by Kasmin Gallery

TODAY, THE LRFA BLOG IS DELIGHTED TO CONTINUE ITS CONVERSATION WITH LAURA AND FOLLOW HER PROFESSIONAL STEPS IN THE ART WORLD GAINING A VAST VARIETY OF SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE BY WORKING AT FIRST-TIER GALLERIES AND CHRISTIE’S AUCTION HOUSE.

LAURA, HOW LONG WERE YOU AT CHRISTIE’S, IN WHAT DEPARTMENT AND WHAT WERE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES? 

I was at Christie’s for over three years, all in the Post-War and Contemporary Department. I was hired as an object cataloguer and in that capacity, I worked on nearly every sale in the department, from private sales and day sales to their marquee evening sale. When I departed Christie’s, I was a specialist focused mainly on business getting. 

WHAT DID YOU LIKE THE MOST ABOUT AUCTION? IN WHAT WAYS WAS THE EXPERIENCE SIMILAR TO YOUR GALLERY EXPERIENCE AND IN WHAT WAYS DID IT DIFFER?

Auction is very cyclical, and laser focused on one major event each “season”, the sales. Much of the hard work in the months leading up to the auctions is solitary and intense. We spent hours in their warehouse examining objects for cataloging, proofing pages for print or writing essays. It is satisfying and celebratory to see your hard work come to fruition in a beautiful, public way when the view is hung, and a successful auction transpires.

Gallery work is more varied—you’re often working on multiple future exhibitions of different scale as well as managing artist’s needs and planning for fairs and other projects. 

Lee Krasner
The Umber Paintings
Kasmin Gallery

WHEN YOU DECIDED TO RETURN TO THE GALLERY WORLD, WHAT APPEALED TO YOU THE MOST ABOUT KASMIN GALLERY?

I have always admired Paul Kasmin’s program. His taste was highly original, and he had made a habit of scouting history for overlooked artists long before that was fashionable. I had become increasingly focused on Post-War American art while at Christie’s; when the director position opened at Kasmin, they had just signed Lee Krasner’s estate which was a very appealing opportunity.

Painters of the East End
Kasmin Gallery

WHAT ARTISTS DID YOU EXHIBIT AND WHICH EXHIBITIONS RESONATED THE STRONGEST WITH YOU?

I worked on Kasmin’s estates program and had the opportunity to organize a number of really special exhibitions for the gallery. I put together two Krasner shows with a great colleague, Eric Gleason. The first focused on her umber paintings, the second was an exhibition of mural studies she created while working for the WPA. Last summer, I coordinated a show we titled Painters of the East End, which was all artists working on Long Island in the 50s, 60s, 70s that happened to be women. I included household names from the period such as Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler alongside other really talented, lesser known artists such as Nell Blaine, Jane Freilicher, Mary Abbott, Perle Fine and Jane Wilson. My last project at Kasmin was a curatorial collaboration between myself and two independent LA based curators, Sonny Ruscha Granade and Harmony Murphy, exploring the aesthetic legacy of European surrealism in Southern California. We titled it Valley of Gold. I’m really disappointed this show was only on public view for a week due to COVID closures- it was one of my favorites! 

Valley of Gold: Southern California and the Phantasmagoric
Kasmin Gallery

MORE ABOUT LAURA’S EXPERIENCE AT KASMIN GALLERY IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG POST.. PLEASE JOIN US!