Art Market

20 Art Dealers on Their First Jobs in the Art World

Alina Cohen
Jul 1, 2019 4:31PM

Gallery directors are an intimidating bunch. They sell objects worth millions of dollars, dress as though they just stepped off a private jet straight from the French Riviera (which, in a few cases, may actually be the case), and wield a versatile arsenal of art-historical knowledge. It’s easy to forget that once upon a time, they were just naïfs, vying for their first jobs. They made mistakes, fell in love, became frustrated with unpaid internships, and struggled to advance. Gallerists: They’re just like us.

Below, gallery directors from around the globe share the lessons they’ve learned—sartorial, managerial, and otherwise. Though their trajectories vary, their stories reveal an important common thread: They share a passion for working with art and artists that propels them through the roadblocks of sustaining a career in this singular, quirky industry.

Emmanuel Perrotin

Founder, Perrotin

Emmanuel Perrotin with Marie-Hélène Montenay in the gallery space rue de l’Ancienne Comédie in 1992. Courtesy of Perrotin.


When I was 17, I discovered that contemporary art galleries opened at 2 p.m.—a dream job for me, since I had an active nightlife. I loved clubbing. I met a young 23-year-old gallery owner, Charles Cartwright, through a friend. He offered me a job working for him, for minimum wage, as he was continuing his studies. On my second day of work, he was absent, and the manager welcomed me by saying, “I have to go now. Here are the keys and the alarm code. Close at seven and come back tomorrow.” I found myself on my own, and my career began. A year later, I became a manager.

The job was critical because my boss was so knowledgeable about contemporary art, especially for his young age. We exhibited artists such as Alighiero Boetti and Marina Abramović, and sold very early work by George Condo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Helmut Federle.

“The manager welcomed me by saying, ‘I have to go now. Here are the keys and the alarm code. Close at seven and come back tomorrow.’”

During group shows, I met artists such as Information Fiction Publicité (IFP), Ange Leccia, and Bernard Frize, who I still represent today. I learned so much at that first job. It helped prepare me for the marathon that followed when I opened my own gallery, at the age of 21.

Aeneas Bastian

Founder, Bastian

Portrait of Aeneas Bastian in 1998. Courtesy of Aeneas Bastian.

At 16 years old, I applied for an unpaid summer internship at Berlin’s Kupferstichkabinett, the Museum of Prints and Drawings. They’d never hired anyone so young, but after some hesitation, they accepted me. I researched German Renaissance drawings and proofread for a forthcoming Albrecht Dürer exhibition catalogue. I looked at color proofs and suggested corrections, but the editor made the final decision. For the first time, I really understood the unique presence and aura of an original artwork, which no reproduction or image can ever replace.

One of the curators asked me to accompany him to lunch. It turned out he was meeting a colleague to discuss complex loan negotiations with the BOZAR museum in Brussels. I got some insight into museum politics, as both men developed a strategy for securing a Peter Paul Rubens loan.

It wasn’t all positive, though. One morning, I was in the print room, labeling some etchings by Dutch artists of Rembrandt’s time. A senior curator walked in and told me that I should never have been allowed to handle these prints. She said that as an undergraduate student, I had no idea what I was doing.

Jane Kallir

Director, Galerie St. Etienne

Portrait of Jane Kallir in 1977. Photo by Gary Cosimini. Courtesy of Galerie St. Etienne.


In high school, I occasionally worked weekends for my grandfather at the Galerie St. Etienne. I’d always been interested in art and writing, but I never thought I’d end up a dealer. My grandfather knew better: He told me I wasn’t good enough to be an artist. When I graduated from college, however, there was no place for me at the gallery. There was a small staff, my grandfather was intermittently ill, and he didn’t feel able to take on a new employee.

“I remember that the gallery’s owners once suggested I buy an Hermès handbag that cost the equivalent of about two months’ salary.”

