Spotlight Interview: Devon Gilbert

Devon Gilbert: Associate, David Zwirner

New York City

WFU Class of 2017

Double Major: Art History & Business and Enterprise Management with a Concentration in Arts Markets

Minor: Studio Art

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Devon Gilbert took part in WFU programs such as Management in the Arts and the SUAAC ‘Art Buying Trip’ before graduating in 2017. He also took advantage of internships at SECCA, Cristin Tierney Gallery and Christie’s during undergrad. The Winston-Salem native walked us through his path to NYC, including some great networking tips.

DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? Did your areas of study inform or drive your career path?

Devon Gilbert: I was an Art History and BEM double major with with a concentration in Art Markets and a minor in Studio Art. In my sophomore year, I took the Management in the Visual Arts, a class that was co-taught by faculty in the School of business and the Art Department. Part of the course was a study tour to New York and it was there that I met the director of Finance at David Zwirner, James Morrill, a Wake alum and a co-owner of a gallery in the Lower East Side. When I was looking for job senior year, Leigh Ann Hallberg helped me reconnect with James. The timing worked out perfectly as the finance team at Zwirner was expanding and they were looking for a new member at a junior level. They needed someone with some accounting and finance knowledge who was interested in the business side of art, so that ended up being a perfect fit for me.

One thing that was particularly important, in terms of learning about career paths in the art work and making connections, was networking. The Management in the Visual Arts class was more focused on the breadth of the art market, including all the facets of art industry in NY and I was able to learn about careers I’d never even been aware of. The art buying trip also allowed for good opportunities to connect and build rapport with people in the gallery industry that were not necessarily connected to Wake Forest.

DL: Those sound like amazing opportunities. So, how did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held that led up to your position at David Zwirner? Do you have any tips or suggestions for Wake students on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs especially in the art world?

DG: The Summer before I came to Wake, I was an intern with the Registrar & Exhibitions Manager at SECCA. I grew up in Winston-Salem and had met the Registrar previously, so this connection helped, but this internship gave me my first taste of working in the arts.

The next Summer I interned at the Mint Museum in Charlotte with the Advancement department, working with clients and donors. And I had an internship at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. Since I wanted to work my way up to an internship at the Smithsonian, the Met, or MoMA before graduation, I was looking for internships that would help prepare me. I worked 2 days a week at the Mint, dealing with affiliate groups, members programs, and working to analyze data about memberships. I was at Reynolda House the other 3 days a week, with the education department. There I was learning about the house and the art, as well as giving tours. I also completed a research project and presentation on work selected from collection and analyzing it in context of piece of literature and music from same year.

The summer between my sophomore and junior years, I interned with Cristin Tierney at her gallery in NY. I met Cristin during the Arts Management trip, but I was initially introduced to her through Allison Perkins, the Director of Reynolda House. When I was applying for that internship, she knew me and knew that I was interested in working in the arts, so my previous interactions with her definitely helped me.

My last internship was at Christie’s in the 20-21st Century Decorative Art and Design group and the sale and photographs department. When I applied, I didn’t really know any alumni at Christie’s, but Cristin did help me by making a few introductions with her contacts from her time at Christie’s.

In terms of tips for interviewing, I would say recommend that you always try to be authentic and let your genuine interest show. I think when we are preparing for an interview or deciding how to talk about ourselves, it’s easy for things to feel too rehearsed. As for networking, just go for it. In my experience, Wake alums are always interested in helping out students and fellow alums and I’ve always had great conversations with them. LinkedIn is really useful as well, for seeing what people are up to and for making that first connection.

DL: Thank you for walking us through all those amazing internships! While looking back on these internships, is there anything you think Wake could have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

DG: The Business School requires an internship between Junior and Senior year which I think is a great thing. It would be great for the university to encourage that for everyone because it really does help you figure out what you want to do and it makes you more marketable for other internships or jobs down the road. There’s really no downside to having additional internships. Career services at Wake does the best they can with art/art history students and is still improving in this arena. Right now, art students have to make things happen for themselves which isn’t easy, but it is beneficial for the people who come out of it. But that’s part of the reason DeacLink exists, so arts alumni can help current students or recent grads.

