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“Insider Art” at Christie’s
August 2005

Written by Erin Mallay
Photographed by Stephanie Lund

“I Dart N.Y.” by Jason Fox (Photo Studio Assistant)
Color prints, map, darts

When you go to a museum or a gallery and you gaze curiously at a painting on the wall, have you ever wondered about the guy who hung it there? I mean the guy who actually hammered the nail into the wall and made sure it was straight, even and balanced. Probably not. Likewise, the person who carried the painting from storage, the specialists who cared for it there, repaired it, cleaned it, catalogued it, the framer, the administrators, their assistants or the clerk that brings them all their mail, all make up an invisible legion grinding away the in the huge kitchen of the five star restaurant that is the New York art scene.

Untitled by Jason Cuvelier
(Preparator, Photographs)
Oil on Linen

Here’s another question for you: What do you think happens to all those art students all over the country when they finish school? Well, there’s a bunch of them working at Christie’s Auction house, one of the most famed and esteemed fine arts auction houses in the world. In fact, there are so many artists turning the many gears that maintain Christie’s reputation that this August the auction house dedicated their main galleries to their Employee Art Show, “Insider Art.”

Untitled by Rene Martinez
(Art Handler, PostWar and Contemporary Art)
Oil on Paper

A clever play on familiar art terms, “Insider Art” derives its title from an Arts & Culture column of the New York Times, “Inside Art,” while conjuring up a reciprocal of “Outsider Art,” a genre of work created by artistic “lay-people,” or artists with no artistic background or training or other involvement in the art scene

The Christie’s employees, on the other hand, are about as “inside” the art world as it gets, and that’s no accident.

You are a good person…” by Cary Leibowitz
(Specialist, Prints and Multiples Department)
Latex on board

“It is important to the company to have artist employees,” explains Jonathan Laib, Junior Specialist in Postwar and Contemporary Art and “Insider Art” curator. “They are driven by more than prospect of financial gain; it is a dedication to art and a passion.”

This is the fifth year of the annual Employee Art show, and the exhibition boasts an extensive collection of work contributed by about a fifth of the auction house staff. Taking advantage of a slow month for Christie’s, the show fills up the three galleries and provides the artists employed by Christie’s the invaluable opportunity of exhibiting the fruits of the particular passions and labors in a highly respected and frequently trafficked arts venue in Midtown Manhattan. Further, Christie’s hosted an opening for the show this month attended by about 400 art-loving New Yorkers.

Untitled by Anthony Mercado
(Office Services, Mail Clerk)
Paper Collage

But it is important to note that the show is not simply a trivial gesture or little perk to keep employees happy, like a Crunch membership or a holiday party. When Jonathan Laib and a hand full of fellow art handlers hung a small assortment of their work around a staircase in the Christie’s building five years ago, Christie’s upper management was more than just supportive, they were excited. I’m sure they saw the potential for something interesting and they gave their staff the opportunity and the means to take that initial idea somewhere truly fascinating.

Untitled by Rene Martinez
(Art Handler, PostWar and Contemporary Art)
Oil on paper mounted on board

What I enjoyed most about the show was the wide range of subject matter, genres, styles and materials. Rather than a homogenized grouping of artwork, the theme of the show allowed for such a variety that it is impossible to be bored; no matter what your particular palette, there was something there for you to enjoy. The curation of the show certainly lived up to the inherent challenge of the theme as well; when the only factor that links a large group of pieces together is where the artists happen to work, the curator is presented with a problem of flow and continuity between pieces and spaces. Laib managed to not only collect the super-individual pieces into one coherent a whole, gently and subtly encouraging an unrushed movement between each one, but he did it without reducing the exhibit to a mere show and tell get-together. Instead I saw a cross section of the work of artists living and working in New York today, spanning a range of age and backgrounds.

Untitled by Christine Skarulis
(Cashier, Credit Control)
Mixed Media, Artist's teeth, Quote by Mark twain

Spread out on the far wall of the last gallery, Christine Skarulis’ piece utilized inventive materials to convey a message of childhood nostalgia and contemporary rite of passage into adult hood. Using hundreds of the thousands of plastic teeth she obsessively cast of her own pulled wisdom teeth over the past few years, she sprawled out a Mark Twain quotation over four large panels of Astroturf: “When I was young I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.” Playful, simple, and at the same time thoughtful, the piece reflects on the particular limbo between the possibilities of childhood and the compromises of adulthood. No doubt inspired by the life changes she has undergone since leaving the bosom of art school and the artistic luxury of the studio art environment, Skaralis’ piece is particularly poignant hanging on these walls. Used to the almost limitless space of the art school studio, she was challenged by the dimensions of her small, New York apartment, as well as the time commitment to her full time job that supports her.

Skaralis isn’t the only artist in the show that contends with such challenges, and, like any true artists, transforming obstacles into advantages.

"And the Wise Looked On"
by Stephanie Chambers
(Head of the Cashier's Department)

The detailed texture of Stephanie Chamber’s work is enhanced by the small scale of the pieces. Scale and materials are dictated by the parameters of her lifestyle; having a lease prohibits the empty frames of excess paint left on apartment walls and floors, and the civilian quarters excludes the option of common artistic materials that tend to be toxic. Instead of being stifled, the style Chambers has adopted because of these constraints simply opens a new path for her; her process consists of painting on masonite, a kind of wood panel, and then carving into the masonite with an exacto-knife, alternating painting and carving over and over. The result is a textured, three dimensional impression of feathers or scales, that is incorporated into the otherwise simple imaging of animal figures.

The biggest challenge for Chambers is time, but it’s not an impossible one; “If you have artistic tendencies you have no choice but to make art. And if you have a full time job you have no choice but to wake up early, stay up late and work weekends.”

Photographs by Antonio Carri
(Photo Studio, Consultant)

These are just a small sample of the work exhibited this year at “Insider Art”. The high end, finely crafted jewelry of Aileen Ward, Giselle Muroli and Danielle Zambito; the striking photography of Jason Cuvelier; Kerry Keane's hand made Giuseppe Rocca style violin, the almost Schiele-esk oil of figures of Rene Martinez, not to mention the abstract paint-collages of the curator himself, and so many more, all deserve extensive commentary and thoughtful contemplation. The show was made up of pieces that deserve reflection and names that deserve attention because these people are not hobbyists; they are working-class artists, who judge success not by a double page photo spread in Art Forum, but rather by managing to balance time between work and passion, the chance to share their passion, and maybe even securing some studio space in Brooklyn.

Jewelry by Giselle Minoli
(Special Assistant to the Chairman)

In all, the show was unassuming, unpretentious, and unhindered by the harshness of New York life. What was left was an honesty and an integrity that favors an artist’s need to create over an identity of “Art Insider.” Christie’s hosted and exhibition that provided a slice of authentic New York and a taste of genuine New York art, and like the gourmet cuisine on which we New Yorkers love to indulge, it is worth every ounce of effort.

Photographs by Ryan Goolsby
(Photo Studio, Image Processor)

“Breeze 2005” by Stella Chang
(Jewelry, Property Controller)
Handmade paper

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