Monthly Archives: April 2017

How Archaeologist Michelle Rich Found Her Way

From fabricators to mummy conservators to private collection managers, the art world is full of fascinating jobs you may not have realized even existed. In artnet News’s new column “My Art Job,” we delve into these enviable art-world occupations, asking insiders to share their career path and advice for others who wish to follow in their footsteps.

To kick off our inaugural edition, we spoke with Michelle Rich, a Mellon postdoctoral curatorial fellow in the Art of the Ancient Americas at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Her two-year term at LACMA concludes this month, and she will begin a new post-doc position at the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Education: I have an undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota and a PhD from SMU in Dallas, both in anthropology with an archaeology focus. I’ve been doing fieldwork in the ancient Maya area, which comprises Guatemala, parts of Mexico, Belize, parts of El Salvador, and Honduras, since 1993.

How I got the job I have now: My position at LACMA is a two-year postdoctoral curatorial fellowship that’s funded by the Mellon Foundation, and I applied for the job in the summer of 2015. Due to my background in archaeology, specifically in elite contexts in which we tend to discover the kind of fine, artful objects that we like to see in museums, it was a good fit.

What makes my job unique: I think what’s interesting about this position is that I’m probably the only person in this whole museum who has spent two years of her life living in a tent in the middle of the jungle. I don’t have an art history background. I have an iconography background, so what I do is vastly different from most of the other curators who I work with.

My most memorable archaeological discovery: The prime example is a narrative scene composed of 23 ceramic figurines that I found in an ancient Maya royal tomb chamber at the site of El Perú-Waka’, Guatemala, in the course of my excavations in 2006. I was doing dissertation research on the large pyramids at the site as a member of the El Perú-Waka’ Regional Archaeological Project, where I am still an assistant director.

Art Dealer for Celebrity Artists Goes to Prison After Swindling

It’s four years behind bars for British art dealer Jonathan Poole, who pled guilty to 26 charges of fraud and theft. The 69-year-old, who specialized in selling artwork for celebrity musicians, confessed to stealing both art and money from his high-profile clients for nearly three decades, between 1986 and 2013.

Among Poole’s notable victims was Ronnie Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones and a prolific painter who studied at London’s Ealing Art College and will publish a book, Ronnie Wood: Artist, next month. Poole poached a number of Wood’s portraits, featuring fellow celebrities such as Stones frontman Mick Jagger, musicians Bob Dylan, and Ringo Starr, and actress Marilyn Monroe, according to Reuters,

Rolling Stones British guitarist Ronnie Wood poses in front of his painting called A Study of Carlos and Darcey Rehearsing in 2008. Courtesy of Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images.

Poole also represented the estates of jazz musician and artist Miles Davisand musician John Lennon. He admitted to stealing works by the former Beatle, as well as works by contemporary German artist Sebastian Krüger and 19th-century French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Most of the stolen pieces depicted celebrities. In some of his scams, he also took a larger percentage than he was due from some of his art sales.

Altogether, Poole, who worked out of two galleries in the Cotswolds in rural south central England, is said to have earned over £500,000 ($664,000) from his illicit dealings. He told the court his business had faced financial difficulties due to Internet competition. Poole was sentenced on Tuesday after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing.

Sebastian Krüger’s painting of Kate Moss was stolen by Jonathan Poole. Courtesy of Sebastian Krüger.

According to the Guardian, prosecutor James Ward compared Poole’s crimes to the 1999 film The Thomas Crown Affair at trial. “[B]oth Thomas Crown and Jonathan Poole stole the paintings in broad daylight,” he said. “Whilst Thomas Crown stole as a challenge because his world had become too safe, Jonathan Poole stole either to fund a gambling habit, or to stash away money for later life.”

Poole isn’t the only art world professional to run into legal trouble with his celebrity clients. In New York, the case between art advisor Darlene Lutz and her former client, pop star Madonna, is currently awaiting a hearing. The singer claims that a planned auction of her personal effects featured objects that were stolen from her by Lutz.