DL: In New York, what is the most interesting thing going on in the art scene there at the moment, in your opinion?

DG: Working at Zwirner and being so plugged into the art world has given me access to an immense amount of art. New York really is the centerpiece of the global art world, so there are dozens of great shows happening at any given time. Especially if you like post-war and contemporary art, I think there really is no better place. There was a show at Pace a couple of months ago of Louise Nevelson sculptures. I am a huge fan of her work and Wake has one of her pieces in it’s collection. The Met Breuer had a phenomenal show of Edvard Munch paintings, which really displayed the breadth in his work. I also got to see Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi at Christie’s before the auction. Overall, I feel like I’ve been able to take advantage of all these amazing opportunities and I’ve gotten to see some really incredible works of art.

DL: Wow, that sounds incredible! Do you have a favorite part about working for Zwirner?

DG: There was a Richard Serra show opening earlier this year, and he (Serra) took the entire staff on a walk-through of the show. We got to talk about all the work including the sculptures and prints. Overall, it was such a rare opportunity where I was able to hear the artist talk about his work in person. I also really loved seeing the 25th anniversary show for Zwirner. I really got to see the history of the gallery and a lot of great work from all of our artists. It was amazing to see the arc of the gallery and our artists since its creation.

DL: What’s next for you?

DG: I was recently promoted to a new role within department, so I’m working on that transition. Right now I’m focused on my work at Zwirner.

DL: Do you have any advice you would like to give to the readers?

DG: Aside from internships and general networking, I would recommend getting to know your fellow students at Wake. I am still in contact with some of the Seniors from when I was a Freshman. I followed their example and they have helped me make a lot of connections. Other than that, just take advantage of all the opportunities you can at Wake!

Spotlight Interview: Mary Leigh Cherry

Mary Leigh Cherry: Los Angeles Director, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

WFU Class of 1997

Major: Art History, Criticism & Conservation

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Mary Leigh Cherry serves as Director at the newly opened location of Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in Los Angeles. In July 2018, Mary Leigh spoke with us about job hunting, owning a gallery, the future of art and tech, and much more.

DeacLink: So I know you just made an exciting career transition - tell me more about it.

Mary Leigh Cherry: Yes, I am now the Los Angeles director for Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, which has always been one of my favorite programs in New York. In 1997, the first show I saw at her space was Charles Long. The show we just opened last week, was also Charles Long, and his 12th solo with the gallery. I have known him off and on through the years. It’s perfect timing to have this show up now as the inaugural exhibition in the LA space. It’s been great working with Tanya, who has had a slightly longer career than I have. The artists she represents are unbelievable and also international. I wasn’t planning on this as a path, but the timing and opportunity were right.

DL: Mind walking me through your career up until this point?

MLC: I have had three versions of the gallery over the years. It started as Cherry in a garage in Venice, CA. I started the next version with my husband, cherrydelosreyes. Then his career as an artist started taking off, and I took on a partner which became Cherry and Martin. It was a full fledged program for 12 years. It started with representing artists of our generation. Then we also moved into representing estates and established artists that were overlooked and underrecognized. We built markets for their careers by applying the same principles as we were for young artists. By the time I left, we had three estates, people in their 70s and 80s, and down to people in their 30s and 40s. Most of the artists were American, but our clients were from all over the world, and we showed international artists in group shows.

DL: What led to your transition?

MLC: In terms of stepping away from the partnership, I think that at one point I saw myself always running the gallery with my business partner or at least staying involved in some way. We were reaching the point where we needed to reinvest, such as acquire a building, and it required me to get even more involved with someone. Personality wise, I was always the person wanting to grow and take risks. I am very entrepreneurial, and I just felt like I was the one pushing, pushing, pushing. I don’t deny that the growth was stressful and risky. At every crucial moment, the growth was what made us successful and kept us from going under. In 2008, we moved to a bigger space in a better neighborhood. We wouldn’t have survived the downturn if we hadn’t moved.

