We are very excited to bring you this week’s Frank Talk with Natasha Schlesinger, founder of Artmuse Inc and Artmuse Interactive. Natasha is an award-winning art historian and art advisor who has worked in the art field for over 25 years. Schlesinger began her career working at art galleries in New York and London. She continued as a specialist in European Furniture and Decorative arts at Christie’s auction house in New York before co-founding an international consulting firm, Meridienne LLC. She has lectured both at Christie’s and Sotheby’s and taught at the graduate program for the Study of Decorative Arts, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, and New School. Schlesinger previously served as the Art Curator of The Surrey Hotel where she conceived and curated three successful exhibitions connecting The Surrey’s own permanent art collection to the most relevant themes in contemporary art today. Most recently, she curated a group exhibition titled “ManMade by Nature” at Unix gallery in Chelsea that featured multi-media works by 11 artists focused on looking at nature through the lens of innovation and technology. The exhibition is on until October 26th. She also curates the charity auction for the Baryshnikov Arts Center benefit annually. Schlesinger holds a Master’s degree in Decorative Arts and Design from the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Culture and Design. In 2005, Schlesinger received the Future Leaders of the Art World award from ArtTable, a national nonprofit membership organization for professional women in leadership positions in the visual arts. In 2017, she launched the Discover Galleries app to bring collectors and galleries together through a unique technology platform offering advice and consultation services. Please enjoy reading Natasha’s Frank Talk below!
What was your first job in the Arts?
My first job was while I was an undergraduate at Barnard College, Columbia University and I was hired to be an art archivist for Wildenstein gallery. I went on to work for them in London as well for a short time after college.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
It was a great way to supplement my visual learning in art history. I was in charge of three rooms of files of any printed visual sources for art works from Medieval to Modern art. It was a phenomenal way to see and learn. That gallery space in NY is now Skarstedt gallery and I walked in there for the first time in over 25 years a few months ago. Very surreal experience that reminds one of the circuitous nature of life.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I was always taken to museums by my dad who was passionate about art and history. I didn’t always want to go but I finally took an art history class in high school and became interested on my own. It wasn’t until I went to Barnard, where I initially majored in psychology and planned to go to medical school, that I completely changed my mind, flipped my major and minor and became fully immersed in the idea that I only wanted to be in the art field. At that time though, it was going to be art prior to 20th century. When I graduated from Barnard, I went to London to work for an art historian Joachim Pissarro and did research for him in London, Paris and Tokyo. I came back to New York and worked for several Old Master and American paintings galleries as I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in the art field. I eventually tired of being the front-desk girl and doing work like writing for catalogues without much acknowledgement – I had to make a decision of whether to go on to get a Masters and PhD in art history or change my direction. At that time, Bard Graduate Center was just founded by Susan Soros and I was accepted into its inaugural class. At that time, I focused my studies on decorative arts of the 18th century. I focused on that and went on to become a specialist in that area at Christie’s right after graduating with a Master’s Degree.
What do you do now?
What I do now cannot be described in just a few words. I have a company called Artmuse that offers curation, guidance, art advisory, partnerships, and events and corporate collaborations as well as a new technology platform. I have many roles that I play. I am a curator, and art guide and an art advisor but for many different projects from private to public. I am an entrepreneur at heart and feel that art offers numerous opportunities to think outside the box and broaden the scope of what that means.
Where are you from?
I was born in Moscow and immigrated to the Unites States with my family in 1979 as a child before the age of Glasnost. I have been in NY since then, as well as living in various cities in Europe.
What is the arts community like there?
I would have no personal idea of what the arts community is like in Moscow as I have not been back there since I left.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
No, I don’t believe it has other than the fact that I understand what it is like to live outside the US and can relate to people from anywhere in the world.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
I would advise anyone starting out or looking for a direction in the art world to think broadly and creatively, even if you are not an artist. There are so many more opportunities in the art field today than when I was graduating from college or even graduate school. One needs to not be stuck in one role or one direction. There are ways to participate in the art field that are exciting and might change with time. I would advise to be open minded and a risk-taker. Say yes more than you say no.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
For me, the ultimate goal and purpose is to introduce and bring contemporary art to audiences everywhere in a very democratic way. I have accomplished that through my art tours where I have brought thousands of people to see art for the first time at museums or to introduce them to art they never knew existed at galleries or artist studios. It is also one of the most important reasons why I curate my own exhibits, to bring the art to the public and to excite the public to see art.
What has been a challenge for you?
Getting press on the projects that I love such as my Artmuse Selects Artist Studios and Pop Ups App or shows that I curate is always the biggest challenge. Marketing what you believe in is always the biggest challenge and getting the word out can either make something succeed or fail.
What is something you do every day at work?
I learn something new about art every single day!
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
When I was at Christie’s I had to go to a townhouse of a now infamous and controversial figure to see his collection. It was strange and uncomfortable and I was happy to get out of there. Second was when I had to go to see the important Impressionist collection of a Japanese collector in Tokyo but when I got there, he was showing me the copies of all the paintings because the actual originals were in storage.
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
A good employee is someone who listens and asks questions and executes what is asked of them but one who also thinks out of the box and goes beyond what is asked of them. Quick thinking, hard work and perseverance are all crucial qualities to look for in an employee. A good boss is someone who can delegate and explain well, while respecting their employees and appreciating their work.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
Willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed in a job. Someone who is reliable and shows up on time no matter what. Someone who is “hungry” in regards to work.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
Go beyond what is asked of you. Show that you are there to succeed and make the company you work for succeed. That you are a team player.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
It depends on your CV and the years you have of experience in the field. But even if you don’t have that much, show that you are interested in the field by taking courses or showing that you have done your due diligence in preparing for this field in other ways.
In your experience, what are things to do and things to avoid during an interview?
Make sure you dress appropriately for an interview. Serious and put together always wins. Make sure you learn enough about the company you are interviewing at and prepare specific questions to ask the interviewer. Don’t be late EVER!
Any other anecdotes about your experience in the art world that you would like to share?
I love working with artists, galleries and clients. I love that I get to do all of it and am not beholden to a single space or thing. I like diversity and interaction with different kinds of people from the most creative to the most serious collectors and writers. My favorite aspects of what I do is when a show I have curated affords me an opportunity to gather a group of people to create panels, events and talks about important issues and create a dynamic platform for debate and discussion.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
The best exhibition in the last year was absolutely the ground-breaking Hilma Af Klint at the Guggenheim museum. It was earth shattering and stunning.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
Rashid Johnson, Simone Leigh, Toyin Ojah Odutola, Marilyn Minter, Rob Wynne.