MxAA Stipend Recipient, Olivia ’12 Gets Behind the Scene at Christie’s

Olivia ’13 reports on her 2015 summer internship experience.

My internship at Christie’s was an invaluable experience to me, though perhaps not in the exact way I expected to be. As the daughter of an antiques dealer, I have grown up with auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s often floating around dinner table conversation, and I have over the years romanticized working at such large and successful art-related companies. Jobs at auction houses are famously perceived as glamorous, as every art-interested woman’s dream.

I worked in what most people currently think of as the “best” specialized department at Christie’s – Post-War and Contemporary Art. This department, the biggest of the company, had just had a major sale in which it had sold a work of art for the biggest price ever in the art world; it was an exciting time to be there. Of course, the department was already in the midst of putting together several of their next upcoming sales by the time I entered the scene. As an intern, in the midst of mailing catalogues and running errands for various members of the department (which felt, despite its toils, like a critical “intern” rite of passage in my life), I got to do some pretty cool things. I helped appraise several large art collections owned by Christie’s clients, I got to attend numerous auctions, I did important research on some of the contemporary artists we were dealing with, and I even got published – a blurb I wrote about two of the lots in the upcoming sale – in one of the catalogues. I learned a lot about the business side of the art world and how it all comes together backstage.

I thoroughly enjoyed my six weeks at Christie’s, but perhaps more important than the fun I had there was the realization that Christie’s, though glamorous and intellectual in certain respects, is in truth a large corporation just like any other. Each person who works there, especially in the administrative and lower-level specialist roles, is part of a larger system, and has a set series of goals to accomplish each day. Though Christie’s is a firm centered around art, there is in fact very little art in what most people working there do every day. I realized, in working there, that auction house life is perhaps not the life for me. It seems to boil art down to a price tag – that is, after all, the end goal of an auction – and that did not sit well with me, as a lover of art for what goes into creating it. I don’t think I could imagine myself sitting in an office all day if I am working toward something I don’t fully stand behind, and for that reason I probably will not apply to work in an auction house. Despite this realization, I don’t regret any of my time at Christie’s. I learned a lot about a field I have always been interested in, I learned about what I need to be looking for in a job for next year, and I met a lot of people I will almost certainly reach out to in the coming months for career and job-searching advice. It was most definitely a well-spent six weeks.