I found a job at another gallery, which shall remain nameless. I remember that the gallery’s owners once suggested I buy an Hermès handbag that cost the equivalent of about two months’ salary. The gallery was run by a retired collector and his wife. Most of my job consisted of hand-addressing envelopes—this was a particular point of pride for the gallery. I have terrible handwriting, and my boss was a screamer. Every time an envelope was returned by the post office, he’d yell at me. Other than that, and attending to the owners’ dry-cleaning and the occasional customer, there wasn’t much to do. The gallery’s files were stored in a shoebox in the bathroom.

After I’d been at this job for about half a year, one of my grandfather’s employees quit, and he took me in. St. Etienne was and is a completely different type of gallery—deeply invested in scholarship and education. I was instantly able to meld my interests in writing and art. My grandfather turned out to be right.

Bill Powers

Founder, Half Gallery

Portrait of Bill Powers circa 1997. Courtesy of Bill Powers.

I was working for a magazine called Blackbook in the late 1990s, working on a column about “universal truths” that featured Aaron Rose, the founder of Alleged Gallery on Prince Street. They had a Mike Mills exhibition up at the time. Aaron introduced me to Tom Sachs, who was about to have a show at Morris-Healy Gallery in Chelsea with fake designer Happy Meals and handmade Gucci toilet plungers. Tom became a friend, introducing me to the larger art world.

I was pretty broke as a working journalist, but I started collecting small art from Alleged Gallery. Early on, I bought two Chris Johanson drawings for $150 each. Soon after, I began writing for the New York Times Styles section and T Magazine. Part of that culture beat included contemporary art. I wrote stories on John Currin and Mark Gonzales. I also sat on the advisory board for RxArt. When they moved to a new space downtown in 2008, they were hoping to share it with a gallery, even though it was only about 600 square feet. Andy Spade (an entrepreneur and founder of men’s clothing line Jack Spade) suggested we open our own spot: Half Gallery was born. I had to step away from writing gigs for the New York Times and ARTnews or they wouldn’t review my shows.

Helene Winer

Co-founder, Metro Pictures

Portrait of Helene Winer. Courtesy of Helene Winer.

In the mid-1960s, I graduated college with an art history degree. My family expected me to teach art, but I had other plans: I had to have a job at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). I wrote to the head curator, James Elliott, and told him I would do anything. It worked. My salary was low, even for the time—now, it wouldn’t even be enough for dinner. I started out part-time, assisting the curators, and the role eventually became full-time.

I wasn’t ambitious in a career sense. My colleagues were navigating an institutional environment, while I didn’t know how to do that. Like many arts people, I’m not very suited to disciplined environments.

I did low-level work. I put labels on the walls, which was an elaborate process in that era. I wrote bibliographies for the contemporary shows and put catalogues together. I got to organize a couple shows with the collection—one with the Ashcan School. One other useful job: I was the go-to driver for visiting curators and artists. People came from Europe or New York and I’d drive them around. My passengers were helpful for my career, later on. One, Bryan Robertson, who was at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, gave me my next job.

I drove around Man Ray, who was a little old man by then. And Henri Cartier-Bresson. He was nice. He gave me a little book. It was stunning which artists were still around.

Stefan von Bartha

Director, Von Bartha

Portrait of Stefan and Niklas von Bartha circa 1995. Courtesy of von Bartha.

The first time I went to Art Basel, I was one month old—a baby in a pram. My parents ran Von Bartha gallery, which I eventually took over. In other words, I grew up with art.

When I was 16, I saw a picture of a robot space toy in a magazine, which was going to auction for 1,000 Swiss francs (about $1,025). We had a lot of those, since my parents bought some off a collector. I got together an inventory of 420 space toys and installed a little show at my parents’ gallery. They let me keep a third of the profit. I sold all but one toy, for prices ranging from about $50 to $2,000. It was crazy. Sure, some friends bought just to support me—How cute, an overweight 16-year-old is doing a show—but some real collectors showed up, too.

“One of the worst moments was when I crashed into the back of my boss’s brand-new Volkswagen Passat. I thought I was going to die.”

