Julia Mechtler, a former IBS student is talking about her career in arts management in one of the most significant galleries in New York.
Tell a bit about what you did after completing your IBS studies. Where did you study, where did you work?
After I graduated from IBS in 2008 in business studies, I moved to London to work at Christie’s Postwar and Contemporary Department as a Graduate Intern. The art market crashed in October 2008 after the poor results of the London auctions, and consequently Christie’s wasn’t renewing contracts. I decided it was the perfect time to go to graduate school, and I moved to New York in September 2009 to study Visual Arts Administration at New York University. Before I moved to NY, I lived in Budapest from February to August and worked at the Hungarian National Gallery’s marketing department.
How did your IBS studies help in your further study and work?
When I moved from Buffalo, NY to Budapest in 2004 to study at IBS, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I loved art history, but I didn’t want to work at a museum or to teach. Every school paper or project I did at IBS involved the contemporary art market. Even my thesis was about corporate art collections in Hungary.
Two of the most important opportunities that IBS offered for me was the ERASMUS study abroad program and the work placement year. In my second year, I moved to Sevilla, Spain for ERASMUS. I studied Spanish for years in American schools growing up in Buffalo, NY but that didn’t mean I could speak Spanish. I look back now at my time in Sevilla with such fond memories. I walked through beautiful parks lined with citrus trees to go to school and even took art history class in Spanish to learn about the 17th century painter Francisco de Zurbarán from Sevilla.
During my work placement year at IBS, I was accepted into the Museum of Modern Art’s internship program in their marketing department in NY. This was my first time living in New York City. At the time, social media was just starting to become popular, and I was researching how to present the museum on Facebook. I attended all the museum openings, which I realize now how difficult they are to get into! In January, I moved to Venice, Italy to intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. My time in Venice still feels like a dream. I lived in Dorsoduro and had gondolas passing by outside of my bedroom window. The interns at the PGC have a wide range of tasks from helping at the front desk to guarding the paintings to giving tours on Abstract Expressionism. These internship experiences were priceless. I was still so young and unsure of what I wanted to do, but it helped to guide me to where I am today. During the last year of my studies at IBS, the university launched an Arts Administration program. I was extremely fortunate to be able to attend the art history and arts administration classes.
Did you have a definite image of what you really wanted to do with your arts management training?
After IBS, I knew that I wanted to work in the for-profit sector of the art world, but I needed to continue my education and decided to move to NY. I was always interested in what determines the price of a work of art. All the internships I completed over the years definitely gave me a better understanding of what I wanted to do.
What brought you to NY? How did you enter NYU? How was the process?
New York City is the center of the contemporary art world. Collectors from all over the world come to NY to see art in galleries, museums and art fairs. I knew that I needed to continue my education here. I applied for the Master’s Program at NYU in Visual Art Administration with a concentration on the for-profit sector and for the Arts Administration program at Columbia University. I took the GREs (Graduate Record Examination) in Budapest in order to apply for Columbia and came to NY to interview at both schools. I was accepted into both, but I chose NYU as it had a stronger focus on contemporary art and had a very unique program. The Visual Arts Administration program is part of Steinhardt School at NYU, but they allow you to take classes from the Institute of Fine Arts and the Stern Business School. I had a strong background in business, so I was able to take more art history and contemporary art classes. Some of my incredible professors included Roselee Goldberg, the founder of Performa, and Philippe de Montebello, the previous Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
What were the major steps that led you to David Zwirner Gallery, which is one of the most acknowledged galleries in Chelsea, New York?
After the market crashed in 2008, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy finding a job, so I did a lot of internships while I was still in school. I interned at Gagosian for a year and worked parttime for collectors Susan and Michael Hort. I started to apply for jobs 6 months prior to graduating. After two months, I was called in for an interview at David Zwirner for a sales assistant position. I was still writing my thesis the first few months as I was at Zwirner. Years later when I asked my boss why she picked me out of all the applicants, she told me that I had a positive attitude and I said that I was willing to do anything.
Where can we see your blog?
I started a blog called the Hungarian Contemporary Art Exchange back in 2011 with my best friend Anna Olajos, who also studied Arts Administration at IBS and now works as the International Relations Manager for Art Market, Budapest. The blog started out as a school project with an aim to bring more awareness to contemporary Eastern European art. Unfortunately, we’re not blogging anymore, but I just learned recently that Ruxanda Renita, also an IBS alumna, writes about contemporary art from Eastern Europe for a website called ArtGuide East. When I was living in Budapest, everything was written only in Hungarian. I think it’s crucial that there is a dialogue in English on the internet about art from Eastern Europe.
What type of art are you really into?
That’s a tough question to answer. Of course, I love many of the artists from David Zwirner including the painters Yayoi Kusama, Neo Rauch, Michaël Borremans, Marlene Dumas and Lisa Yuskavage. I also love minimalism and the work of John McCracken, Donald Judd and Fred Sandback. Outside of Zwirner, I love the work of Adrian Ghenie, Jim Lambie, Keltie Ferris, Liz Nielsen, Brendan Fowler, and Sarah Braman. I also try to follow the Central and Eastern European art scene and love the work of Alexander Tinei, Zsofi Keresztes, Erik Matrai, Marton Nemes, and Gergo Szinyova.
Do you have a favourite or important professor of whom you have fond memories from IBS?
I have very fond memories of my classes with Jeff Taylor and Delia Vekony. I loved both of their classes very much.
Do you have contact with Hungary and the professional art scene here? What are they?
Many of my close friends in Budapest work in the art world either as artists, at galleries and art fairs or curators, and I’m in touch with them on a regular basis. I am very passionate about the contemporary Hungarian art scene, and even though I am not in Budapest, I try to stay connected as much as possible. I am on the selection committee for an artist residency program called Art as Ambassador sponsored by the Central European Institute of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. The residency was founded two years ago and gives Hungarian artists an opportunity to come to NYC to live and work for a period of 6 weeks. Marton Nemes was the first artist in residence, and Gergo Szinyova is currently in NYC doing his residency.
Your paper thesis at NYU was, Strategies for International Growth of the Hungarian Contemporary Art, can you mention in what ways you see this as an option, possibility. What would you recommend to artists, art professionals here in Hungary to achieve that goal?
In my thesis, I compared the Hungarian contemporary art scene to the success of the Cluj School artists from Romania. For young artists, I would recommend to make sure you have a professional website in English with a CV, images of individual works and installation images. This is so basic, but not all artists have a professional website. I also suggest applying to residency programs. For art professionals from Hungary, I think it’s very important to speak English very well and to travel to art fairs. You have to be a part of the global conversation about contemporary art.
What would be your message, advice to art management students?
I recommend going to see a lot of galleries and museum shows. Also, do a lot of internships! I have met so many people through my internships, and I continue to stay in touch with them. Many of them work in the art world now. Lastly as glamorous as the art world may seem at times, it’s not easy and you have to remind yourself constantly why you are doing what you’re doing. You have to be passionate about art to survive in the gallery world.
What are your plans, how would you like to move forward?
My plan is to continue working at David Zwirner in sales and to build my client base. I hope to eventually work with artists at the gallery and to move into a director role. My dream is to work with a Hungarian artist at a blue chip gallery. If that doesn’t work out, I have always dreamt of opening my own gallery space.
What are you doing in your free time?
I barely have any free time, but when I do, I like to go to see museum shows, spend time in Central Park, see friends and family and do some sort of exercise, like yoga or spinning. I am also in the middle of planning my wedding, which will be in Budapest this summer. I actually met my fiancé Michele Iadarola 11 years ago in the cafeteria at IBS.