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Art Market & Business

The Art market is a diverse, fast-paced, constantly evolving environment, centered primarily on the industry of art valuation. This is a subsection of financial valuation, which is art specific. The Global Art market revenue in 2015 reached £51.3bn, and in the UK the estimated annual turnover is £15.1billion (2015). Sales in the UK are the second highest behind America, which highlights how important the art market is for industry in the UK and its presence in the Global art trade, which makes working for commercial art galleries and auction houses in the UK, particularly in London, all the more appealing.

Art valuation is the practice of estimating the potential market value of works of art. This process is carried out by art and antique dealers and appraisers and takes place in Auction houses, the largest of which are Bonhams, Christies and Sotheby’s, where auctioneers manage the sales of works of art. This process also takes place within the commercial art gallery network. A typical graduate role in this field would be a salesroom assistant; to help saleroom porters and viewing assistants to hang/ display objects, termed ‘lots’, submitted for sale. Once graduates have acquired the basic skills in this area, they can then progress to other roles, with greater responsibility.

This sector is not exclusive just to sales of art works. Other sections of this field are important such as the following:

  • Museums and Galleries (e.g. Tate, V&A, The National Gallery, Barbican, White Cube)
  • Art Investment (e.g Private finance/ wealth and asset managers)
  • Heritage (e.g. National Trust, English Heritage, archaeological services)
  • Theatre and Performance Organisations (e.g. Ambassador Theatre Group, English National Opera, Sadlers Wells)

Graduate training programs and internships are unfortunately scarce in this field in comparison to other sectors, such as banking and law, due to the specialist nature of the market. Occasionally larger auction houses, such as Bonhams, Christies and Sotheby’s, offer them through specific programs, which vary in length from two-week placements to six-month rotations in various departments. These positions are usually unpaid. However, most commercial galleries and non-profit galleries offer placements on a volunteer basis, in order for graduates to gain valuable experience about how galleries in both sectors are run. This would require an applicant to write directly to the gallery attached with a CV.

Potential job roles in this field include:

  • Auctioneer: Fine Art Auctioneers conduct auctions by accepting bids and declaring goods sold. They work with both the buyer and the seller, building client relationships and appraising the items to be sold.
  • Salesroom Assistant: Manage viewings and sales of art works submitted for auction
  • Registrar: Responsible for the transportation of art objects to museums, galleries and auctions. A registrar would be expected to help with cataloguing, packing, arranging insurance and in some instances travel with objects of value.
  • Museum/gallery curator & assistant: Curators research, acquire, display and write about objects and are viewed as the academic specialists for a collection. They usually have an academic background in a relevant field, such as an Art History degree and most job applications for this role require postgraduate study to refine their skills for the working environment, particularly in Art valuation.
  • Exhibitions Officers or Project Officers: Their roles include planning, managing and presenting exhibitions and projects whilst working alongside a specialist, usually the curator of the exhibition. These roles are usually accessed via volunteer programs and do not require an specialist academic background, but are valuable in terms of work experience and looked on favorably during the application process for other jobs in this sector. It is highly desirable.
  • Research & Administration: Support roles for larger organizations i.e. Tate. Graduates enter at the assistant curator or researcher roles through internships then progress to what is known as ‘administrators’ then ‘senior administrators’.
  • Collections assistant & Managers: This role Responsible for the management of objects under an institution’s care, including their cataloguing, conservation, safety, acquisition and removal, storage and digital recording
  • Photographers & Digital Managers: These roles are often not permanent positions in commercial galleries, museums or auction houses but are of vital importance to document exhibitions and collections, as well as contributing content to presence of the gallery online.
  • Exhibition Invigilator: This role is demanding physically, as individuals may have to stand for long periods of time, and is usually found on a volunteer programme. As it is volunteer based work, the experience is looked on favorably by employers if applicants wish to progress to either Auctioneering or further posts in the gallery network.
  • Gallery Assistant: Gallery assistants aid exhibition curators and other staff members with administrative and creative tasks. They are typically responsible for special events, the safety of artworks and the management of the Gallery’s collections and archives.

Desired necessary skills

Within the Art Market, each individual role will have its own unique skillset, however frequent desired skills for this sector involve:

  • Flexibility (particularly with fixed term contracts)
  • Creativity
  • Excellent communication skills and high emotional IQ, in order to negotiate with potential clients.
  • Demonstrate a genuine interest in art and culture. (Work placement/experience in this area is crucial)
  • Initiative and drive
  • Evaluative skills
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Highly sociable

Art & Law

To study art law undergraduates or graduates must apply to a law conversion course (GDL) if their degree is not in Law, as it is not possible to go into this field of law without an academic background in general law. The Legal Practice Course (LPC) must be taken after completing the GDL. The LPC is professional stage of training to be a solicitor. It is a one-year, full-time (or two-year, part-time) course.

Whilst completing both of these courses it is advised that graduates apply to training schemes at Law firms which have an art law department, such as:

  • Mishcon de Reya
  • Farrer & Co
  • Bird & Bird
  • Stephenson Harwood
  • Boodle Hatfield LLP
  • Constantine Cannon LLP
  • Clyde & Co LLP


If you are keen to learn from specialists who are deeply passionate about their field and are inspired by unique and rare objects and the people who collect them, then auctioneering could be the role for you. This job allows a graduate to access both the financial and creative sides of the Art Market.

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