Spotlight Interview: Abby Bauman

Abby Bauman: Former Proposals Writer

New York City

Former Writer for Proposals Department, Christie’s New York
WFU Class of 2009
Major: Art History
Double Minor: Economics & Studio Art

Abby Bauman has enjoyed a winding path since graduating in 2009. Starting in PR, on to a development role at DC's National Gallery of Art, and joining Christie's New York in 2012, Abby reflects on her journey and shares the advice she's gathered along the way.

*At the time of the interview, Abby was based in New York. She’s since moved to San Francisco and is a Marketing Specialist for Gensler.

DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? How has your career unfolded since?
Abby Bauman: At Wake, I was an Art History major with minors in Economics and Studio Art. I hadn’t really taken any art history classes before my 20th century art history class, but then became very interested in pursuing it further. 
 
In school, I interned at the Reynolda House with Kathleen Hutton in the Education department. I also did an internship at the Morgan Library in New York before my senior year, which I found through networking. 

I graduated in 2009, right after the economy crashed, so I had a difficult time finding roles in the art world. I wanted to get experience outside of the art world so I interned at a PR firm in Maryland, where I wrote press releases and media alerts. I later moved to DC and interned at a bigger PR firm called Fleishman Hillard. Soon after I started, I was offered a position in the Development Department at the National Gallery of Art in February 2010- my dream job!

At the NGA, I was a development assistant in the membership group and later transitioned into organizing events for the membership group. I learned so much about being a professional, and being surrounded by such smart, academic people was inspiring. I worked there for a little under three years.

In the summer of 2012 I started networking in NYC and was able to connect with a few people at Christie’s. One thing led to another and I landed my current role in the Proposals Department, where I’ve been since October 2012.
 
DL: Would you mind telling me about what you're doing at Christie’s?
AB: I have been in the same department since I joined - I work in the proposals department, which falls under the marketing umbrella. My team does business development. We work with specialists and other “business getters” to put together formal pitch documents to try and persuade people to consign their property with Christie’s. My department becomes involved when a piece of business is very valuable and competitive with another auction house or dealer. I started as a Junior Proposals Writer and now I am a Writer. I put together extensive proposal documents, presentations for pitch meetings and do basic tasks like formatting letters when timing is tight. And we do projects on a bigger scale for big pitches, like bespoke boxes. Because our business is art, design is so important. The presentations we make are beautiful. Sometimes we have crazy quick turnarounds or we have month to work on a project. We are often pitching to estates or to individual clients, and we do this for jewelry, furniture, art, etc. We work with every art specialist department at Christie’s. Every day and client is different... It is really exciting and very fast paced.
 
DL: How much did your time at Wake inform your career path?
AB: Once I started hitting the ground running with my major, I knew this was something I was interested in and excited by. I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. However, in college, I was mostly focused on how to do well in school. The longer I was involved in my art history classes, the more I came to realize I could turn my interest into a career.

Senior year I was fortunate to be a part of the art buying trip, and that introduced me to the gallery world. I was able to see the sorts of art world jobs that were possible, whereas before it was much more vague in my mind. In retrospect I wish I had thought a bit harder about how the art world was impacted by the economic downturn while I was on the buying trip. But regardless, I was interested in the business side of the arts, and I felt like there was so much to be learned. In school I didn’t seriously consider going to graduate school right away but thought it could happen down the line.
 
DL:  What do you think is the hardest part about breaking into the auction house world?
AB: Auction houses are a relatively small industry, with only a few major international players, which means that positions at every level are highly sought-after and very competitive. 
 
I remember reaching out to galleries and not necessarily knowing how to communicate with people in the art world. It’s pretty intimidating. I didn’t break into the commercial side of the art world when I first graduated, and it was so hard to make headway. Getting someone to respond to you is just really hard. Because of that, my best advice is to network. That’s the only way I found any of my jobs. When networking, you need to be persistent and gracious. Remember that the people you contact are taking time out of their schedule to talk to you. Also, be humble about what you want. And always follow-up with a thank you note!
 
DL: Do the auction house masters programs help you get jobs with the institution after graduation?
AB: I don’t think it can hurt. From my own experience, I found that I was able to learn everything on the job. That’s not to say it wouldn’t have been useful. The masters programs certainly help, but it’s not necessary for many entry-level roles. However, if your end goal is to become a specialist, a master’s degree at some point is likely necessary. 
 
DL:  What advice do you have for students considering a move to New York?
AB: Really focus on cultivating the relationships you have. Networking is hard, but it is so important. I think that New York can be very overwhelming. Because of that, make sure you are ready to hustle. Develop a strong network of people, and put your head down and be ready to really focus on your job. In New York, everyone in every industry works long hours. Also, it is pretty expensive, so make sure you are okay with eating pasta. It gets better though!
 
DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?
AB: From what I can see, I think that Wake is already doing a much better job. Between the different treks and the buying trip – these experiences really open peoples’ eyes. When I was there, I didn’t feel like I had a great sense of what kinds of jobs were possible for an art history major. But in recent years I’ve been very impressed with all of the efforts WFU has gone to to encourage students to learn about potential career paths. 
 
Also, resumes you submit for art jobs are different than what you prepare in business school. We work in a visually focused business, so it means something to have the awareness to do that with the materials you submit. That’s one bit of advice I didn’t get while I was there. Lastly, the art world is small, and the school should help more with making introductions to alums, but now we have DeacLink!
 
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?
AB: I wish I had taken the time to get to know my professors better. Current students shouldn’t be afraid to meet with professors and show engagement and interest. The professors know so much and will help and be there for you. They know a lot about the art world. That is a huge thing. With that in mind, it’s also important to stay in touch with your professors and fellow students. They will be a good resource.
 
Also, I really didn’t start doing this until the buying trip, but stay engaged with what’s going on in art world. Make sure you know about the big gallery and museum shows. You can do this by reading the big art world publications. As an applicant, you will be quite impressive if you know what’s going on in New York all of the way from North Carolina.
 
DL: What's next for you?
AB: Christie’s has been a great place for me, and I’d love to stay here for a while. However, I absolutely would love to spend some time abroad. That has always been a goal of mine. Maybe London? I think my interest to continue to lie in business development. Right now, I am not in a client facing role, but instead work in an internal department. As the art market evolves, so do my interests, but I think I will stay in the art world in some capacity throughout my career.
 

Spotlight Interview: Margaret Gristina

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.