Maria Vogel – Founder, Rococo


Maria Vogel - Founder, Rococo

Maria Vogel’s experience in the art world covers almost every corner, from blue-chip and emerging galleries to institutions and start-ups. She is the founder of Rococo, an advisory that looks beyond transactions to emphasize storytelling and interconnectedness. Vogel is a Contributing Editor at Cultured Magazine and has written for many of the art world’s top publications. With all of her work, Vogel is a conduit to further the stories of artists.

Hi Maria! We are so excited to chat with you. To start us off, we are curious to know more about your upbringing. Where are you from and what are the arts communities like there? 

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where both sides of my family have resided for more years than I can count. Pittsburgh is certainly not a major player in the art market and I had little to no exposure to that end of the spectrum while I was there, but it is home to some incredible institutions. The Carnegie Museum of Art, The Warhol Museum, The Frick, and The Mattress Factory caught my attention as a teen and I spent much of the time I wasn’t doing more typical teenage activities visiting each. I just went to the Carnegie over the holidays and was blown away by the selection on view in the permanent collection. I had more moments where I was stopped dead in my tracks by works than I’ve had at a museum in a long time. 

As for arts communities, I’ve learned about the local scene since leaving Pittsburgh at age 18. There’s definitely a good crew of artists–many who exhibit internationally and are on the same stage as artists living in hub cities–holding it down in Pittsburgh, something I take much pride in. 

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

It wasn’t until my senior year of college, after tossing around various creative fields, that I landed on art. I took an arts-focused trip to New York that the school organized and became infatuated with the idea of living here and being in this world. That feeling remains today!

What was your first job? What is an important lesson from it that has carried with you? 

My first job was at Pace Gallery, first part time during grad school, then full time when I graduated. I left Pace when I realized I wanted to learn about the art world from the ground-up and not just from the top of the food chain so to speak. The most important lesson I got from this role was that there is so much more to the art world than just the big players at the top. I personally think that the most important and interesting goings-on in the art world exist in younger, niche spaces. 

 You are the founder of the art advisory Rococo. We would love to know more about Rococo and how it started! 

In the eight years that I’ve spent in the art world, I’ve made a point to work at as many different businesses as I could to get a holistic sense of how the entire ecosystem works. I always knew that the goal was to be my own boss but I didn’t have a sense of when that time would come until last year, when I really started to get the itch. I looked at where I was and what I had accomplished and realized that I’d built the experience and network to finally go out on my own. Though I’ve worn many hats, they’ve always had the throughline of wanting to advocate for artists in whatever way I can. Rococo is an extension of this principle-nothing brings me more joy than introducing phenomenal artists to new eyes. 

Unlike a traditional advisory – which focuses mainly on the transaction of selling an artwork – Rococo seeks to go beyond that one service by fostering connection between clients and artwork, as well as creating more opportunities for newcomers to join the art world fold, namely through intimate artist-oriented events and the content we produce.

Tell us more about Rococinco, Rococo’s dinner series! 

Speaking of intimate artist-oriented events… Rococinco is an ongoing dinner series celebrating artists through the collective experience of dining. A few years ago it dawned on me how unlikely it is for people to be able to interact closely with artists if they aren’t at the center of the art world, which prompted me to launch the concept. The dinners highlight five artists, each of whom are the inspiration for a course of food. 

As someone who has gained so much from my exchanges with artists, I wanted to create a fun, memorable, and comfortable way for others to do the same and what better way than by sharing a delicious meal. 

What has been your favorite dish from Rococinco so far? We’re hungry, describe it for us 🙂 

I’m being honest when I say how difficult this choice is because every dish has left me wanting more, but for the sake of the question I’ll go with a citrusy endive salad with walnut sauce that was inspired by artist Cristina de Miguel’s practice. We were advised to eat it with our hands, which somehow made it more delicious?

What does a great day at work look like for you? What are your favorite aspects of the job? 

A great day at work is one in which I’m bouncing between working at my home office, meeting up with clients around the city, and going to see art. My brain operates best jumping around from task to task and luckily with the advisory, no two days look the same. I love being tasked with discovering new artists whose work I didn’t previously know and I love creating and maintaining relationships with artists. It’s the joy of my career and life really to be in a position where I’ve formed strong bonds with some of the most prolific creators in the contemporary art world.   

Who are some emerging artists that you are excited about right now? Who should people keep an eye on?  

Aryana Minai, Madeline Peckenpaugh, and Pauline Shaw. Three powerhouse women with deeply moving practices. I think this year will lead to breakout moments for all three and I will be in the front row cheering them on. 

What are you most excited for this year at Rococo or in the art world as a whole? 

I’m excited to continue spreading Rococo’s mission both here and abroad as I travel to art fairs, I’m excited to continue engaging with artists in meaningful ways and to advocate for their work, and I’m excited to host more Rococinco dinners and build a community around them. 

As you know, Art Frankly is a community that cares about job transparency and supporting fellow art professionals. What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world? 

This is going to sound unbearably cheesy but my best piece of advice is to be yourself. When I was starting out I thought my success would be predicated on dressing and acting the same as the ‘gallery girl’ persona. Both literally and figuratively, I could never keep up with that way of going through the art world nor in my heart of hearts did I want to. The moment I embraced following my own path within the art world and doing so exactly as I am, I found a sense of freedom that has brought me to places within my career I couldn’t have imagined.

How do you think the art world can become more transparent? 

One thing I wish I had more of a grasp on when I was starting off was salary transparency. I think it’s easy to assume that since the art world deals with the buying and selling of high value items, most of the salaries in the industry reflect that. If I knew I would be earning $15 an hour starting off at a blue-chip gallery after taking out student loans to attend a Masters program, I might have rethought my path. 

Maria, thank you for participating in Frank Talks, it has been our pleasure! To finish off, we want to know: If you could own work by 5 different artists/craftspeople, who would be in your collection? 

Can I include 6? Lisa Yuskavage, Rene Magritte, Jennifer Packer, Leonora Carrington, Antonio Obá, and Cindy Ji Hye Kim.

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