Erin Schuppert joins the Ramsay Fairs team with eight years of experience in the New York art market. Her previous positions at Menconi & Schoelkopf, Phillips, and Christie’s span finance and operations with specializations across art departments including American art, contemporary art, and antiquities. As Director, Erin applies her passion for operational strategy and accessible art to her vision for the fair.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I grew up in a very creative household. My mom is an artist and painted, among other things, children’s artwork, and my sister is a ceramicist. I never had a knack for creating, but I knew I loved being around art. When I was little, my dad used to take me and my sister to the local museum on the night’s when kids were granted free admission. Years later, I became obsessed with my AP art history class in high school and earned an art history degree during undergraduate. I then decided to pursue my master’s in Museum Studies from NYU. I quickly found I was the only pro-market member of my program and speculated that perhaps auctions, galleries, and art fairs would be a better long-term fit for me than strictly nonprofit work.
What was your first job in the Arts and what was the most useful or important thing you learned in that experience?
While I was still at NYU earning my master’s, I applied for an internship at Christie’s in the Antiquities Department. I had studied Classics in undergraduate. I am so grateful to have entered the art market with that experience. The team was incredibly generous with their time and knowledge, and if it had been a bigger department, I think I may have gotten lost in the shuffle a bit. The most significant thing I learned is that if you are surrounded by people who are experts in their field, ask as many questions as they will allow you to ask and observe the way they conduct their work. They usually love to share their passion and you never know when you’ll have another opportunity like that.
Where are you from and what is the arts community like there? Has your upbringing shaped what you do in the arts today?
I’m from Jacksonville, FL and I have noticed that the arts community has shifted in recent years. I think there exists a real opportunity for growth there because the population has changed significantly since the onset of the pandemic. It seems there is an increased interest in the arts. As I mentioned before, I come from a family of artists, so my upbringing certainly shaped what I do today.
Congratulations about your recent appointment to Fair Director of the Affordable Art Fair (AAF) NYC! What is the most exciting aspect of this new role?
I have always felt passionate about making the art world accessible. So far in my career, I’ve had the incredible fortune to work with some of the most highly regarded and most valuable works in the world, across many of the world’s most renowned arts institutions. Yet many of my best memories are from the work I did as co-chair of corporate social responsibility groups or through my volunteer posts. I actually came to AAF through my volunteer work with The Art Therapy Project, our nonprofit partner, who I have been involved with for over 5 years now. The most exciting aspect of this new director role is that I can marry my experience in the art market with my desire to make it approachable. What I am doing here has sparked curiosity in my own friends and family about the art world or about acquiring works for their homes — it no longer feels out of reach and they recognize the value in supporting working artists and the arts community.
How does your background working across finance and operations with specializations in art departments including American art, contemporary art, and antiquities give you a unique perspective to manage the AAF NYC?
My background offers me the foundation to manage AAF NYC with a holistic approach. From my experience in finance and operations, I am drawing on years of creative problem-solving, budget management, and an eye for detail. Each art department brings its own challenges and rewards and I learned quite a bit from all of my experiences considered as a whole. What I have really enjoyed is that there has always been something new and fresh about each role I have taken on. What I will bring to AAF is my constant desire to refresh and reinvigorate.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
The art world is not an industry with a clear-cut linear path for most people and it’s hard to break in without pre-existing connections. I think the best advice I could give to anyone interested in working in the art world is twofold: 1) Identify people you respect in the field and find ways to network with them. I did this primarily through my volunteer work or through reaching out to managers of departments I wanted to move into at the companies I previously worked with. Don’t be afraid ask for a coffee chat. Most people are happy to offer you the time if you’re proactive! 2) View everything that comes your way as an opportunity to learn a new skill or develop in your career. For example, after my internship in Antiquities at Christie’s, I was offered a temp position while I finished my degree…in Watches. I had to learn to catalogue Rolexes in a matter of days, but I asked the experts so many questions. I put in the hours, studied, and it all worked out! That experience led to my full-time position with the company, and I was there for five more very happy years. A steep learning curve may seem daunting at first, but the art world tends to narrow sometimes so I’ll take any chance I can get to broaden my horizons.
Can you tease anything we should stay tuned for this year from the Affordable Art Fair NYC?
We have a packed house this Spring with over 70 exhibitors! We’ll have two special evening events: Wednesday night’s Private View and Thursday night’s Art After Dark, which will be geared toward young collectors. We’re thrilled to have several of our partners rejoining us again this year, including Volley sparkling tequila seltzer, Sentient Furniture, Lalo, and Little Spoon. We are also welcoming New Belgium as a partner this Spring — and I am personally excited about our Young Talent Exhibition which will be presented by Arts Gowanus.
How do you think the art world can become more transparent?
It all comes down to facilitating open and clear communication — between gallerists and artists, gallerists and collectors, fairs and gallerists, fairs and visitors. One way we try to help make the art world more transparent at AAF is by requiring the clear display of prices for all artworks exhibited. This removes the possible barrier to entry for collectors who may otherwise need to lead with initiating a conversation about pricing. In this case, dialogue can be about the artist’s process or the curation itself.
How do you think art should be shared and/or experienced moving forward?
It comes as no surprise that due to the pandemic, we shifted toward a primarily, if not strictly, digital model. There’s just no substitute for seeing art in person, though. For me, seeing art is a social experience as much as an emotional experience; I need to be physically present with the work in order to respond to it fully.
What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
I’m a sucker for a beautifully curated fashion exhibition and I love Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams at the Brooklyn Museum. I think the Brooklyn Museum does a great job showcasing the intersection between art and design in many of their special exhibitions.
If you could own work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
Here are some works I would love to acquire:
A dense surrealist figurative painting by Jessie Makinson
An intimately scaled oil on panel work by Sanam Khatibi
A porcelain work by Jessica Stoller
A collage by Lorna Simpson
And if I had millions, specifically the Arch of Hysteria by Louise Borgeois…we have to dream big!