Meet the Professionals
Salary Bracket: £15,000 - 20,000
Working in the Client Services department completing administrative duties and assisting in auctions and front of house
BA(Hons) History of Art, University ofLeeds
Financial Markets, Yale University Online
Art Market Economics, Christies Education Online
White Cube Gallery; Saatchi Gallery; Mayfair Art Weekend; Leeds Art Gallery; Christie's
"Once you have applied for a job, forget about it until you hear back. Don't dwell because it can drag you down."
Notes and links
A exhibition platform founded by Flora and her pal Hannah. They exhibit and deal art working to support upcoming artists.
A weekend in June where galleries in and around Mayfair, London, open their doors showcasing free exhibitions and displays. Check their website for volunteering oppotunities.
An auction house is where art and other valuable goods are sold. Art will be sold in an auction where buyers can bid a price on the item.
Old Masters refers to any painter or artist who worked in Europe before the 19th century. Examples are Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens and Artemisia Gentileschi.
To catalogue means to list in a logical way. It is used in the art world to ensure an art collection is recorded and the whereabouts of the collection is known.
A zero-hours contract is when you are employed without any agreed minimum working hours, hence 'zero-hour'. It means that you might be working 40 hours one week and then only 2 the next. This removes certainty around how much you will earn each month.
Flora Wirgman: Yeah and I think as soon as you leave uni you’ve just got to do as many different things as possible.
Sophie Ridsdale-Smith: Hi everyone and welcome back to Hang it, an online platform providing young people with the tools to understand what a career in the art world might look like. My name is Sophie and today I’ll be talking to Flora Wirgman to find out what her job is in the art world and how she got there.
FW: Hi Sophie!
SRS: Okay, so let's start off by talking about your current job. So what do you do and what does it involve?
FW: So yeah, I work in an auction house in London. I work in the client services department, so predominantly I work with building relationships with clients and then I also support in administration. I answer emails from the global inbox and I process auction estimates and then during auctions another aspect of the job is that we assist the auctioneer in writing down lot numbers and how much they sold for and processing that data onto the website and I also work in front of house, so lots of different aspects to the job.
SRS: That's exciting.
FW: But, I think I started working for this auction house in September (2020). I was furiously trying to find a job like everybody does when they leave uni. I think I was applying to about 10 jobs a day and, I'm not going to lie, I don’t really remember applying for this job. It started as a Gallery Assistant. It is a great starting point and one of my other friends who started with me now works for another auction house in a specialist department because it gave her so much client service skills. People like my boss’s at the company used to work for the British Museum as a Gallery Assistant. I think it is a really underrated job and I think it is such a good place to start. More recently, my job has evolved slightly so I do more in the administration side of things.
SRS: What's the best thing about your job? Like what when you go into work you’re like oh glad I'm doing this today?
FW: Well I was really surprised that I would get on with the people as much as I do because I think the art world has such a reputation for being such a scary and hostile place.
SRS: Yeah, no definitely.
FW: But I started with a few other people and I love the changeover each week with different things on view and all the different kinds of art. I just feel so lucky.
SRS: And then, what’s the worst thing?
FW: Well sometimes, you know, you get tricky clients, but I think that is the same with any job really and it just sort of prepares you. But as well, it comes with the experience of being able to problem solve and think on your feet, and you just have to have that confidence that you are going to sort it out. As long as you say everything with a smile and remain super calm then that will calm down the other person if they are being tricky.
SRS: And can you tell us a little bit about how you got there. So like, what have you done before this job now?
FW: Um well, when I was 16 I remember waiting for my A-Level results, and I got work experience at Christie's in the Old Masters department, which is very different to what I do now in an auction house because it was Old Masters so more researched based and cataloguing and things. But all things that are useful if you are trying to start a career in the art world. I had an internship during one summer at uni in a smaller auction house in Sussex and I've worked in public sector galleries. I volunteered for Mayfair Art Weekend and the White Cube gallery as a receptionist. Lots going on there.
SRS: Do you want to say a little bit about your contract because you work full time and you mentioned you were also working at White Cube.
FW: So I am on a zero-hours contract which especially if you got and work in the arts it is quite normal to start off on a zero-hours contract. I didn’t do a masters so this was a good starting point for me, so I had to get another job and it balances itself quite well so yeah.
SRS: It’s worth saying that me and Flora went to uni together at Leeds, so when we finished uni in our final year, did you see yourself doing this kind of role?
FW: No I always knew I wanted to go into more the art market side of things, I think I knew I didn’t want to go into galleries because, I don't know, it just appealed more to me.
SRS: I think as well for you, and tell me if I’m wrong, but I feel like you spent the first year after uni applying to anything, like you said, and being able to try stuff out. You had the luxury to be like oh I’ll just take this job and see where it leads me and if I don’t like it, I’ll move somewhere else.
FW: Yeah, completely and when we first left uni I volunteered for Mayfair Art Weekend. Obviously, that wasn’t being paid for, so my parents lived in Sussex, and I got a job waitressing in a farm cafe. I would save up all that money and come down to London and work for Mayfair Art Weekend. And that proved a really useful thing in my future interviews and the jobs I got offered. So that is one thing I would say is as much as you can work for free because it shows you are passionate about it.
SRS: We had a conversation about internships the other day. We were saying that actually the best time to do unpaid internships is while you’re studying or that kind of time, or if you are working like you were at a cafe. Having flexibility because unpaid internships are not sustainable.
Shall we talk a little bit about actually applying for your job? Or what advice would you give someone I guess who is trying to find a job in the auction house world.
FW: To start off with, when you are looking for jobs, I am on Linkedin and I am subscribed to Art Jobs Daily and then through Mayfair Art Weekend, I was put in touch with a recruiter who specifically deals with art jobs. They are based in Carnaby Street, well actually I went for 1 meeting there and never heard back so I am not sure how great that is. But I do know one of my friends was, actually by coincidence, with them as well and she got a really good job at White Cube through it. So I think being with recruiters is really something that I think people don't explore enough and they really should because it is free! Nobody knows it is free to have a recruiter. It is their benefit to have you on their books.
SRS: So I guess, what are your tips, do you have any tips for starting out in your job or for someone looking for a job like you are doing at the moment or as a Gallery Assistant that you started out as? Um, any tips?
FW: Well I would just say, you have just got to keep the momentum going in applying for things, always keep creating if that’s your thing as well. Yeah and I think especially as soon as you leave uni you have got to try as many different things as possible. Once you apply for a job forget about it, afterwards as well until you hear back. Don’t dwell because it can drag you down. I think I have applied to about, since leaving uni, 200 jobs and I have been offered 3 of them. So just don’t dwell on things and start small. Find a job description of your dream job and look at all the requirements and then find out the easiest way to get each of those requirements separately, so that one day you will have all those requirements and be able to apply for your dream job. I also think having your individual projects is also really important. I had this idea when I left uni that I wanted to set up and run exhibitions, and I run it with a friend I met through work, we’ve called it FHCurate. Just having a passion project is so important.
SRS: Yeah, very wise. Thanks so much, Flora!
FW: Thank you for having me!
SRS: And thanks so much for listening, everyone. Don't forget to look at the rest of our website and follow us on our Instagram @hangitcollective to keep updated on when we release new content. Oh and also just to say if we have mentioned anything today, or Flora has mentioned anything we will put it in the transcript. Thanks, bye!