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: Caroline Perkins

Caroline Perkins: Collector Relations Associate, Artsy

New York City

WFU Class of 2016

Major: Art History

Minor: Math

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Caroline Perkins came to Wake aiming for a degree in Business and Math... until a single Art History course changed her entire trajectory. Caroline recently spoke with us about her time at Wake, her current role at Artsy, and tips she's picked up along the way.

DeacLink: Tell me about your path since graduating from Wake Forest.

Caroline Perkins: I graduated in Spring 2016 and went straight to The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA)  for a paid internship  in the museum’s education department. I was there for four and a half months, at which point they offered me a full time position. While opportunity provided me strong network of creative peers, I decided that I couldn’t commit to a year in a town with a population of 14,000, working a job that wouldn’t allow me to become economically independent. After a period of existential questioning, I decided it was time to move to New York. I started with a part-time job at Cristin Tierney’s gallery in Chelsea. After about a month of interviewing, I accepted a full time position at Artsy (around November 2016). I juggled both gigs for about six months until I reached a point where the 75 hour work week was a little too much! I continued on with my full-time role at Artsy, and have been there ever since.

DL: Sounds like you really embraced the New York hustle mentality. Since joining Artsy, you’ve changed roles. Talk us through the progression.

CP: I began as a Collector Support Specialist; however, at Artsy, job titles don’t mean too much. It feels like I’ve held four different roles already, although my formal title has only changed once. As a Collector Support Specialist, I managed Artsy’s support inbox, resolving questions and issues from everyone including users, buyers, galleries, and artists. The messages ranged from really important ones like, ‘I’m a collector who received a damaged artwork’ to ‘I’m locked out of my account and need to update my password’.

Over time, I have been assigned projects more closely aligned with the art buying process for our gallery partners. I collaborate with our Engineering, Product, and Analytics teams to ensure that Artsy is the best place to learn about, buy, and sell art online. I specifically work to connect buyers with our 2,500+ gallery partners across 90+ countries to facilitate sales and to make art buying more accessible. More recently, we have been striving to create a seamless buying experience similar the models used by the majority of modern online marketplaces.  

DL: The world is certainly moving that way, with titans like Amazon leading the charge. Taking it back to undergrad, how much did your time at Wake inform or drive your career path?

CP: I loved my time at Wake, and particularly loved the Art History department. I arrived at Wake thinking I’d major in Math and Business, but quickly realized that I didn’t click with the professors. I took an Art History course freshman year with Dr. Barnes titled ‘Dante, Giotto, and the Plague.’ It was the only AH course I could get into as a first-year, and I thought it would be the most boring class ever. To my surprise, I not only loved the course, but did well and grew close to Dr. Barnes. I declared my major early and interned at Reynolda House that summer in the Education Department. This was my first experience of working in a museum, and it was hugely impactful. I loved the team at Reynolda House, I continued working with the museum throughout my time at Wake. I joined their student committee, interned in the Development Department, and assisted with their public programming. 

Every semester, I tried to take as many Art History classes as possible. The most valuable of all experiences was definitely the Arts Management Course. I came out of it with the confidence and connections to make a run at the art world after graduation. I don’t think I would’ve considered coming to NYC if I hadn’t acquired so much knowledge from the AMC, as I personally had zero connections to the city prior to moving. The AMC granted me the ability to reach out to Cristin’s gallery, which was hugely important as my first work experience in the city. 

The ACC/IAC Grant process was also hugely impactful for me while at Wake. I’d encourage those who are still in undergrad to look into this program, as it is not well known. I wouldn’t have known about the grant if it weren’t for my Studio Art friend Kristi Chan who used the program to gain funding for a studio practice one summer. She encouraged me to propose my own project. At the time, I was still interested in pursuing a career in museum education. I submitted a proposal focused on learning the various in-gallery education practices employed at the Met, MoMA and Museum Hack (founded by fellow Wake alum Nick Gray). To my surprise, the committee quickly accepted my proposal. They direct-deposited funds within a month and turned me loose. It was my first time independently navigating New York City, which was a learning curve in itself. 

Lastly, Dr. Jay Curley’s Venice Biennale course was unbelievable and impactful for me as an undergrad. My mind was blown for the entire two weeks our class spent in Venice; I’d never before seen so much contemporary art. We were able to exercise our knowledge of theory and directly relate it to the artists’ practice, global politics, art production, the market and so forth. Living on the Grand Canal with friends for two weeks was also a dream! 

DL: How did you find and apply for the various positions you’ve held? Have you got any tips for those readers currently going through the application and interviewing process?

