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Sara Kay Landscape

On Embracing Freedom: an interview with Sara Kay, owner of Sara Kay Gallery and Founder of the Professional Organisation for Women in the Arts (POWarts)

Sara Kay is the owner of her eponymous New York City-based gallery and Founder of the Professional Organization for Women in the Arts (POWarts). Sara has over 20 years’ worth of experience in the arts, with her involvement spanning conservation, museums, auction houses, galleries and non-profit organisations. Prior to this, Sara was Director of the esteemed contemporary art gallery White Cube in London, an adjunct faculty member at the Sotheby’s Institute of Fine Art, and Director of the Fine Art Department at the Jan Krugier Gallery, which was the exclusive agent for the estate Marina Picasso. A respected industry veteran,  Sara was awarded the Parmigiani Fleurier’s Women of Exception prize in 2015 for her professional distinctions and philanthropy. She is currently a member of the Christie’s Education Art World Professional Advisory Group. 

The Professional Organization for Women in the Arts (POWarts) was founded in 2008 with the mission of championing the careers of women professionals in the arts. Guided by the conviction that generosity and leadership go hand in hand, POWarts aims to further its members’ individual ambitions as well as inclusivity within the arts community. The organisation offers educational programs and networking opportunities and spearheads community service initiatives. www.powarts.org

Founded in 2017, Sara Kay Gallery illuminates the intersection of multiple art historical periods and movements through its dedication to supporting women artists. The business also specialises in the sale of blue-chip 20th century and contemporary works. www.sarakaygallery.com

Stephanie Yeap spoke with Sara Kay via video call between London and New York City…

1. Describe your business in 5 words:

 I have 2 businesses: the first one, Sara Kay Gallery, is a commercial venture that focuses on the sale of modern and contemporary blue-chip art. There’s a large range of periods and movements and mediums. I’ll describe the gallery in 3 phrases and I’d go with collection management, private sales and estate deaccession.

2. What inspired you to pursue this career?

I can’t say for sure but my mother’s an artist and grew up around art. My grandmother was a great influence on me as well. She was a docent at many museums and spent a lot of time around galleries. I’d say my upbringing played a big role in my career, and I love art. However, I love business too and managed to merge both of them. I was never going to be an artist though – maybe in my next life!

3. What’s the most wonderful thing about the profession?

Freedom! It’s a blessing and a curse but mostly the former, if you can navigate it. The field is totally undefined and there’s no strict path – it’s not like going to law school and getting qualified. There’s no standard route, only what you make it. This is awesome if you can do it well and embrace that. The industry is an unregulated market, so you’ll need a strong sense of ethics if you want to navigate it well. In the end, it’s a creative field as well as a business. I love that there’s tons of room for expression and entrepreneurship.

4. And let’s get real… What’s the most challenging aspect of the profession?

Working with artists is challenging for me. I love it, but it hasn’t been the bulk of my professional experience and I am most comfortable in the secondary market sector.

5. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given?

About 15 years ago, Dorothy Kosinski, Director of the Phillips Collection in Washington – a friend and role model for me said, “Whoever claims they know what they’re doing at all times is lying to themselves.” This is really helpful because at that time I assumed the people around me know what they were doing. This is an excellent reminder I think about constantly simply because it’s honest and takes the pressure off.

6. What do you now say to someone who is just starting out? (Maybe it’s that one thing you wish someone had told you!)

You’re going to make mistakes. Embrace them.

7. What challenge is the industry facing that art dealers need to address?

Ah, what challenges aren’t we facing? If I had to pick one, I’d say the whole landscape has changed. I don’t think it’s about the art anymore, but more so about money and investments. On a whole, it’s hard to find the art in its purest form. Academia might be different but I think even museums face these challenges. The art of looking has really become commodified.

8. If you had to be one work of art, what would you be – and why?

Agnes Martin 1997

‘With my back against the world’ (1997) by Agnes Martin. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Image from: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79892?artist_id=3787

I’d be an Agnes Martin painting. For me, her compositions appear so still but she’s conveying so much in that serenity. There’s actually so much movement and it appears to me to be on another plane.

9. What do you personally believe are the best advantages of being part of an association like AWAD, and how have you benefited?

Aside from the programming, definitely the community and supportive nature. Both AWAD and POWarts (of which I am the Founder) have this, and all of this stems at the top. To find allies and support systems is crucial. Susan (the Founder and CEO of AWAD) and I both value these qualities so our organisations reflect that, which is both incredible and, sadly amongst women, rare. Not only do both these organisations foster mutual respect and support, but also a genuine desire to see one another thrive. This is the key to everything and results in collaborations between members, which means success for everybody.

10. How can you make the most out of being a member of a professional network?

Show up, be present and give. When you’re attending meetings and events, it’s crucial to share your knowledge, ideas and ask questions.

www.powarts.org 

Instagram: @powarts // Facebook: @POWartsny // Twitter: @POWArts

www.sarakaygallery.com

Instagram: @sarakaygallery // Facebook: @sarakaygallery

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