Frank Talks

Alicia Puig – CEO and co-founder of PxP Contemporary

Alicia Puig - CEO and co-founder of PxP Contemporary
Alicia Puig - CEO and co-founder of PxP Contemporary

This week we chat with Alicia Puig, CEO and co-founder of PxP Contemporary, as well as the Director of Business Operations for Create! Magazine. Alicia is also an arts writer and an author. She has worked in the arts industry for over ten years both in the US and abroad. Her writing has been featured in publications and on blogs including Create! Magazine, Pikchur Magazine, Art She Says, and Empty Easel among others. Additionally, she has curated and co-curated exhibitions at Kutztown University, Hastings College, and the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. She specializes in content creation, online sales, and digital marketing for the arts and enjoys connecting with artists to learn about their work and help them find opportunities to advance their careers. 

PxP Contemporary’s current anniversary exhibition “ONE” opened on May 15th and runs until August 15th. The show can be viewed online at www.pxpcontemporary.com and features over 100 works of art by 31 international artists.

Please take a moment and enjoy reading Alicia’s wonderful Frank Talk below!

What was your first job in the Arts?

Both my first paid internship and paid job were at galleries in the greater Philadelphia area.

What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?

Working at a gallery with a small team of employees is great in the sense that you learn to do a bit of everything: exhibition planning, artwork installation, marketing, sales, shipping, and so much more. 

Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?

I was an artsy kid growing up so I applied to college intending to pursue a degree in Graphic Design. About a year into the program, I realized that it wasn’t the right fit and eventually transferred and switched majors to fine art.

What do you do now?

My main business is running the online art gallery PxP Contemporary, but I also work for Create! Magazine and contribute to other art publications. In addition, I periodically teach workshops for artists, oversee curatorial projects outside of the gallery, and my business partner and I will soon be launching our second book, “The Complete Smartist Guide”, with advice for those seeking to build a career in the arts.

Where are you from?

This is always a complicated question for me to answer. My family is from Puerto Rico, but I was born in Michigan and my family moved several times growing up. I usually just say Philly or near Philly because that is where I lived the longest and where my parents still reside.

What is the arts community like there?

Of course, I’m biased, but I always thought Philadelphia had some of the best museums and there are a handful of great galleries too. The Philly art scene is often overshadowed by New York’s, but one of the benefits of it being smaller is that it’s much easier to make connections. There are a plethora of artist-run and artist-focused organizations, nonprofits, and studio buildings, but over the last few years, I’ve heard several artists tell me that they don’t feel like there are enough opportunities for them there. 

Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?

In some ways, yes. I may likely have had an entirely different career path if I had started out in New York or another bigger city than Philadelphia – but I’m glad I didn’t!

What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?

For people working in a creative industry, it seems a bit counterintuitive that we as a whole sometimes get stuck in the habit of following ‘rules’ based on what has previously been done. If you look to those who have found success in the art world, you’ll often find that they got there by doing things a bit differently. Don’t be afraid to break the rules or make your own.

What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?

Writing my first book with my business partner, Ekaterina Popova, and then launching our online art gallery, PxP Contemporary! We just recently celebrated our first year in business 🙂

What has been a challenge for you?

I think I spent a long time in my early career worrying about how to deal with all of the ‘little fires’ that would inevitably occur. Now I find that I’m not as stressful when these things happen. You can only control so much, the rest you just have to handle as it comes.

What is something you do every day at the office (or your current home office)?

Emails, social posts, and checking the gallery’s website analytics. Not all parts of running a business are glamorous, haha! 

What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?

Not quite ‘on the job’, but it was mandatory – a Christmas-themed skit for the company holiday party. It was a competition amongst all of the employees split up into four teams. 

What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?

Respectful, empathetic, someone you can learn from – I think these qualities are true for both. For supervisors and managers specifically, I always think of a phrase that my husband told me once, which is “people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.” I’m sure it’s not true 100% of the time, but people want to be acknowledged, supported, and have room to grow. Without those things, they’re very likely to want to move on as quickly as possible.

What do you think makes a person hirable?

It’s amazing when you find employees who are especially skilled, smart, or efficient, but at the end of the day, it’s never a bad thing to simply have someone with a good attitude who you can trust.

What is your advice to make yourself stand out in your workplace? Any good tips for giving a great interview?

Being skilled or really knowledgeable about one subject can be useful in certain parts of the art world – you can own your niche and utilize it to your advantage. Otherwise, I’d say be open to learning, ask for feedback, and try to anticipate others’ needs when you can whether that is of your clients, boss, or your fellow employees. 

For an interview, remember that you should be trying to assess if they’re the right fit for you as much as you are for them. When you think of it this way, you’ll likely be less nervous, you’ll be able to present yourself with more confidence, and you’ll come up with better questions when they ask what you want to know about the job or their company. 

Is there any advice you would like to give people entering the art world?

Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you.

What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?

Vija Celmins at the Met Breuer. My mom and I had to zip across town to catch it before the museum closed, but it was so worth it! 

If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?

This is such a difficult question! There are way too many. 

From history? Perhaps Helen Frankenthaler, Wayne Thiebaud, and Alex Katz. 

Contemporary? Mickalene Thomas & Amy Sherald come to mind first.

What artwork is in your home office?

I’m still in the process of building my office, but for now – I have a painting by Allen Bentley, sculpture by Betsy Enzensberger, sculpture by Dan Lam, painting by Ekaterina Popova, sculpture by JC Rivera, and a sculpture by Hebru Brantley.

What is your greatest WFH challenge? Or a WFH luxury you don’t want to lose ever again?

Unplugging! I’ve been working from home for over a year, but it seems like everything has been even busier for me in the past two months!! 

It’s been nice to have my husband around for lunch since I wouldn’t normally see him at that time. Also, more online events. There are so many things we end up missing out on because they’re too far away or at happening at the same time as something else. It’s great that galleries, fairs, museums, and other arts organizations have found ways to help everyone connect and participate virtually and I hope that continues. 

How do you think art can play a fundamental role in the world’s recovery?

I think it already has in that it continues to provide hope and inspiration even in uncertain times as well as shows us that there are many universal things tying all of us together. Beyond that, so many artists and arts institutions have stepped up in a big way to use their work or their influence for good whether by directly supporting a charity or spreading awareness. 

Since we are all at home and exploring more galleries and museums online, perhaps some for the first time, when the quarantine is lifted, what is your first art filled destination?

If the fairs in Miami aren’t pushed back, maybe that. 

If they are, our honeymoon to Japan had to be postponed so I’ll be very excited when we get to go or we may do a shorter trip to Colombia before then depending on how everything progresses. I’m grateful that my husband not only enjoys, but also helps find and plan art-related activities during our travels!

It can be argued that the art world is finally forced to adopt and adapt technologies that have long been a part of other industries. Agree or Disagree?

Absolutely agree. Long time coming!

And finally, do you think the art world should be more transparent?

Yes, and thankfully, I think it is heading in that direction.