Today we chat with Christine Pfister, Co-Owner and Director of Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia. The gallery exhibits contemporary art by a line of internationally established artists alongside up-and-coming talent. The gallery’s exhibitions have been reviewed in major magazines and newspapers, including Art in America, Timeout New York, the Brooklyn Rail, USA Today, Philadelphia Style Magazine, Philadelphia Inquirer, and more. The gallery has exhibited nationally at various art fairs, most recently at Art Miami and Volta Basel. Christine has also given many lectures and participated on panels at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of the Arts, the American Association of Museums, to name a few. Please enjoy reading Christine’s Frank Talk below!
What was your first job in the Arts?
My first job in the art world was gallery-sitting and welcoming visitors.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
I don’t think I learned anything practical at that job. However, it is at that time that I realized that the gallery world was where my passion was.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I come from a business background; I have a degree in business. I actually never decided to pursue a career in the art industry. It basically was offered to me, and I said yes. After the position was offered to me, I pursued an education at Christie’s in New York.
What do you do now?
I run a gallery; curating shows, welcoming guests, supervising the installation of exhibitions, participating in art fairs, and overseeing all related logistics with the aid of my team.
Where are you from?
I was born in a wonderful, storybook-like place, in Switzerland. My hometown is a medieval town, more than 500 years old, nestled into a scenic setting, with snowy mountains on one side and a beautiful lake on the other.
What is the arts community like there?
The visual art community is small, but the performance community is very vibrant; open-air concerts are a major feature in the summer.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
Yes. I absolutely wear different lenses, and my background and my education have had a huge impact that has never gone away. The sense of community in the field is very different in Europe.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Stay grounded, stay focused, and never get discouraged. Stay true to your values.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
That’s a difficult one. I don’t have a greatest accomplishment; I believe that my mission is to support each one of my artists, so their success is my success.
What has been a challenge for you?
This year is a challenge. Missing the physical relationship with everyone, from the artists to my visitors to institutions and museums and art fairs, is a challenge. This time taught us that the experience of viewing art in person can be translated into a virtual experience. The forced isolation of the pandemic has made it clear that the arts need a physical space.
What is something you do every day at the office (or your current home office)?
The first thing I do is drink a latte to clear my head and start my day.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
I was working on a project in Mexico City, and I was reaching the completion of multiple sales. Due to the structure of the artists’ finances, and as per their requests for US currency, I could only pay them in cash. So I ended up taking cabs through Mexico City, going from one studio to the next with thousands of dollars in my backpack, never knowing exactly what neighborhood I was in. It was an experience I would not repeat.
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
People who are really excited about what they do. I think passionate people excel automatically. For both a boss and an employee, the balance you strike between responsibility and freedom within your work is an important factor, as is communication between both parties.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
There are a lot of different factors, but in all cases, trust and reliability are of utmost importance.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace? Any good tips for a giving a great interview?
Your presence is the most powerful tool to create an impression: conviviality, timeliness, and genuine enthusiasm will always be noticed.
Is there any advice you would like to give people entering the art world?
My only advice is, be passionate. If you are in it for the long haul, passion is key, and the rest will fall into place.
Any other anecdotes about your working experience that you would like to share?
I was attending a new art fair in Miami, and at the end of the week, I had my crates ready to be picked up by my shipping company. I called to inform them that they were ready. They apologized and said that they were no longer able to take my crates due to a technical misestimate on their part. Everything was crazy and no shipping company was answering the phone, so I decided to just walk down the stairs. I begged the first shipper I saw to take my crates, and thankfully, he agreed. He remains my art shipper of choice to this day.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
The highlight of my summer of 2020, and my first museum visit after the closure, was DIA Beacon. Specifically, I loved François Morellet’s large-scale neon installation.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
I already have my five best artists in my collection!