We are beyond excited to bring you this week’s Frank Talk with Colleen Cash! Colleen is the Director of Auctions for artnet. In this role, Colleen manages a global team that connects buyers and sellers of Contemporary Art, Photographs, and Prints & Multiples through 70+ curated sales annually on their proprietary online platform. Prior to joining artnet, Colleen was involved in the $4B redevelopment of LaGuardia’s Terminal B, where she worked on the art commissioning process for the new terminal. Colleen has held a number of positions with Christie’s and within the public policy sphere. Colleen received a BA in Special Honors from Hunter College, where she studied the economic evolution of craft. Please enjoy Colleen’s Frank Talk below!
What was your first job in the Arts?
I spent one summer as an intern with the New York State Council on the Arts. The work was important and it was amazing to see the breadth of art offerings around the state, but I was hungry for the pace of the commercial world. That winter I landed an internship within the Client Advisory group at Christie’s. I was with them for one full year before landing my first job as a Business Coordinator. I answered the “You got the job!” call from HR on my way home from my undergrad graduation ceremony. I was in a cab with my parents- that was a moment I’ll never forget.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
That everyone is valuable, and relationships are everything. I can’t tell you how many urgent top-client viewings I had to put together at Christie’s…some in a matter of minutes. Had I not developed the relationships I had with the behind the scenes crew- our art handlers, painters, lighting staff, front desk associates- we never would have been able to get those viewings up and running. It’s not just about having friends in high places—it’s about building authentic relationships across all spectrums of the organization. That’s the real ladder up.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I was a pre-med student on a theatre scholarship- so initially, I ran away from the arts at first in pursuit of a more practical career! I wanted to be a psychiatrist and I had dreams of studying the brain on art, of knowing more about the neurobiological underpinnings of what happens when catharsis is reached. Then I worked for a psychiatrist. He saw six patients an hour, and my romantic vision of being a modern-day Freud started to tarnish. I ended up boomeranging back to the arts and I realized that fostering and stewarding the role of art and culture was something I found to be incredibly fulfilling.
What do you do now?
I’m the Director of Auctions for artnet. We sell Photographs, Prints & Multiples, and Contemporary Art to clients across the globe on our proprietary platform. Artnet is now in its 30th year, and it’s thrilling to be involved with an organization that has forward-thinking and innovation in its DNA. You might know us for our PriceDatabase and News, but watch out on the Auctions front. Big things are happening!
Where are you from?
I’m a New Yorker! Born and raised on the north shore of Long Island.
What is the arts community like there?
My elementary school was actually named after William Sidney Mount, a major American painter and contemporary of the Hudson River School. The town I am from is also famous for a museum that houses a significant collection of carriages and American furniture and decorative arts. There is also a big theatre culture out there—that’s where I made my mark.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
My theatre background is in everything I do, and it’s one of the reasons that I love auction. It’s performative. There’s pageantry and tradition, and there’s certainly a fair share of drama. That’s all true in the online space as well—we may not have auction rooms or phone banks, but you can sense a shift in the air on sale days, and I thrive on that.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Network. The art world is so small, and you never know when winds of change are going to blow. Stay connected to your connections.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
I’m very proud of the specialty I’ve carved out for myself on the business side of the art world. I knew I was never going to be a specialist, but I was uncompromising in wanting to stay close to the art and to the clients. It’s possible!
What has been a challenge for you?
Change can be hard in this industry. It takes time to learn how to channel your own enthusiasm and energy to ultimately get buy-in and build consensus with stakeholders. I’ve learned to lean on commonalities and to listen. Listening is key.
What is something you do every day at work?
I make sure to carve out some time every day to read about goings on in other industries. I think it’s critical to stay well versed in the larger global picture. That knowledge helps me make better business decisions.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
One time at Christie’s we had to arrange for a literal drive by viewing for a set of prints. The client (a mega-famous director) only had enough time to walk into our lobby and back out, so we stacked the prints in a bin and we ran the bin to the lobby. We legitimately ran. The client looked at us and chuckled, looked at the prints and gave the thumbs up, and they are now hanging on a yacht! All in a day’s work.
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
A good employee works to add value to the company through their personal and professional development. A good boss gives their employees the space they need to grow and realize that value, but they also know when to come in and help. Bosses should be of value to their employees.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
Authenticity. Hiring for fit and company culture is increasingly important, and if the hiring manager can see who you really are, they are more likely to picture you alongside the existing team.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
Be consistent and become someone colleagues can rely on. Sometimes putting your nose down and doing really good, no frills work is the best way to get ahead.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
CVs are not one size fits all- you wouldn’t wear a dress or a suit that is ill-fitting to an interview, and there’s no reason why your resume shouldn’t be tailored to the company you’re interested in. Look at your experience and skills kaleidoscopically and speak to prospective employers in their language. If you’re applying to a secondary market institution, pull out your secondary market experience. If you’re interested in a management role with P&L responsibilities, reference that project you spearheaded that came in on time and under budget. Tailor, tailor, tailor.
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
When you’re just starting out, there really is no task too small. The more you do and experience in the early days of your career, the better set up you’ll be to make bold decisions later on.
In your experience, what are things to do and things to avoid during an interview?
The best piece of interview advice I ever received was to handle it like a conversation. A successful interview should feel like ideas are volleying between all parties. Stay engaged, listen, ask questions- smile! Try not to be too nervous and remember that the interviewer wants you to be successful. Hiring is a timely and costly process- I promise you that each interviewer is hoping the next candidate is the one, and that could be you!
Any other anecdotes about your experience in the art world that you would like to share?
If you’re in a saleroom, watch your hands! An auctioneer once took an expressive conversation I had as a bid. Thankfully I was outbid shortly after.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving at the Brooklyn Museum.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
Kees Van Dongen