In this Frank Talk we sit down with Sophie Oakley. Sophie Oakley was the director of 20 Hoxton Square Projects in London before joining the Bruce High Quality Foundation in 2013 to run their studio and free art school, BHQFU in New York City. She has curated and produced a number of exhibitions including Betty Tompkins ‘Real Ersatz’ (NY) in 2015 and ‘The Last Brucennial’ (NY) in 2014, which was the largest exhibition of female artists to date exhibiting over 700 female artists. Sophie has worked at Blain Southern, London, since January 2017. We admire this woman very much and are happy to share her Frank Talk here!
What was your first job in the Arts?
Studio assistant to Marc Quinn.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
How to manage artists and their studios and that a personability and human aspect is vital to any role with artists.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I studied art history at university, but I had never thought about a career in the art world. I was just following my interests and I had no idea about art as an industry. Working with Marc and having that platform to get a glimpse of the art world, made me hungry to find more artists and to work with them to make projects.
What do you do now?
I work on the sales team at Blain Southern, a contemporary gallery in London.
Where are you from?
What is the arts community like there?
The London art scene is big and booming with many different pockets and sub cultures. There are collectors, collectives, foundations, and a range of galleries from the big international commercial galleries to smaller independent ones. We have a lot of art schools and although rent is expensive, we have large emerging artist communities. Different areas have different scenes- Central, East and South London all offer something individual.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
Yes, I’m sure it has had an effect – the London I grew up in had a tendency to squash ambition. I would have liked to grow up somewhere where you are encouraged to start your own company rather than work for someone else’s.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Do not doubt your own ideas. Art is, after all, a matter of opinion, and there is no right and no wrong.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
A 700 person all female exhibition in New York in 2014.
What has been a challenge for you?
Even though it is changing in the right direction, it is unfortunately still a man’s world.
What is something you do every day at work?
I check up on any exhibitions, auction results and artist’s press to make sure I am up to date with my local art community and the artists who I work with.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
Too many strange things!! Drying the sweat patches of my boss’ shirt on the air vents in a car before a meeting sticks in my memory…
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
Loyalty, passion and an encouragement for growth on both sides.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
Clear communication skills, an appetite to learn and enthusiasm for the role.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
A no job too small (or too big) can-do attitude will land you with more opportunity to prove your ability.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
If you know what you want to do – stay focused, if not – try everything.
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
Do what you love, you will bring your best energy to it and that will pay off in the end.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
Sean Scully at Luis Barragan’s San Cristobal in Mexico – it was a totally unique presentation and it was a beautiful pairing of the two artists.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
Kerry James Marshall