Gallerist

Gallerist

A gallery owner needs to be well-read, have a good eye and nurture the artists so they can make the best use of their talents

June 30, 2011
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A piece of the artistic action_L
Photo: Dale de la Rey
The difference between an art dealer and gallerist is relatively recent. It appeared in the late 90s when people who worked with artists, almost acting as their agent to help them sell their artwork, wanted to differentiate themselves from art dealers. Young Post meets the owner of Gallery Exit, Aenon Loo.

Requirements

To become a gallerist, you need to have a very good eye. It's a skill you develop by reading about art and looking at a lot of artwork.

Loo says he's seen more than 10,000 pieces of contemporary art.

You also need to have a good knowledge of art history, and be a good communicator. A gallerist deals with both artists and wealthy businessmen.

Being an artist yourself can help you understand what an artist is going through, and help him in his work.

Finally, you have to analyse and understand artwork and assess how much the pieces are worth.

Qualifications

Ideally, a gallerist would have a double degree in humanities/art history and business administration.

It helps to have a speciality. Loo specialised in contemporary Chinese art, and knows the Hong Kong scene very well.

Some gallery owners have a financial background. But, for Loo, the most important thing is to build a good relationship with artists and help them create their best pieces.

You should also start buying artworks early since it is a good way to train your eyes.

Loo says he bought his first piece of art at 16. It was a simple sketch of a tree titled Treedom.

Average pay

An assistant at an art gallery would earn around HK$10,000 a month. But as soon as they start selling pieces, they earn commission.

Work prospects

With a family history in electrical engineering, it seemed unlikely that Malaysian-born Loo would end up a gallerist. But after seeing a drawing in a school textbook, he became fascinated with contemporary art.

Loo studied music composition at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Art, before moving to New York to study for a PhD at Columbia University. But half-way through his PhD, he found a job at Max Protetch, a well-known American contemporary art dealer.

Two years ago, he moved back to Asia, and settled down in Hong Kong, where he opened an art gallery. The local art scene was growing and he felt he could contribute to this expansion. Within a few months, he had met most of the talented artists in town, and started taking a few of them under his wing, encouraging them as well as pointing out what they were doing wrong and how they could improve.

He chooses the artists who will exhibit their paintings in his gallery. As a gallery owner, he's not buying the artworks, but simply lending his space to help the artists sell their pieces. He receives a commission when pieces are sold.

Long-term prospects

After you gain enough knowledge and experience working for an art gallery, an art dealer, a curator, or an auction house, you might want to open your own gallery. It won't be easy at the beginning, and you'll need to build up your reputation, mostly through word of mouth. Loo says it takes at least two years for a gallery to shape its "personality" and become well-known.

With time, some gallerists accumulate so much artwork they become collectors. However, when there's a downturn, some gallerists quit to work for auction houses.

For Loo, the greatest reward is to work alongside his artists and see them hone their skills - and strengthen their friendship.

A day at work

Loo starts his day at home around 9am, reading and answering his e-mails. He gets to the gallery around 10.30am. The gallery opens at 11am, six days a week. Lunch is a good time to meet artists and clients, and then Loo spends at least an hour reading about contemporary art and checking out new artists and trends on the Net.

Loo says his work rhythm is cyclical. Every month, there will be a very busy week preparing for a new exhibition and e-mailing collectors, and one week will be quite slow. He also regularly visits artists at their studios, and another big part of his job is to attend art fairs. The Shanghai and Taipei biennale, and the HK and Tokyo art fairs are all important. He also goes to industry art fairs where he meets clients who might need him to organise a temporary exhibition.

Loo spends the rest of his time looking for pieces to collect.

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