My first internship was at Sotheby’s in Zürich. I was lucky to make 1,000 Swiss francs. I sorted books, answered the phone, and drove around important staff members. One of the worst moments was when I crashed into the back of my boss’s brand-new Volkswagen Passat. I thought I was going to die.

My first month, I helped install a viewing. The person in charge was surprised to see me in jeans and a T-shirt after the office closed, ready to install overnight. They told me to organize all the caption details, since I should know all the artists. It felt like a test. I finished it pretty fast and gained some credit, meaning that I was now allowed to smoke during my morning break in the shipper’s office.

Eventually, one of my bosses began calling me by my first name. She was tough as hell, but she taught me a lot. I realized the importance of learning all the tasks from the bottom up. I got a new perspective—I’d only ever enjoyed the fun part of the art world with my parents, not all its complexities. The role still influences how I organize my gallery and treat our staff.

Bridget Finn

Partner, Reyes | Finn

From left: Kyle Knodell, Bridget Finn, Erin Somerville (co-founded Cleopatra’s with Bridget, is now White Columns’ Deputy Director/Curator), Laura Finlay. Photo courtesy of Bridget Finn.

I moved to New York after I finished college in 2006. I was 22 and had $1,800 in savings from a 60-hour-per-week summer job at the Hilton Garden Inn. I loaded up a U-Haul in Michigan with furniture and cats and moved into a Bushwick apartment with three friends.

My roommate, who had secured the only unpaid internship at Anton Kern Gallery, was promoted to Anton’s assistant. The gallery hired me as a full-time, unpaid intern. By the end of the six-month gig, I accepted a job at a nonprofit where I worked for the next year and a half. I desperately missed working with artists, Anton, and the gang, so I called him up and asked him to hire me. He played hard to get, but I knew he needed an archivist. I stayed with the gallery for three years as a project coordinator and archivist.

I learned how to look very hard at artworks and artists’ practices. Anton taught me that in this business, you have to embrace your opinions and never apologize for them. I also learned from the artists. I am forever grateful to Ellen Berkenblit, Anne Collier, Dan McCarthy, Brian Calvin, Matthew Monahan, and Jonas Wood. They each had a huge impact on shaping my ideas of what it meant to “work” with artists.

During that time, some friends—Erin Somerville, Bridget Donahue, and Kate McNamara—and I started our own gallery space called Cleopatra’s (Colleen Grennan joined later). We were doing studio visits with our artist peers and felt this urgent desire to show their work. We ran that project alongside our respective art-world jobs for 10 years.

My heart broke when I left the gallery. I now look forward to running into Anton at art fairs, getting a little squint and a wave followed by a quick “Oh, Bridge, hi.”

Rachel Uffner

Founder, Rachel Uffner Gallery

Portrait of Rachel Uffner circa 1999.

Right out of college, through a random connection, I secured a three-month full-time internship (unpaid except for a $15 lunch stipend) in the contemporary art department at Christie’s. The other two department interns were children of European art collectors. They each claimed a desk and a computer. I worked at the computer-less, round communal table. I was the lucky one, though: I spent most of my time cutting out artwork images and descriptions from the catalogues, repasting them on poster board and filing them under artists’ names—Cindy Sherman, Basquiat, Maurizio Cattelan. It was perfect for me. Growing up in Philadelphia, I’d always loved auction house catalogues. I’d buy used copies for $1 each from the local library, just to see all the beautiful objects from different collections.

“The other two department interns were children of European art collectors. They each claimed a desk and a computer. I worked at the computer-less, round communal table.”

After the internship ended, a department employee—who I was convinced hated me—actually helped me line up interviews for “real” jobs. My first paid position was at Christie’s East in the prints and multiples department ($32,000, full benefits). Christie’s East was a big, shabby Upper East Side building used solely for lower-priced auction lots that didn’t make the cut at Rockefeller Center. Yet piles of wonderful, under-the-radar artworks came through.

