Margaret Gristina: Senior Specialist & Head of Sale
Christie’s New York, Chinese Works of Art
WFU Class of 1990
Art History Major
Margi Gristina came to Wake for a Business major, but after one Art History course she knew she'd discovered her passion. Currently serving as Senior Specialist and Head of Sale in the Chinese Works of Art Department at Christie's New York, Margi spoke with us to share about her path to this role, along with some sage advice.
DeacLink: Please tell us about your current job.
Margaret Gristina: I am currently the Senior Specialist & Head of Sale in the Chinese Works of Art Department at Christie’s New York. I oversee all Chinese works of art auctions in NYC, dealing with furniture, porcelain, ceramics and all other objects apart from paintings, dating from the 20th century back to 2000 BC and beyond. Our NY team of Chinese-art specialists is the largest within our Asian art cluster at Christie’s worldwide. We have sales in March and September each year, so we’re meeting deadlines now in preparation for next month. Generally we’ll have anywhere from 3-5 live auctions during our sale weeks, and around 4 online sales per year. In our ‘down time’ (which isn’t really that quiet!) we complete valuations for clients that consist of private collectors, estates and museums.
DL: Please take us through your journey to your current occupation since leaving Wake.
MG: After graduating from Wake I went into the Sotheby’s one-year masters course in London. During this time I was introduced to the decorative arts and fell in love with Chinese art. The course was good for exposing me to the commercial art world at large and all types of art, and I grew to understand what I personally liked.
I went into a job with The Chinese Porcelain Company in New York after Sotheby’s, which was a small operation at that time. My boss was a huge influence on me, and mentored me for ten years. After my first four years the company grew into a bigger space on Park Avenue, and later I became director, writing four to five catalogues a year and participating in many antique shows in New York and London.
After fifteen years at The Chinese Porcelain Company I spent about five years as a consultant, advising clients and contributing to a series of books on Chinese export porcelain made for Portugal. Five years ago I moved to Christie’s for a new role in their Chinese Art Department as Appraisals Associate. The corporate structure at Christie’s has many benefits, one being the ability to move up and grow along the series of steps in the departments. I graduated to a Specialist role, and continued up the ranks to my current position after four years, as Senior Specialist & Head of Sale in the Chinese Works of Art Department.
DL: How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?
MG: I went into Wake expecting to be a business major, but after my first Art History class I knew it had to be art. One of the most influential experiences at Wake was my semester abroad to Venice during junior year. The art history course at the time at Casa Artom was taught by renowned Veronese specialist Professor Terisio Pignatti, which was really special. Sitting in the classroom with him and learning about a specific work, then visiting the church or gallery where it was housed, was an experience that could never be repeated. It was organic learning at its best and anyone who was there during the time he taught was very fortunate. That semester secured my desire to be in the art world and also work in an international setting.
DL: Do you feel like Wake arts prepared you for life after graduation?
MG: It was so different when I was there. Wake is great for those interested in business, accounting and so forth, but there were no resources at the time for Art History students wanting to enter careers in the commercial art world.
DL: What other sorts of jobs have you had? How did you find and apply to them?
MG: All of my jobs and opportunities arose from networking, and this was the pre-digital era. I had an internship during undergrad at an American art gallery in New York called Hirschl & Adler. A friend of mine at Wake connected me to someone working there.
After Wake and toward the end of my masters in London, I took a printed guide of the National Antique Dealers of America to my mentor at the Sotheby’s program, asking if he knew anyone within the directory. I was pointed to The Chinese Porcelain Company and after contacting them was hired onto their team.
DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?
MG: Getting your foot in the door. Once you can get that first wedge in though, if you can show you’re a motivated, hard worker you are going to be desirable. The best way to break in is through internships. Especially at Christie’s, we like to hire internally. Lots of companies do. If they can see that you work well in their environment it’s likely they’ll want to help you move forward. We’ve had lots of interns become full time employees from internships here at Christie’s.
DL: What has surprised you the most about the art scene in New York?
MG: It’s so expansive and there are innumerable opportunities. There are galleries, museums, art fairs, and auction houses (which even within themselves along have so many categories to become interested in- between proposal writing, estates and appraisals, and even art insurance). If you can get any experience at all, anywhere, you can start to understand what you like and dislike, and build toward a path you really want to be on.
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?
MG: Have an open mind about opportunities and don’t be shy about utilizing your network. When given the chance, show that you’re focused, capable and motivated. Those are the top traits people look for.