Interview: Rebecca Wilson

Each year, Saatchi Art publishes its Invest in Art report. This report aims at highlighting emerging talent in the art world in order to inform buying decisions of first-time buyers and experienced collectors, many of whom are increasingly purchasing artworks online.

Rebecca Wilson is Chief Curator and Vice President of Art Advisory at Saatchi Art. She oversees all curatorial elements of the online gallery and leads Saatchi Art’s Art Advisory program. Wilson selects the 20 artists featured in the Invest in Art report. Wilson reviewed the graduation shows of BFA and MFA programs at some of the most prestigious schools in the UK and US. These emerging artists are making distinctive work, which is already being recognised with international sales, awards, and invitations to participate in exhibitions and residencies. 

What exactly do you do?

Curators working in museums, brick and mortar galleries and online galleries all have slightly different roles but essentially it’s about giving some context and meaning to the work of artists, providing interpretation and arrangement that helps people to respond to the artworks and understand them. Specifically, at Saatchi Art I look at around 1000 new artworks every day in a wide range of mediums – painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, mixed media, photography – from artists based in over 100 countries. I don’t have a particular curatorial agenda other than to try to identify the most exciting and interesting works, arrange them into online exhibitions or collections focusing on different themes, or price point, or movements, in order to help artists to showcase their work and to help people looking for artworks to find them in an accessible and stimulating way.

What is the difference between curating an online gallery and a brick & mortar one? 

If you work for a commercial brick and mortar gallery or a museum you are likely to have an agenda as a curator or a specific, fairly limited range of interest. 

Working for an online gallery is very different: 

I don’t have an agenda and I am not only interested in one style or period of art. At Saatchi Art we represent a huge variety of works by artists living in 100 countries so every day I’m looking at hundreds of works ranging from, for example, new paintings by recent MFA graduates to traditional landscape paintings to works of sculpture. My task as a curator is to try to identify the most exciting works and to curate them into online exhibitions focusing on specific themes, prices and mediums; to think about special features we can publish on individual artists of particular note; as well as which artists we’d like to show in our pop-up exhibitions and the art fairs that we do in different cities. As the curator of an online gallery I also know much more about what kind of art people are interested so I am able to propose works to a wide range of clients that I think they will actually like rather than expecting them to come and see – and buy – what I like!

How has the online gallery world changed since you joined in 2007?

5-10 years ago if you were someone who loves art you would have gone to museum shows, perhaps a few gallery shows, but not necessarily found a way to translate that passion into being able to live with art and have art on your own walls. (I’m not talking about the top end of the market, the 2500 collectors or so who buy at auction and bluechip galleries – I’m talking about the vast majority of people who enjoy art.) Now it is possible to do that – you can easily access a wide range of artworks online, you can discover art from all over the world, you can have a very easy buying experience – you can see the prices, know that the shipping is taken care of (we organise all shipping and customs for everyone who buys from us). You can find works that are affordable and also know that your purchase will be supporting an emerging artist. You can even work with an art advisor for no extra charge (the going rate for art advisors is around $250 per hour) who will guide you through the process of buying art and help identify artworks that you might like. This was unheard of 5 years ago. The internet has opened up the art world to millions of people all over the world, giving them ways of learning more about art in an accessible environment. Social media has also become a very powerful platform for showcasing and sharing art. So holding out for a brick and mortar gallery is, fortunately, no longer the only option for artists – the internet is providing many other ways for artists to show their work and be discovered. More and more artists all over the world are being able to show their work to a global audience and make a living through online sales.

How has Saatchi Art grown in comparison with other online galleries and why?

We are fortunate to work with thousands of extraordinary artists and, hopefully, to earn their loyalty through all the curation we do, the care and attention we give to their work as well as the huge drive that the team has at Saatchi Art to introduce their works to people who really love art all over the world. Having such wonderful artists is fundamental to our continuing success.

What are your criteria for taking on artists?

Saatchi Art is a democratic gallery open to all artists. We deliberately want to provide an inclusive environment for artists and recognise talent from all over the world. By being online, as opposed to having one brick and mortar gallery, we are able to represent many more artists and help them to gain exposure for their work. Through our careful curation we are able to provide a very high quality experience for visitors to our website ensuring that they are introduced to outstanding works.

How are the prices set and what is your role in setting these prices?

The prices are in the first instance set by artists based on their track record of sales. We also offer advice and work with artists to set their prices.

Do you see yourself as an influencer?

I think that Saatchi Art is having a big impact on artists’ lives which is certainly very rewarding. We are enabling artists to make a living from their work, and having a transformative affect on their lives. We are also enabling people who have historically not found it easy to break into the art world to start buying art in a friendly, informative environment. Through our focus on emerging artists of particular note, in our Invest in Art report and our weekly One to Watch series, we have a positive influence on the works that people are buying and showing people that it is possible to purchase wonderful works at affordable prices. 

As a curator, what kind of advice would you give to a buyer?

Always buy what you love.  Go to lots of shows, read art and culture magazines, look at as much art as you can. This will help you to get a clearer sense of what you like and the art market in general. I love going to MFA shows as it’s a great way to discover new emerging artists and buy their works before they get snapped up by galleries and their prices start to go up. If you don’t have time and are looking for a short cut, then I’d highly recommend exploring our Invest in Art series, which I put together 3 times a year, having done extensive research into some of the most exciting emerging artists.

+ saatchiart.com

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