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Frank Talks

Brigitte Mulholland – Director at Anton Kern Gallery

Brigitte Mulholland - Director at Anton Kern Gallery
Brigitte Mulholland - Director at Anton Kern Gallery

​​Brigitte Mulholland is a director at Anton Kern Gallery, as well as an independent curator, with projects staged at Spring/Break, Cuchifritos Gallery, and the W Hotel Downtown, among others. Her shows have received reviews from Artsy, Artnet, Artforum, Hyperallergic, and Artcritical. She and her co-director Kristen Smoragiewicz will next mount the group exhibition ‘Peep Show’ at Anton Kern Gallery’s WINDOW space this fall. Mulholland has been working in the art world since 2006, and holds a Master’s degree in Art History from Hunter College.

What was your first job in the Arts? 

My first job was an internship in the Department of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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

Taking initiative is a really important part of working: seeing and knowing that there’s an unspoken need for something, and doing it, can be a crucial way to grow and move up, and to make you stand out.

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

I can trace my love of art back to a specific moment: the first time I saw an image of a Monet painting. It really cut me to the core and I thought “wow this guy gets it.” It was one of his paintings on the cover of a book, so I bought that book, it was a small biography of Monet, and tore through it. That was a gateway drug for me and from there I taught myself about Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, then on and on. In high school, when I learned that “art history” was a thing you could study in college, I knew that was what I would major in. It took some time to understand what the different possibilities are for careers in the arts, but I also did kind of always know, intuitively, that I would wind up working in a gallery.

What do you do now?

I’m the director of Anton Kern Gallery.

Where are you from? 

I’m from Ardsley, a small town in Westchester.

What is the arts community like there? 

It was limited in the way small towns are, and my family never really got that I was so into it. And I actually growing up the art community for me was doing theatre, that was an easier creative outlet to inhabit at the time, and where I wound up making friends. We didn’t have specific art history classes, so learning about it was always in conjunction with other fields—history, French, sometimes in art class—and from there we did occasional museum trips or small and very limited studies of art. A lot of my knowledge came from buying books on my own and also going to the Met with friends.

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

Of course. Truthfully, I had a very unhappy childhood and art was my solace. Monet and Van Gogh became the friends who understood me— their work really resonated with how I felt and saw the world. Knowing that art and people like them—artists—existed is what really carried me through until I could leave my hometown and be on my own. It’s a fundamental belief for me that art can change and help people and that it matters—because it absolutely saved me. So I very deeply understand how vital artists are, and I always want to protect them and enable them to make work, which is exactly what my current role entails.

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

Work hard and absorb and learn from everyone you admire. 

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

I’m very proud of the museum acquisitions I’ve secured and made happen—that’s always such a big moment for an artist and so meaningful, I love facilitating them.

What has been a challenge for you? 

Being a woman in the industry is tough. You have to work twice as hard and expectations for you are very high. It’s sometimes tough not to get disheartened when I see so many women bending over backwards, working extremely hard, and still being mistreated. It’s very insidious. It’s not the blatant and obvious stuff, it’s actually the subtle slights and small indignities that are the worst. It took me a really long time to see it and understand how deep the roots are, and how to start sticking up for myself and other women as well. I’m tremendously lucky to know a lot of women (and men!) who taught me how to fight for myself.

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

Emails. All day, every day.

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

That’s a tough question! What’s weird to most people is so normal to me because the whole art world is kind of fundamentally weird. I’ve had to pick up very strange items for installations. We had a Maurizio Cattelan piece in a group show once and it was weird to have that around—it was a bird that could meow and bark.

What do you think defines a good employee? And what defines a good boss? 

Good employees take pride in their work, have initiative, humility, and curiosity. A good boss wants to enable their employees to do good work, make them feel empowered, and encourage their growth.

What do you think makes a person hirable? 

Experience, capability, and most importantly having a good attitude and approach. 

What is your advice for making yourself stand out in your workplace? 

