mary sabbatino

Advice for Aspiring Art Dealers from Leading Gallerists Part 1

What does it take to become a successful art dealer today? It’s a question that has taken on increased importance in an art market that is changing rapidly due to the proliferation of art fairs, digital technology, rising operating costs and art speculators. Despite the shifting landscape, galleries continue to play a vital role in nurturing artists’ careers and preserving their legacies for posterity. From curating exhibitions, to publishing scholarship, to building long-term relationships with collectors, art dealers remain at the center of art history while it’s still in the making. 

Since launching our blog Inside Stories last year, we’ve interviewed over 30 members for our “Gallery Chat” series, in which the ADAA’s distinguished art dealers talked about how and why they first became interested in art and what has kept them motivated through the ups and downs of their careers. One of the most thought-provoking questions we posed has been “What advice would you give an aspiring dealer today?” The answers have been as varied as our membership, which includes relatively young galleries like 11R and Susan Inglett Gallery alongside established powerhouses such as Sperone Westwater, Galerie Lelong and Barbara Krakow Gallery. 

For this two-part series, we’ve rounded up their insights for the aspiring dealers who will carry the torch in years to come. 

Eric Brown, Co-Owner of Tibor de Nagy Gallery

“It’s good to be hungry and porous—take in everything! There is no longer just one art world, there are many. Find your niche. It isn’t just about art. It involves a close relationship with artists, their lives and their work, which after all is their lifeblood. To be a committed dealer is much the same.”

Jeff Poe, Co-Founder of Blum & Poe

“In the old days I’d say just open. But it’s different today. I think you have to work for a major gallery. Get some connections and learn how to do it right. And then go out and make it your own.”

Barbara Krakow, Founder of Barbara Krakow Gallery

“Getting access to great work is the main thing today. A lot of people may have the money but how are you going to be the first person to have the privilege to say yes or no to a work of art? Be honest, straightforward and transparent.” 

Glenn McMillan, Co-Founder of CRG Gallery

“I think part of it is that you have to really be in the moment you’re in and accept the conditions of your time.”

Julie Saul, Founder of Julie Saul Gallery

“Don’t worry about what other people think of you or what the new hot thing is. Follow your vision.” 

Fredric Snitzer, Founder of Fredric Snitzer Gallery

“I think that the people in the art world—from artists to curators to all gallery employees—don’t have a choice. They’re people who have to be in it. Then, there’s a natural kind of selection because it’s too hard and getting harder all the time. It’s just for the tough ones—that’s who ends up succeeding and surviving. And in a funny way, maybe that’s how it should be.”

Bridget Moore, President of DC Moore Gallery

“Always be passionate. Always be fair. The world is small. Always do the right thing.”

Nicole Klagsbrun, Founder of Nicole Klagsbrun Inc.

“My first impulse would be to say, “Be patient,” but I don’t think it’s a good idea to be patient anymore. Actually, you have to be quite aggressive. Just have good nerves. No matter what, try to keep calm.”

Peter Freeman, Founder of Peter Freeman Inc.

“If you’re trying to follow the market, you’ll never be a good dealer. But if you follow your true sense of the art, the market will follow you.”

Carol Corey, Director of Danese / Corey

“Work with artists who you truly respect. If you have real enthusiasm for the work, that feeling will be contagious.”

Carl Solway, Founder of Carl Solway Gallery 

“You know what they say: If you want to have one million dollars as an art dealer, start out with five million.”

Pavel Zoubok, Founder of Pavel Zoubok Gallery 

“In the beginning, the best thing you can do is identify the people in our field who are doing what you aspire to do. Visit the galleries, and often. If you can, try to form a relationship. Most dealers will be happy to chew your ear off about what they love.

The business side has its own weird, internal logic but if you make investments in ways that are true to your instincts, things tend to work out. This has always been a kind of feast or famine business, but that’s part of the fun.”

Angela Westwater, Co-Founder of Sperone Westwater 

“The business is harder today than when I first began. There is so much more—more artists, a larger audience, and instant online communication, not to mention the competition from auction houses. These can be challenging factors at any stage of one’s career.

What has guided me is a Henry James quote I heard years ago: ‘We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have, our doubt is our passion, and passion is our task—the rest is the madness of art.’”

Mary Sabbatino, Vice President & Partner at Galerie Lelong

“It’s very easy to get lost in the hype but your job comes down to creating a space for art to live in the world. Stay true to art. Stay true to artists. Stay true to yourself.”