What made the job truly incredible was my first boss: Cary Leibowitz, or Candy Ass. He was so smart and informed about art—and he’s a great artist with an eccentric style. Most importantly, he’s incredibly kind. One example: I was 22 and between leases, and he kindly offered to let me stay at his Harlem mansion. My parents helped move me into the most distinctive house I’d ever seen. I slept in his library on a foldout couch upholstered in Nelson Mandela fabric, under a large Nan Goldin photo, a Peter Saul painting, and a Warhol “Piss Painting.”

Sam Orlofsky

Director, Gagosian

Portrait of Sam Orlofsky during his senior year of college. Courtesy of Sam Orlofsky.

In the summer of 1998, after I finished my painting thesis at Amherst College, I found a loft for $750 a month on the south side of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, through the Village Voice classifieds. The building turned out to be owned by Judy Pfaff, and other tenants included Ursula von Rydingsvard and Mark Lombardi. My first morning, I took the J/M/Z to Canal Street to get supplies at Pearl Paint. When I saw how much things cost, I asked if there was an employee discount. Forty percent! I applied for a job and got hired. The acrylic paint department, minimum wage. The best salesman in the oil paint department was 6 feet and 8 inches tall and very confident.

Most contemporary galleries were still in SoHo then, and the best part of the job was seeing shows on my lunch breaks. By November, I’d bought enough discounted supplies to last me a year. I left the job and began working as a freelance art handler, then as Von Lintel and Nusser’s sole employee (I found out about the job on a tip from a college friend). I got some gallery experience, but there wasn’t much room for growth in the role.

I got several interviews at other galleries. My parents were friends with Ealan Wingate, who works at Gagosian, and told me to ask him for advice. When he learned I’d sold challenging work at Von Lintel and Nusser, by an artist he’d represented when he had his own gallery, he gave me a front-desk junior sales job.

After about a month on the job, the guy from Pearl Paint’s oil paint department walked in with his mom and step-dad to see our James Rosenquist show. They bought a $125,000 painting from me, by far the biggest sale I’d ever made. This gave me some breathing room with Larry while I continued to learn the ropes at Gagosian. I was no longer making paintings, but I was starting a career.

Carla Camacho

Partner, Lehmann Maupin

Portrait of Carla Camacho circa 2000. Courtesy of Carla Camacho.

My first unpaid job was at White Columns, when Paul Ha was the director. I met my husband, Michael Hermann, at that internship in 1996, when I was 19 years old. We were on the same schedule and spent a lot of time together. White Columns used to be located by the West Side Highway. I got to know him as we walked home together across Christopher Street, until we came to a fork at Seventh Avenue. He’d continue east as I headed south. The next year, he got me my first paid job in 1997 at the Andy Warhol Foundation as an editorial assistant for the catalogue raisonné. We weren’t dating yet, so maybe he was trying to impress me!

“I don’t know if interns these days even know how to mail a letter, let alone deal with figuring out the special rate for nonprofit organizations, which required an additional, special sticker.”

At White Columns, we did these huge mailings. It was a multi-step process of tri-folding the press releases, inserting them into envelopes, sealing them, then sticking on the pre-printed mailing labels and stamps. We probably did thousands of mailers, then had to take them to the post office sorted by zip code. I don’t know if interns these days even know how to mail a letter, let alone deal with figuring out the special rate for nonprofit organizations, which required an additional, special sticker.

At the Warhol Foundation, I went on missions to the public library to find reviews and checklists of 1960s Warhol shows. We tracked down paintings, and I arranged for the editor, Neil Printz, to view works and get photography. It was exciting to be part of a book that would be the bible for Warhol’s market and history.

I’m so grateful that I worked in the pre-internet age. Even if I don’t mail letters or do research in the library now, I feel they’re important skills. Looking at a 1964 New York Times review through the microfiche at the library really colors your perception of the writing.

Peggy Leboeuf

Partner, Perrotin

Portrait of Peggy Leboeuf on the cover of Bing by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. Courtesy of Perrotin.