My business partner wasn’t as keen on continuing to grow, and I personally wanted a change from that relationship dynamic. The art world is also changing, and I felt the need to investigate that. I took a sabbatical for 4 months, and was doing research and thinking about new ways to work in the art world, keeping technology in mind. It was definitely hard to leave the artists I represented, and I am still friends with so many of them, and we will stay in touch. My partnership was 50/50 and we really did split the work, but our goals weren’t matching up.

DL: Most people from Wake tend to think about a move to New York after graduation. Tell me a bit more about the art scene in LA.

MLC: In the art world I am in, there’s a mass-migration to LA. The New York art world is tough unless you have access to the top five or ten galleries. It is hard to work there, make art there, and live there. LA isn’t inexpensive, but we have space, artists, collectors, amazing museums, and great weather. Everyone is moving here. There are problems with traffic, making things a logistical nightmare. It’s not a perfect utopia but considering other places, it is the top coastal city to live in.

DL: What did you do right after graduating?

MLC: I went to Wake Forest’s Casa Artom in Venice, Italy as a sophomore. After graduation I was hired by Wake to go abroad as Tom Phillip’s student assistant for the semester at Casa Artom. I tried to stay on longer, but there was not a lot of work and I didn’t have a work visa. After my contract ended, I stayed in Venice teaching English as a second language and receiving pay under the table. I was essentially an illegal immigrant. However, I wasn’t making ends meet since it was not an above board job and I was fearful of getting caught without the correct visa. So I moved back to the states not knowing what I was going to do.

I had met Mercedes Teixido (Wake alum) at Casa Artom. She is an artist and professor at Pomona College. She visited Venice and in exchange for staying a couple of nights at Casa Artom, she took our students to see the Venice Biennale. When I came back to the US, I house sat for her in Venice Beach and applied for jobs all over San Francisco to try and stay in California. I knew Northern California pretty well because I had spent summers in Los Gatos and Santa Cruz during college. Back then, LA was where you went to do crazy things. In the 90s the migration wasn’t to live in LA, it was to live in San Francisco, but I fell in love with LA. So I started looking for jobs here, and I only had to temp for a few weeks before landing a job at the Santa Monica Museum of Art (now known as Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles). Within a year of being at the Museum, I started the garage gallery, Cherry.

DL: Tell me a bit more about some of the ideas you are working on.

MLC: One thing that I am curious about is how blockchain will affect the art world, and I am advising on how it could. Digital currency is big in LA, bigger than in Silicon Valley, so I find that fascinating. But blockchain is something different than currency, in terms of what you can do with regards to authenticating art. I'm doing this because I am interested in the topic, and I want to stay future thinking. In terms of a business model, I was looking into creating a bespoke shared-resources firm. It’s sort of like WeWork or The Wing where the offices are handpicked by me. This version would be for the art world where you are sharing administrative resources, and the services in the various offices are say an art attorney, advisor, philanthropic concierge, etc. It also could be an event space for exhibitions, fundraisers, or political events.

Another thing I am working on is for Wake. In 2011, I was in Aspen talking with clients and I hadn’t been to the Biennale that year, but I was hearing about this project that was at Casa Artom. However, it didn’t say Wake Forest anywhere in all of the press that the project received. I shot off an email to Professor Page Laughlin trying to figure out how that was happening. Cut to 2013- I ended up doing an event at the house with fellow alum Cristin Tierney, and they sent out the Dean, who was Jacquelyn Fetrow at the time. She did some research to find out what the event was, and now the school is more aware of the extreme importance and global reach of the Venice Biennale. Wake is now in its 3rd year of a Biennale program for students. The first trip was in 2015, and last year I went over with Page for the program. I set up a lot of meetings and took the students through the Biennale during the Vernissage week while there were many of my colleagues in attendance. The next Biennale will be in 2019, and Page will be teaching the course for it, and I will go again and offer my contacts to enrich the experience for the students.

Spotlight Interview: Cristin Tierney

Cristin Tierney: Gallerist

New York City

Owner & Founder of Cristin Tierney Gallery

WFU Graduate

Major: English

 

Everyone in the Wake Forest arts community knows the name Cristin Tierney. Blazing a trail into New York's renowned Chelsea district in 2010, Cristin established a presence with her eponymous contemporary gallery. We recently learned what drove her transition from Wake English major to NYC gallerist. 

