Laura Lester has over 14 years of art world experience in both New York and Chicago. After beginning her career at Gagosian Gallery, she worked as a specialist in post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s auction house in New York. She has also served as director of two internationally renowned galleries; Kasmin Gallery in New York and Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago and New York, where she advised private clients and collections on acquisitions and sales as well as collection management and appraisals. Laura has organized numerous exhibitions of modern and post-war artists including Lee Krasner, Stuart Davis, and Robert Motherwell. She is compliant with Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) and is a candidate for membership in the Appraiser’s Association of America (AAA).
Laura has a Masters degree in Modern Art, Connoisseurship and the History of the Art Market from Christie’s Education, New York. She received her undergraduate degree in Art History from Indiana University in Bloomington, where she was a recipient of that department’s award for academic excellence. She serves on the Women’s Board of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Laura lives on Chicago’s North Shore with her husband, two children and Italian Greyhound. She works between Chicago and New York City.
What was your first job in the Arts?
My first job was a receptionist position at Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
I quickly learned how to prioritize, and to complete every assigned task with enthusiasm and precision.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I attended Indiana University intending to study in music- I was a pianist. After a few art history courses, I was hooked, and began to explore opportunities in the field.
What do you do now?
I am a private art consultant, specializing in post-war and contemporary art. I advise individuals, interior designers, and corporations through Lester Fine Art as well as offer USPAP compliant appraisals. I work in both Chicago and New York City.
Where are you from?
Wilmette, IL, about twenty miles north of downtown Chicago.
What is the arts community like there?
The arts community in Chicago is very close knit. There are many passionate, educated collectors here and the local institutions are top notch. The past decade has been very exciting, with the emergence of a top regional fair- Expo Chicago- and a local gallery scene that is growing by the day.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
Having access to great museums growing up, like the Art Institute of Chicago and the MCA, certainly fostered an early appreciation for looking and understanding. I’d also like to think that the kind, supportive spirit so common in the Midwest has influenced the way I’ve interacted with clients and colleagues throughout my career.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Establish a strong personal network of caring, ethical and hardworking people who will support you.
What is one of the greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
Working with artists and estates at Kasmin Gallery was a true pleasure. There is great satisfaction in mounting an exhibition that is both curatorially interesting and financially successful for the artist. You know you’ve really done your job!
What has been a challenge for you?
Starting my own business has been my greatest professional joy and challenge. The responsibility can be overwhelming when the buck stops with you, but having the opportunity to shape the way I work with my clients and what projects I take on is really inspiring.
What is something you do every day at the office (or your current home office)?
Since I started working from home last spring, I’ve usually been able to squeeze in a quick streaming yoga or barre class first thing in the morning. This has been one of the perks of losing a commute! I also run through my to-do lists, read industry newsletters, check in with artists on Instagram and brew a strong cup of coffee.
What do you think defines a good employee? And what defines a good boss?
The boss-employee relationship should always be defined by excellent communication, lack of ego, and mutual respect. Wanting the best for each other- and most importantly, the organization as a whole- is a recipe for success.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace? Any good tips for a giving a great interview?
An excellent understanding of the company for which you are interviewing is a must, as well as a genuine enthusiasm for their program or mission.
Is there any advice you would like to give people entering the art world?
Research the type of roles that are available in the business, and focus your attention on a trajectory that interests you. Once you land an entry-level job, be willing to roll up your sleeves and give every assigned task 100% of your effort. Once you’ve mastered your job, offer to take on more responsibilities, and certainly take advantage of all opportunities for mentorship.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
I’ve seen so much less in person than I usually do, but I thought Tom Sachs’ exhibition at Acquavella last fall was excellent. Church & Rothko at Mnuchin was beautiful and unexpected. I recently saw Richard Gray’s presentation of work by Ellen Lanyon here in Chicago; she was a really lovely discovery for me.
What artwork is in your home office?
Photographs by Roe Ethridge and Alex Prager.
What is/was your greatest WFH challenge? Or a WFH luxury you don’t want to lose ever again?
Proximity to my 2 and 4-year-old children, as well as my newborn! They often press their little faces against the glass doors of my office while I’m on client calls- it’s very distracting but terribly sweet. I love making time to sit down for lunch with them, whenever I can.
How has your current job adapted to the new virtual landscape? What do you think can be done better, if anything?
Clients have certainly become more comfortable viewing work digitally, and gallerists have become much more flexible about sending work to be viewed on approval before a purchase. As most of my clients are in Chicago, I am excited to travel with them to fairs and out of town galleries this summer and fall. Nothing compares to experiencing art in person.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
Drawings by Vija Celmins and Ed Ruscha, a photograph from Cindy Sherman’s Clowns series, a papier mâché sculpture by Franz West, and a really fantastic Dutch old master still life painting.
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?
I’d like to go out West to visit Marfa, Santa Fe and Los Angeles (with a stop for Walter de Maria’s Lighting Field).
It can be argued that the art world has finally been forced to adopt and adapt technologies that have long been a part of other industries. Agree or Disagree?
I absolutely agree, and hope that the digital presentations and programming we’ve seen the past year- some of which has been quite excellent- will continue to augment in-person exhibitions and experiences.