My first job internship lasted less than a day. I was 23 or 24, studying in Paris, and had just started an internship at a prestigious gallery. Nothing seemed to go right. By the time the first hour was over, I knew I didn’t want to work there. By lunchtime, I was already bored to death. Then, out of nowhere, someone came over and asked if anyone would be game to give a hand to the young gallery upstairs—I immediately volunteered. That’s how I met Emmanuel Perrotin. He was getting ready for a fair and running all over the place. In an instant, I was alone in his gallery and entrusted with matters while he attended to business elsewhere. I had to answer the phone. Most of the calls were in English, and I couldn’t understand a word.

My first salary was exactly 6,797 French francs before taxes (about $1,177). It was the minimum wage at that time. In order to make ends meet, I also worked as a photographer’s assistant and taught ice skating. I took on any and all small jobs I could find.

It was just Emmanuel and me at the gallery. I compiled a lot of press reviews. Prior to 2000, most of the exchanges we had were on paper…thank god for the internet revolution!

Laura Attanasio

Senior director, König Galerie

Portrait of Laura Attanasio in her early years at Peres Projects. Courtesy of Laura Attanasio.

My entry into the art world was not conscious at all. It’s not as though I followed any inner urge, or anything like that. Coming from a small town in southern Germany, all I knew was that I really wanted to study in Berlin. With my mediocre high school diploma, which pointed to no obvious talents, there weren’t many subjects in which a university would accept me. Fortunately, art history was open to me. Studying the topic, I developed a real interest.

I suspected that state institutions and public museums wouldn’t be the ideal placements for me. I had the feeling that my skills would fit best into the business side of the art world. After completing my art history degree, I went to Dublin for a business master’s degree at University College Dublin.

“Anyone who gets involved in this business must be aware that it is not about going from party to party, from opening to opening—if you do it well, it is about everything else.”

Back in Berlin, things picked up quickly. At first, I worked at Phillips de Pury for a couple of years, then went on to Peres Projects, which were hard years of apprenticeship. In 2014, I finally got an offer from Johann König, who had not yet moved to the brutal St. Agnes Church. Johann was just beginning to make real waves in the art world, and he trusted young, inexperienced people like me. With Johann, everything was possible. I owe him a lot.

I could tell endless disturbing, even horrible stories from my years in the art world, and at least as many fantastic ones. Anyone who gets involved in this business must be aware that it is not about going from party to party, from opening to opening—if you do it well, it is about everything else.

Valerie Carberry

Partner, Richard Gray Gallery

Valerie Carberry, circa 2001, selling a Noguchi sculpture that provided the seed money for Carberry to start her gallery. Courtesy of Valerie Carberry.

My closest friend from art school heard through the grapevine that Adams Fine Art, in Chicago, was looking for a gallery assistant. I went for an interview and got hired on the spot. I was 23. Coming from a studio arts background, I had to radically expand my thinking to understand the art market. The emotional charge of experiencing a great work of art is not diminished if you also think analytically about it, which was a difficult concept for me to embrace in my early twenties.

During that period, I wore all the hats. I ran errands, got coffee, hung paintings, edited catalogues, answered phones, and packed artwork for shipping. I vividly remember researching auction comps for secondary market paintings we intended to bid on. This is pre-artnet, so imagine going through five or more years worth of auction catalogues, scanning the artist indexes in the back, looking up the page entries, cross-referencing the printed auction results (which we received by mail!) and putting Post-its on the relevant hits. It took forever, but I learned a ton.

One day, a local antiques dealer found a painting dated 1911 in a Chicago resale shop and brought it to the gallery for us to sell. It was by Gabriele Münter, the famous Blaue Reiter painter whose work I’d studied in my German Expressionist art history class. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe a painting of exceptional quality by such an important artist wasn’t already in a museum. The opportunity to research the painting’s history, assist in confirming its attribution, and learn how it was constructed and painted made everything I loved about art history come to life. It also made me realize that I wanted a career as a gallerist.

Nara Roesler

Founder, Galeria Nara Roesler

Portrait of Nara Roesler in São Paulo, 1995. Courtesy of Nara Roesler.

I’ve always been my own boss. The first artist I represented was José Cláudio from Pernambuco, Brazil. I created a market for him in my hometown of Recife. I was 22 years old, and it all started in my house. I did studio visits with him and other artists, picked up their works, and then invited friends over to see the art.