 

DeacLink: How has your career unfolded since Wake?

Cristin Tierney: It has been a long and winding path. I opened my gallery in 2010 after having an advisory business for a number of years and doing projects in the art world and art market. Opening a gallery was a bit of an absurd thing to do at that point in my life. But, my desire to do so had a lot to do with the fact I had never really worked with artists. When I was younger, I thought I wouldn’t want to do this, but one of the best parts of being in the art world is working with artists. And gallerists are the people that spend the most time with artists and help develop their careers. That fact greatly influenced my decision to open up the gallery. Thankfully I had a lot of work experiences and connections in the art world, which also enabled me to get started.

DL: How did you go about building a client base as an art advisor?

CT: I worked as a consultant to Christie’s in the education department for years, and I was able to do client development through education. People that are interested in collecting want to learn about art before they start buying it. Often, these people were non-degree students and weren’t working towards a Master’s. The Director of the education program had recognized that these people were potential clients for the auction house. Often, they were super intelligent, accomplished and financially comfortable people that were hungry for more information. If you took them on and helped them develop their eye, they could become your clients. I helped Christie’s do that for years, and then I started doing it for myself. I ran private seminars and helped people acquire art privately and not just at auction. In turn, that led to a lot of referrals.

DL: How much did your time at Wake inform your career path?

CT: At Wake, I was an English major. I had an interest in art when I was younger, but I wasn’t really aware that you could be an art historian. My desire to pursue a career in art history came rather late while I was overseas. Wake had a rigorous program in France that introduced me to careers in the arts beyond the museum world. I learned that in some places, art is part of everyday life and is fabricated into daily culture. Upon my return, the professors in the art department were very supportive when I asked for help and for more information.  

DL: What do you think is the hardest part about breaking into the gallery world?

CT: I never worked at a gallery before I opened one, but you have to know people to get a job. When we advertise an entry-level position, we get tons of resumes. And because it is an entry-level role, there is no easy way to sift through. When you have a small staff, you are much more likely to go with someone you know or someone who’s been recommended by a person you trust. For the bigger galleries, they must get so many, and I have no idea how they can decide.

These days, more people gravitate towards roles with bigger galleries. Most students graduate with debt, and they have expectations about the art world. They are not taking the risk on a smaller gallery, where they could be more hands on, because a place like Zwirner seems more stable. There’s a predictability, corporate nature, and structure at the big galleries. But, it is also harder to get your foot in the door there, and there is high turnover.

DL: When you are hiring, what kind of technical skills you are looking for?

CT: We are immediately interested in anyone who can use Photoshop or SketchUp. Basic technical computer skills are very important. Programs like that are routinely part of a job, and if you don’t have to train someone how to use them, then you are more likely to keep them on. We also need people who are active and engaged on social media and who understand the back end of web programming. Additional languages are also helpful in terms of playing in the global art scene. We deal a lot with Latin America, so Spanish is great for us specifically.  

DL: New York is known as the art capital of the world. Do you think it is a hard community to break into? What advice do you have for students that are considering a move here? 

CT: It depends on the person and their personality. Often, younger people come up here right out of school. For them, the most important thing to do is to develop a network of older people that can help out and recommend you for different roles. Also, students and recent grads should be developing a network with their peers. Often times, your friends can tell you about the different jobs available, especially if they are already working somewhere. But in general, you should support your peers and go to each other’s openings. When you have your first exhibition or curate your first show, your network of friends show up, and they in turn can bring their writer friends and help you get publicity.

DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation? 

CT: I think it would be good to introduce more art world professionals to students when they are younger. A limited amount of that happens now. However, it is hard. The center of the art world is New York, then it’s Los Angeles, but then you have to get people from those places to North Carolina. One of the reasons the Management in the Visual Arts class is so important is because it opens up people’s eyes and provides them with initial introductions. Continuing and expanding on the ideas of the program would be a great thing.

DL: What’s the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

CT: Take every opportunity, especially when you are young and don’t need to to sleep as much and aren’t addicted to creature comforts yet.

Also, make sure you really belong to a community, and aren’t just there to leverage it.