CP: When it came to MASS MoCA, I actually was surprised to have been accepted. Considering I knew nobody in the actual program, I applied ‘cold’ online through their site. I only knew of the opportunity because a fellow Wake alum (Laurel McLaughlin) recommended it as one of the only paid internships in the arts that she knew of. I applied to three total positions at MASS MoCA after looking over their site. 

Outside of Laurel’s recommendation, I was scouring NYFA’s Classifieds constantly. I would apply to any post I felt was interesting and relevant, paid or unpaid, telling myself (after a tough patch of accepting this fact) breaking into the art world was going to be tough. The MASS MoCA fellowship was actually the only position I got before graduating, out of the 16 roles I applied for. I felt very lucky to have a place to go after graduating, in lieu of heading home.

I did find my Artsy job through NYFA, despite not having connections there either. It felt like another lucky surprise to get an interview there. However, I did apply to Artspace at the same time as Artsy, which is their primary competitor. And I worked an albeit soft connection to Artspace (a Wake friend who’d previously interned for them) which did help get me in the running. So one tip, definitely use your connections even if they’re soft- and be shameless about it! 

Aside from perfecting the ‘light name-drop’, make sure to know about the company you’re interviewing with, and be sure to explain how you’ve come to know about them. It gets you on common ground faster, especially in my position where I had no connection to the person interviewing me. Find that 4th or 5th degree of connection and don’t be afraid to push that link.

Last tip, and for me it’s a big one—keep your cover letter short! I was lucky to have friends from the MASS MoCA fellowship cross-check my resume and revamp it to be more visually compelling and concise. When it came to the cover letter, which is always going to be hard to write, I learned that keeping it pithy is notable and impressive for the person who ends up reading piles of them daily. I’m going through reading applications now at Artsy for our intern cycle and can understand from a new perspective now, people appreciate a short and powerful cover letter.

DL: What could Wake have done to better prepare students for graduation?

CP: I think the Arts Management Course should not only be open to more students as an opportunity, but could even become a mandatory experience for all art majors (AH or Studio). I wish it hadn’t been so exclusive, because without that class, I truly believe I wouldn't have a clue about how to carve out a career in the arts.

I also wish there had been more crossover between the two majors in our department. I was so focused on Art History that I overlooked opportunities to collaborate with the people in our department making amazing work in the studios. Especially now I’m out of school, understanding an artist’s practice, why they make what they make and choose their materials and process is key to appreciating and working with the art objects themselves. I could’ve picked up so much more knowledge in the way of curating, installing/deinstalling, writing exhibition descriptions, and building ideas around theory and how it relates to what’s been made. Perhaps in the future the START and Hanes programs could facilitate a greater collaborative attitude or space between the Art History and Studio majors.

DL: What is the best part of working at Artsy- give us the lowdown on cool perks!

CP: Our offices are pretty cool! We work downtown on Canal Street, right near SoHo and Chinatown. Beyond location the actual office itself is beautiful, has a fully stocked kitchen, and really is a tech company through and through. The access we have to galleries, fairs, auction houses and other art world events is pretty great, thanks to Artsy’s partnerships. I was even able to travel to Miami this past Fall with access to all six major fairs.

The biggest perk of the working experience at Artsy for me, is chances for collaboration with a group of seriously talented and smart people. Because Artsy covers so many areas, I have learned about structures of art fairs, to auction house practices, even picked up engineering and website design skills along the way. I have learned new ways to approach and solve problems, working alongside analytically minded people and picking up on how they tackle issues that face a marketplace we all genuinely care about. Also being able to put my Math minor skills to use has felt great; I love being able to use both sides of my brain in the same workday. Artsy’s core value as listed on our website is actually ‘Art x Science’- I can build my business acumen and make different business decisions because I get the numbers which is powerful in the conversation.

DL: What and where is next for you?

CP: I’m very happy here at Artsy and don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. I don’t ever see myself leaving the Art World in the larger career sense, but we’ll see what happens. Long term I’d love to open my own gallery and support artists more directly on a smaller scale. A lot of what I’m doing at Artsy helps me understand the business side of things, along with being able to meet and learn from a range of badass female gallery owners making it happen with their spaces in the present. I also hope to do a graduate degree at some point, but I find it hard to find too many mentors in the art world. I hope to keep finding others in their late 20s working in this field, to foster a sense of community and fellowship which is very important for growth. For now I’m focused on that- meeting more people in my field, especially more artists!

DL: Have you got a final bit of advice for the readers today?

CP: Listen to more artists! Find people who speak a similar visual language to you and advocate for it. Be aware of what language people in the art world use, because people talk about art in so many different ways. There’s a lot of power in being able to articulate what resonates with you on a personal and political level through art-driven discussions.
 

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.