My children were small, though, and my work began interfering with my home dynamic, so I decided to open a different space. At this time, I was also a partner in a design store that had an unoccupied space in the back, a really great room. So I rented it out and started my first gallery. I loved it so much that I sold my share in the design store to focus on the gallery. I started contacting the press. A friend of mine was the editor of Veja São Paulo—at the time, the most influential magazine in Brazil. I was able to get a great article in the magazine on Cláudio, which was important exposure outside of Recife. Working with him made me certain that this was my life passion: to promote the work of artists I believe in. Forty years later, I still love what I do.

Rebecca Camacho

Founder, Rebecca Camacho Presents

Rebecca Camacho working at a cafe part-time in 1998. Courtesy of Rebecca Camacho.

At 22 years old, I got an unpaid internship at the Capp Street Project, a nonprofit artist residency program in San Francisco. I’d only ever worked service-industry jobs at cafés and salons.

I was living with my parents when I got the interview, so my mom took me to the Bebe store to purchase a new suit. It was a Jackie O–inspired cut, with a cropped black jacket and A-line skirt. When I arrived, I realized I was overdressed for the office. Still, they offered me the job on the spot. I kept doing café work so I could make money.

At Capp Street, I labeled and ordered the slide histories of all their exhibitions. I helped organize the Gary Hill show, which was the last residency at Capp Street, from March to June of 1998. The organization closed later that year.

“I was living with my parents when I got the interview, so my mom took me to the Bebe store to purchase a new suit.”

Tony Meier was on Capp Street’s board of directors. It was 1998, he’d recently opened his gallery Anthony Meier Fine Arts, and he was preparing an exhibition of work by Australian artist Gail Hastings. He needed someone to answer the door and serve drinks at the opening. He called Capp Street to ask if anyone was interested. It was my job to answer the phone, so he spoke to me!

Tony offered cash for a few hours of work, and the rate was higher than what the café paid me. After my “success” at the opening, he offered me $10 per hour to work at his gallery one day per week. Later that year, he brought me on full-time, at a $27,000 annual salary. I stayed with him for two decades, working with artists who became dear friends. That was the best part of the job.

Stathis Panagoulis and George Vamvakidis

Co-founders, The Breeder

Portrait of Stathis Panagoulis and George Vamvakidis. Courtesy of The Breeder.

The Breeder Magazine. Courtesy of The Breeder.

In our late twenties, we published The Breeder magazine, eight issues between 2000 and 2002. It was about art, fashion, and architecture. We asked artists to create projects especially for us. Everyone we reached out to wanted to participate. It was a bit weird, since we really came out of nowhere! Everyone said yes, except Gilbert & George.

Our magazine was square-shaped, like an LP box, and its unbound pages hosted fantastic work by Jim Lambie, Rita Ackermann, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Andreas Angelidakis, John Bock, Torbjørn Rødland, and Carol Bove. We didn’t make any money from the magazine, and of course, we had no salaries either. In fact, every issue that was sold through one of our favorite bookstores, New York’s Printed Matter, cost us about $50 to make. We should mention that every issue in its box weighed more than four pounds.

But this magazine introduced us to the art world. Our offices turned by accident into a gallery space. Soon, we were participating at Art Basel in Basel and in Miami Beach. We don’t know what we’d be doing if we weren’t in the art world. We don’t know how to do anything else!

Marwan Zakhem

Director, Gallery 1957

Portrait of Marwan Zakhem in 2016. Courtesy of Nii Odzenma and Gallery 1957, Accra.

My first art-world job came late, after a lifetime working in construction. My passion for art was sparked when I moved to Dakar, Senegal, in 2001, and began to collect West African art. As my interest (and collection) grew, I became more involved with the artists and art scene in the region. Noticing a need for more commercial arts infrastructure within Ghana (where I’d moved), I decided to found Gallery 1957. I was 44. I still haven’t taken a salary, but I am so lucky to be working on something I’m truly passionate about.