British Museum Apologizes After a Curator’s Tweet Provokes Accusations of Racism

The British Museum is facing accusations of racism and oversimplification after a curator said in a tweet on Wednesday that Asian names are sometimes omitted from wall texts and labels to avoid confusing visitors.

The museum’s Keeper of Asia, Jane Porter, made the comment while participating in an “ask a curator” session, a program where the institution invites Twitter users to ask specialists about their field of expertise.

When asked, “How do you go about designing exhibition labels and information that are accessible to a wide range of people?” Porter replied, “Curators write the labels based on their specialist knowledge and they are edited by our Interpretation department. We aim to be understandable by 16 year olds. Sometimes Asian names can be confusing, so we have to be careful about using too many.”

The comment provoked criticism almost immediately, with Twitter users accusing the museum of racism, while many cited Britain’s colonial history and the British Museum’s controversial role in displaying the looted treasures of its former colonies.

For example, Twitter user JJ Bola said, “It wasn’t confusing enough for you to colonize Asia but it’s too confusing for you to write Asian names. Okay, British Museum.”

Another user, Shelly Asquith pointed out many Londoners and visitors are of Asian heritage. “British Museum curator’s comments about ‘confusing Asian names’ makes you wonder if the team has been to a London school in last 10 years.” While writers Dea Birkett and Rebecca Mileham tweeted, “Those names aren’t unfamiliar to those who have them! Presumptions here are extraordinary. Would never happen if you had diverse staff.”

Within hours the museum tweeted an apology “for any offense caused,” explaining, “Jane was answering a very specific question about how we make the information on object labels accessible to a wider range of people. Label text for any object is necessarily limited and we try to tell the object’s story as well as include essential information about what it is and where it is from.”

ARTA Raises $3 Million in Its Quest

If New York City-based tech startup ARTA aims to disrupt the high-end art shipping business, today they are a little closer to their goal. The company has announced $3 million in seed funding from investors that include current client David Zwirner Gallery, Sotheby’s, several venture capital firms, and a consortium of Chinese and European investors.

The funds will help the three-year-old ARTA, which bills itself as the Kayak or Expedia of the art shipping industry, to expand internationally, beginning with a London office. The startup has hired six new employees, including heads of marketing and engineering, and is launching partnerships with inventory management site ArtBase and auction house Phillips next week. It has also taken a booth at EXPO Chicago, which previews Wednesday for VIPs.

“I’m always looking for a way that technology can make an antiquated industry more efficient,” founder and CEO Adam Fields, who formerly worked for Artspace, told artnet News. “We recognized that shipping was a huge problem both for online and offline sellers when it comes to large, fragile, expensive pieces. Galleries like David Zwirner would call us and say ‘We can’t ship this $50,000 piece via FedEx or DHL. It needs crating, it needs insurance, it needs installlation.’ That was the catalyst for how ARTA started.”

In a statement, Zwirner called ARTA “a game-changer for logistics in the art world,” and praised its “transparent model.”

Instead of waiting days to obtain and compare prices, ARTA offers a platform where anyone—whether a gallery, auction house, collector, or art adviser—can get quotes from the top 300 art shippers around the world, according to Fields.

“The sales pitch isn’t really too hard,” he said. “It’s such a huge problem for galleries. If you’re a big gallery you might have three or four or five registrars. Maybe instead of having five, you can have three. For a small gallery, you might be the sole revenue generator who is also responsible for shipping. If you’re able to plug into our platform, you can really enhance the user experience for your clients. Better, faster, cheaper is the name of the game.”

Next week, ARTA will launch an API (application program interface) with ArtBase and Phillips auction house. “So now we’re essentially allowing anyone with an inventory system, starting with ArtBase and an auction house, to effectively hit a ship button within their inventory system—which is the system they are using on a daily basis—to get quotes and manage the logistical process,” Fields said.

Ultimately, though, Fields believes ARTA will help galleries’ bottom line in an increasingly difficult economic environment. “In a world where the margins are getting lower, it’s turning more competitive and galleries are closing down consistently,” he stated. “This is utility and a platform that can really help maximize resources.”