Money talks on market courses
Christie’s Education joins the push to prepare postgraduates for work in the commercial art world
By Ermanno Rivetti. Art Market, Issue 244, March 2013
Published online: 28 February 2013
Auction houses are leading the charge to provide pricey postgraduate degrees in art and business to students eager to gain a foothold in the commercial art world.
Christie’s Education, which is owned by the auction house, has announced that it is introducing a London-based, four-term master’s degree (MSc) in art, law and business, which will be accredited by the University of Glasgow. It previously offered only evening courses on the subject. Interviews for places are taking place in London, and will also be held during Art Dubai, Frieze New York and Art Basel Hong Kong.
Sotheby’s Institute of Art (no longer owned by the auction house that licenses its name), which has run master’s courses in art business since 1998, announced in January that it is to launch a three-term art business MA in Los Angeles, in collaboration with the MBA programme at Claremont Graduate University, California. This will have a stronger business administration component than the courses available at the institute’s campuses in London and New York.
Tuition for the Christie’s MSc, which will accept around 12 students, will cost £32,000 ($50,000). The MAs at Sotheby’s are similarly priced, although the Claremont course will cost $75,000 and is expected to take more students than Christie’s.
These courses aim to fill a gap in traditional arts education. “The university approach is to train students for academic roles in museums; their courses don’t generally talk about money,” says David Levy, the president of Sotheby’s Institute.
Although some university courses—such as Maastricht University’s MA in art and heritage: policy, management and education, and the arts policy and management MA at Birkbeck, University of London—do include finance options, there is not enough, some say, to prepare would-be employees of the commercial art world. “Students who come [to the market] with art history degrees often end up working in gallery receptions for years,” Levy says.
Giovanni Gasparini, the director of the Christie’s MSc, says such courses “respond to the [increased] complexities of the art market”, and that the direct relationship between Christie’s and its education institution allows for “closer contact with the business experience”.
James Goodwin, who founded an art market option on the Maastricht University MA and is an independent lecturer at Christie’s Education, says these new programmes are essential because the lack of “conventionally professional” art market employees is indicative of a “weakness” in the market. Consequently, he says, the art market is having to professionalise quickly. “The more professional it is, the more confident investors will be with their money,” he says.
Not everyone, however, agrees with the need for this type of formal education. Nicholas Logsdail, the founder of Lisson Gallery, which represents heavyweights such as Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor, learned his trade buying and selling works from markets in his early 20s, while studying art history at London’s Slade School of Fine Art. “Passion for art and discovery was always the driving force” behind his career, he says, “rather than some fancy business plan to control the art market or the careers of artists”, although he admits that the increasingly international market makes “business acumen” essential.
The high fees do deliver results. According to its website, around 87% of those who graduate from Sotheby’s Institute, including those on other degree programmes, find employment in the arts field within a year of graduation.
Virginia Damtsa, who co-founded Riflemaker Gallery in London, was pleased with her MA in contemporary art from Sotheby’s Institute, although she could only attend the course part-time because she had to work to pay her fees. Referring to her wealthier classmates, she says that “either their parents were collectors or they were changing careers from banking and law, so they could afford the fees. We had to pay almost everything in advance.”
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