From the beginning, I’ve had to stretch myself across every job: branding, finding artists, managing the exhibition process. Setting up a gallery in a non-traditional art city is difficult. More traditional art centers take basic infrastructure and services for granted. But growing the team here on the ground has been really rewarding.

Being around artists has inspired both my life and career. There’s more crossover between construction and contemporary African art than I’d realized. Artists have made me think differently about the materials I used to work with everyday: steel, plastic, and wood.

Tamsen Greene

Senior director, Jack Shainman Gallery

Portrait of Tamsen Greene when she worked as a gallery assistant at Andrea Rosen Gallery. Courtesy of Tamsen Greene.

I was a 22-year-old recent Barnard graduate. I saw a New York Foundation for the Arts classifieds listing for a gallery assistant position at Andrea Rosen and got excited: It was the gold standard, one of Chelsea’s coolest galleries. I brought my cover letter and resumé to the gallery and shyly handed them to the woman at the front desk. Both she and the other gallery assistant went to Barnard, and I think school pride made them look more closely. Or maybe they just loved my $1 red skirt from the 96th street SalVal, the second-chicest thing I owned. My chicest outfit I saved for the interview, a cream pleated skirt with $250 Etro boots I’d bought at a consignment store. They were the most expensive things I owned until later, when Andrea gave me a brand-new pair of orange-and-purple Prada high-heeled loafers. They hurt too much to wear, but I still have them.

“The first time I had to get Marc Jacobs on the phone for Andrea was so exciting that I talked about it for weeks.”

During the interview, Andrea asked me what artists I liked. My mind went blank and all I could think was “Don’t say John Currin,” since he’d just left the gallery in a high-profile and tragic decampment. I smiled and said, “I just love John Currin.” A day later, she called and offered me the job anyway.

I answered phones, ran errands, planned events, and organized travel. Andrea made me rewrite emails 10, 20 times. I coordinated staff lunches with reusable trays to save the environment. I managed the database, which was full of exotic names and some celebrities. The first time I had to get Marc Jacobs on the phone for Andrea was so exciting that I talked about it for weeks.

I quickly knew that I wanted to be a director. Andrea and the staff tolerated my endless questions and my desire to grow. They were patient and encouraging, but sometimes their advice was tough to hear. A director once gave me the “dress for the job you want” talk. I made lifelong friends and learned how to look at problems from every angle. Andrea taught me that we can always do better.

Liza Essers

Owner and director, Goodman Gallery

Portrait of Liza Essers. Courtesy of Liza Essers.

I created my first art-world job at 31 years old. After a few years in the corporate world, I decided I wanted to work as an independent curator and art dealer, which would make my life more flexible. Early on, I conceived and executed a public sculpture exhibition in downtown Johannesburg. I approached the CEO of Anglo American and got the mining company’s backing to install a row of large sculptures all the way down Main Street in the old Central Business District of Johannesburg.

In 2004, I got my major art-world breakthrough. We’d had 10 years of democracy in South Africa, and I was thinking about what it meant to live in the country. I decided to respond to this symbolic milestone with an exhibition that recognized our society’s progress. I approached Linda Givon, the founder of Goodman Gallery, and told her about my plans. Through Linda, I consigned work from artists such as William Kentridge and Kendell Geers. The exhibition took place concurrently in Cape Town and London’s Cork Street—where Mick Jagger was the first client to walk through the door.

I didn’t earn a salary at first, but I got the chance to work with artists I really admired. I realized that I wanted to represent artists’ careers and pursue work that would alter audiences’ perspectives. Four years after that exhibition in London and Cape Town, I bought the Goodman Gallery from Linda. It’s been a rollercoaster ride ever since.

Alina Cohen

Corrections: An earlier version of this article referred to Peggy Leboeuf as Principal Partner of Perrotin, Lebouf’s title is Partner; to Bridget Finn as Director of Reyes | Finn, Finn’s title is Partner; and to Carla Camacho as Director of Sales at Lehmann Maupin, Camacho’s title is Partner.