Any good tips for giving a great interview? Listening, having a positive attitude, and being eager to learn are important. I truly believe that a good heart and honest, hard work pays off. For an interview: do research—know about the place you’re interviewing for, ask questions, and express why you are genuinely interested in working there.

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

It’s not easy, but if you love it, it’s always worth it. It’s a genuinely wonderful place with wonderful people. Know your worth, don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or compromised, and always keep your integrity—the only thing that you have in the end is your name and your reputation, and if you stay true to yourself it will take you far.

Any other anecdotes about your working experience that you would like to share? 

I feel like I’ve already talked too much, ha!

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

It’s hard to say the “best” but the most meaningful and powerful for me was Martin Roth’s exhibition at Strongroom in Newburgh. He passed away unexpectedly in 2019, right before it was supposed to go up, and then covid happened in early 2020 obviously. But Kelly Schroer, the owner and curator of Strongroom, kept pushing and made it happen this year. Martin was a friend and I really adored him and his work. He was brilliant and funny and sensitive, and his work always made me stop and remember to breathe deeper, to appreciate the world. The exhibition is still up, I would tell anyone heading upstate to go and see it.   

What artwork is in your home office? 

A lot! I have a pretty large collection and I recently moved so I’m still finishing up the hang, but so far it’s mostly a lot of framed drawings, prints, and photographs: Richard Hughes, Aliza Nisenbaum, David Shrigley, Shara Hughes, Wilhelm Sasnal, Erik Van Lieshout, Brian Calvin, Rebecca Ness, Julie Curtiss, Cynthia Talmadge, William Wegman, Harold Ancart…

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

WFH makes it so that you’re truly available and asked for things all the time—way more than “before,” and even then I was sort of available all the time. Now it feels now like it’s tripled. I do still want and need a WFH day once a week or so because having the quiet time alone to just plow through emails or writing isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity! The luxury I guess is being able to do it in comfy clothes and sit on a nice couch, and I do enjoy that.

How do you think art can play a fundamental role in the world’s recovery from Covid19? 

Art has always been an integral and important part of the most difficult times in history, this is no different.

How do you think art should be shared and/or experienced moving forward? 

In person is always the best! Although of course I understand that not everyone has the luxury of living in places where a lot of great art can be seen. And now of course safety and health is a concern. The benefit of digital imagery is tremendous, but I think if you can, always see work in person, it’s just how it’s meant to be seen and there is nothing else like it.

What is your go to snack these days? And your go to soundtrack? 

At the moment my favorite snack is these pints of Heirloom cherry tomatoes I get from Fresh Direct, it’s their peak season and they’re like candy to me. My background noise a lot of the time is, somewhat embarrassingly, reruns of 30 Rock, SVU, and Seinfeld—it’s a kind of white noise to me and I work best with some sort of sound. If I’m writing late at night I really like to listen to Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, it never gets old and the energy and craziness of it always invigorates me.

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

I’m tremendously lucky to own most of the artists that I love already! I know I’ll never own a Rothko or anything like that so I just feel lucky to have work by artists I love and know.

Since we have been exploring more exhibitions, galleries and museums online, when you start making plans for your next trip – what will be your first art filled destination? 

Art destination bucket list? Fingers crossed, my first (out of country) trip will be to Switzerland for Art Basel, which I always enjoy. The fair and the concurrent exhibitions in the city are always impressive and I just love to see my colleagues from around the world. Weirdly I’ve never been to Florence so that feels like a big gap in my art historical viewing experience, that would probably be my next major art trip.

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

Absolutely. One benefit of the prevalence of OVRs is the transparency in pricing, but that’s only one part of it. There is so much that needs to be transparent and changed, and I try to do that in my own way. My motto is that “the rising tide lifts all boats” so I am always honest with colleagues, artists, and just friends in the industry. Doing good and being honest benefits everyone. I genuinely think of other gallerists as colleagues, not competitors. I know it probably sounds trite but I genuinely believe in the good that art does for the world, and that we’re all in it together. There’s no reason not to help each other and to help artists—because that’s why we’re all in this in the first place.

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