We are thrilled to share with you this week’s Frank Talk with Jon Link! Jon is the Downtown Logistics Manager for Salon 94. At Salon 94, Jon manages all the art fairs that Salon 94 participates in and oversees all the exhibitions at the Gallery’s two Downtown locations. Jon Link is a young fine arts professional living and working in New York. Originally from Iowa, Jon enjoys traveling and cooking in his free time. Please enjoy reading Jon’s advice and experience about working in the art world!
What was your first job in the Arts
At the end of college, I was interning at The Hole (back when it was on Greene street) and when I graduated they brought me on board as an Operations Assistant. At that time, I had only had one other art world internship, at Gagosian, where I sat at a desk selling posters for a summer.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
Working at a very small gallery, especially one that puts together shows, events and fairs at the intensity and level of build-out that The Hole expects, required me to learn things on the fly and to develop the flexibility to adapt. Often the look or effect we wanted to create at the budget we had required the creative use of materials or an untraditional method of fabrication or installation. It taught me how to think on my feet, source things efficiently, and honed my decision-making skills.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I studied Economics in college and had planned on going into the insurance industry. I minored in visual arts out of interest but didn’t originally think it would be a viable career path for me. As I learned more about it and spent more time in the city immersing myself in the community I realized that there were real people who worked real jobs in this industry. I decided to do an internship at a gallery and from there I was hooked.
What do you do now?
For four years I’ve been with Salon 94 in the operations department. I currently manage our art fairs as well as exhibitions in our two downtown galleries as the Downtown Logistics Manager.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Always be willing to help out. The more skills you can learn in your colleagues’ departments the better you can help them in a crunch. It offers you the chance to be helpful, of course, but beyond that it rounds out your own skills so that people understand you have the ability and drive to gain new skills. That drive and ability are important when it comes to moving up in any position.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
Working at Art Basel in Switzerland was a big milestone for me. As the gold standard of fairs, it was exciting to be part of that massive week-long world.
What has been a challenge for you?
It has become a challenge for me to see art outside of my work day. I rarely make it out of the neighborhood to see shows at other galleries and often times miss great museum shows in my own backyard. Working in the operations side of a gallery can be exhausting and sometimes the last thing you want to do at the end of the day is go to another gallery and look at some more art.
What is something you do every day at work?
Every day I have to strategize my time effectively. Some weeks are insane with no time to answer emails, work on long term projects, or organize as effectively as I’d like. But when the fairs or exhibitions slow down I can use the slack time I have to go back and tend to the work that I hadn’t had time to do when we were busy. It’s a constant back and forth between crazed and calm.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
At The Hole we put together a huge exhibition of art relating to AREA, an influential 1980s artist designed club. The opening was a huge party with performances happening throughout the space. At one point I had to lead a nude woman through the crowd on a leash as part of her performance. At the time I was quite young, and it embarrassed me a great deal, but I’ve since then grown more accustomed to things like that. There was also a nude man who would come to all of our openings in his own form of performance art. I wonder what ever happened to him…
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
A good employee is defined by their ability to focus on what defines the company. To understand what makes your position in the company important you have to first think about what the company is trying to achieve. Narrower focuses, like the bottom line or getting into a selective art fair, might move towards that goal but they can also detract in the longer term. Instead a good employee should think about what they bring to the larger group effort towards that goal.
To that end, a good boss is someone who is helping their employees understand what that goal is and what their individual responsibility towards that goal is. Without well thought out direction and planning, employees feel less like they are members of a team and more like they are tools within a framework.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
A proven desire to learn. I am sometimes involved in the hiring process for candidates in my department and something that everyone claims is that they are able to learn and adapt. Since at this stage you can only take someone’s word about it, I think it’s invaluable to be able to show: no, I actually can learn new tricks. Showing that you’ve developed new skills, through classes at the Interior Design School (trust me, if you don’t know SketchUp go there!), that you learned crate building at your last job, or even just that you went to the fairs and looked at the way the booths were built out, these things are concrete evidence of a trait that is very necessary in developing, especially as entry level and mid-career applicants.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
Figure out how to have a positive attitude even when you are feeling very negative. Consistent negativity will isolate you and reinforce itself.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
I think one of the most important skills you can have on the operational side is Google’s SketchUp program. There are free courses as well as great courses at the New York School of Interior Design that can quickly teach you enough to put it down as a skill. It’s immensely helpful in designing anything from a booth at a fair to the layout of an office.
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
Let yourself try things out. Your entry level days are an amazing time for you to figure out what it is you enjoy doing and what you do well. Just because you’ve always imagined yourself doing one job doesn’t mean that the reality will be the best thing suited for you. Just keep an open mind.
In your experience, what are things to do and things to avoid during an interview?
You should definitely do your research into the business before you go in. You should try to understand, as much as you can from the outside, what they are going to be listening for. If you see that they do ten fairs a year, then think of a way your position might support that staff or any personal knowledge you have about the fairs they attend. Any spots you can find where your skills can apply, make sure to find a way to include that in the conversation. Conversely make sure you don’t promise something you will have no way of providing. If you aren’t familiar with their database system, for instance, provide that information up front. Sometimes where you fall short is something you can be taught in training, but if it isn’t you don’t want to end up somewhere where you cannot deliver what you’ve promised.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe’s show Scenario in the Shade at Kunsthal Charlottenborg was a surreal treat to see this summer. It was a totally immersive installation that, from an exhibition planning perspective, was intensely fascinating to experience and a lot of fun. The film that capped the show off was one of the best I’ve seen.
I would also be remiss if I left out the show that the Vitra Design Museum put together during their annual Basel party all about design in its relation to nightclubs. For the amount of time spent in one show it definitely wins out. I was partying in that room until they kicked me out.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
Gilbert & George