November 19, 2015

A Summer in Shanghai

Three Los Angeles Art Business students tell the story of their immersion into the Chinese contemporary art world

As part of their Master’s degree, Sotheby’s Institute students take several field trips around the world to discover the best of the art world in established art cities, as well as emerging markets. MA in Art Business students from the Los Angeles campus spent a week in China during Art Basel Hong Kong in March 2015 and got to meet the directors, curators and experts of the best art institutions and galleries in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Click here to watch the video about their trip.

Inspired by an extraordinary cultural and artistic experience, three of our students went back to Shanghai for their summer internship. Read more about their experiences below and learn how these internships shaped the beginning of their art world careers.

Zoe, you spent the summer at Pearl Lam Galleries in Shanghai. What was your job there?

I wanted to learn more about the art world as I have more of a business background, so I did a lot of artist research. For example, I presented artist proposals for the Shanghai W Hotel and did research on Chinese female artists for an exhibition opening later this year. I also got to do research on Pearl Lam’s most well known artist, Zhu Jinshi, whose signature impasto technique has come to define his artistic style. In addition, I also helped with public relations, translation, articles and press.

Soo, you also interned at Pearl Lam Galleries. Can you tell us about your experience?

I had many different duties, which included preparing for an opening of an exhibition, creating marketing plans for emerging artists, promoting Pearl Lam Galleries at upcoming art fairs, translating artists’ bios into English and Korean, and managing social media. Perhaps my biggest accomplishment was to entirely rewrite the Social Media Manager Guidebook with Milena, another intern from Sotheby’s Institute. Also, as a continuation of the summer internship, Milena and I interned at EXPO Chicago in September for Pearl Lam Galleries.

Milena, you interned both at Pearl Law Gallery and the Propaganda Museum. How did you juggle both jobs?

My summer plans all came together back on our trip in March. At the Propaganda Poster Art Center, I worked directly under Owner/Director Yang Pei Ming. A majority of my job was helping Yang write articles about the collection, artists featured there, and stories about the Shanghai People’s Publication House, one of the biggest publication houses in China before and after Mao. At Pearl Lam, I was working on the press side for exhibitions and on social media. I was lucky to work with incredible bosses, and everyone was very understanding, especially on days when I had to switch my hours to accommodate my other job.

What has your experience been living and working in the art world in Shanghai?

Zoe: Living and working in the art world in Shanghai is a fascinating juxtaposition of cultures. Shanghai has the largest number of art museums in China and every month there are openings for new exhibitions from all kinds of galleries. Shanghai not only has galleries like Pearl Lam that concentrate on abstract art for established collectors, but also has plenty of galleries that focus on entry-level buyers. Especially for contemporary art, Shanghai is becoming the city after Beijing that is rapidly growing into a young and energetic art center.

Soo: During the weekdays we worked at the gallery, but during the weekend, we often had spare time to visit other galleries and museums in Shanghai. We attended many exhibition openings and other art-related events. Also, attending these events served as a great opportunity to meet and connect with other people in the art world in Shanghai. Being exposed to Shanghai’s unique artworks and also to its culture really has been mind-blowing and life changing to some extent.

Milena: In my opinion, Shanghai is akin to Los Angeles, in that the international significance and excitement around Shanghai is just now gaining momentum. There are a ton of emerging artists and designers who are trying to make a splash on the Asian market right now, and I think the biggest struggle there is that Asian collectors are more interested in investment value. Before these artists become ‘collectable’ they have to prove their significance on a larger scale in the Western market, which is challenging.

How do you think the art world in China compares with what you have seen in Los Angeles and the US?

Zoe: Unlike the market in the US, contemporary art in China has not been completely popularized, considering our interest in Chinese painting and calligraphy. Overall, collectors in China are still adjusting and refining their artistic taste, the audience in the US is more established and the contemporary market is more solid. However, as the amount of art museums and galleries is rapidly growing in China, I can see that the art market, especially the primary market of contemporary art, is going to boom.

Soo: I think art markets in China and in Los Angeles are quite similar because both markets have shown tremendous growth over the last decades compared to any other art markets in the world. I think the most critical factor that can be attributed to the growth of the Chinese art market is its evolving governmental policies of bringing in Western auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s. And for LA, there is a great explosion in its art scene in recent years, where numerous galleries have sprung up and people in the art world are moving to LA for hope and opportunity. With these factors, I definitely predict the art markets of both regions will become even stronger, attracting a wide audience internationally.

Milena: I feel like most of what we tried to do at Pearl Lam Galleries was make our space work for both Eastern and Western audiences. In meetings with the Asia Director, we talked about the ‘Eastern market’ and ‘Western market’ a lot, which on the surface might seem separate, but these distinct identities are becoming more and more blurred.

What would you like to do after you graduate?

Zoe: My career goal is to join a gallery or auction house to provide art appraisals, consulting and business services between artists and collectors with the end goal of promoting art and having it recognized and appreciated by more people. I would like to be a connection between Chinese and Western contemporary art, so that resources can be integrated between artists and collectors from different cultures.

Soo: I would like to work at an auction house after I graduate, preferably in the Southeast Asian art department. However, that is only one of the options that I am considering. I am definitely interested other areas of the industry, such as working in a gallery or conducting appraisals, which are areas I would love to further explore.

Milena: I’m trying to play it by ear now more than ever. If I didn’t do that, I would’ve missed out on the experience of a lifetime by working for Pearl Lam and PPAC this summer, so I’m applying everywhere…literally. Any and every city that I’ve ever thought about living in is where I’m applying for jobs in museums, galleries, art PR and more. I’m really excited about the idea that I can live anywhere in the world with this degree, that’s the gift going to SIA has given me—it’s really given me a whole set of options to explore.