AN EXPLORATION OF ART HISTORY
Karen posing with a Pollock in Christie’s
Location: Christie’s Auction House, NYC
Job: International Marketing Director
Art Speciality: Old Masters, 19th Century, Russian
Karen Karp works with billionaire art aficionados, sometimes finds herself jet-setting to London with 2 weeks notice, and combines her love of art, culture and business as Christie’s International Marketing Director. Christie’s is the biggest art auction house in the entire world, with specialists in over 60 departments and 32 locations in the UK, China, South Africa and various European countries. It sells billions of dollars of art a year through auctions and private sales, from the likes of Warhol, Rembrandt, Koons and more, and is ‘for-profit’ unlike museums. It is a unique experience to visit this cosmopolitan building full of art, because people are allowed to touch and take pictures of the art due to the fact that the whole point of the business is to publicize art and sell it. Auctions are available to the public in the Christie’s building, online, and live streaming on the web.
“Auctions are very temporal and of the moment”, says Karp. Each art display lasts for about a week, in which Christie’s repaints their gallery walls, sends over art from their international houses, creates new huge art brochures, shows it to the public, and lastly sells the art via auction to buying members of society. Their primary client is called a “consigner”, who makes the deal for a third party or a feeding chain. However, in Karp’s line of work, it is important to be friendly to everyone because an art billionaire could be in the form of anyone.
In addition to majoring in art history at Princeton and obtaining her masters degree in business at UPenn’s Wharton School, Karp has held multiple high profile jobs: teaching art history to non-majors in Hong Kong with a fellowship after college, investment banking, working communications at the Asia Society, and marketing at the Met Opera. With previous experience at the Opera, she finds a connection between both jobs: “The auction world is live theatre”. There are lots of parallels as a marketer, because she has to figure out who is the target audience and how to bring in more audiences. She has to employ creative methods to convince a young modern individual to take interest in an old masters painting; an era of art that the young might think “not cool”.
Ellis and I were fascinated by Karp’s job, and eventually found time to watch a live auction online of the exhibition we saw with her. It was fast, exciting, and expensive, with no minimum bids being under $10,000. Check it out at Christies.com.