With 30,000 attendees, sold out tickets, transactions above the million mark, and positive reviews by major media outlets—from The New York Times to Le Monde—the inaugural edition of Frieze Los Angeles this past February can easily be called a triumph, joining its equally successful New York and London counterparts. Want to know what it was like working for the art fair at this pivotal moment and what it took to get there? Luckily, Sotheby’s Institute knows people on the inside with the answers: our London Master’s alumnae, Kasia Ploskonka and Zoe Lee. Here’s what they shared with us about the experience and the journey that brought them to Frieze.
Let’s start at the beginning: how did you get here?
“It’s nice to look outside of yourself,” says Kasia Ploskonka, a 2012 graduate of the London MA in Contemporary Art, when answering the question of why she came to study abroad at the Institute in London and how she wound up in her current role of Exhibitor Data & Insight Manager at Frieze. Kasia’s path has taken her from The Art Institute of Chicago, where she pursued her Bachelor’s in studio art and art history, to Kazakhstan, where she conducted research for her Master’s thesis—inspired by guest lectures she heard at the Institute—to numerous roles at Frieze Art Fair, starting with a temporary staff position at the first Frieze Masters. Now, Kasia is involved in data insights and analysis of Frieze participation, strategizing about the structure, synthesis, and dissemination of collected data through multiple channels. And on top of it all, she spends part of her time working on her PhD dissertation on contemporary art within the political landscape of post-Soviet Central Asia.
“Initially, I was working for Blain|Southern during Frieze, and I thought, ‘oh this is really cool,’" says Zoe Lee, a 2017 graduate of the London Master’s Program in Art Business. She is now the Data and Insight assistant for the art fair, a role she first heard about “through the grapevine” while working at Sotheby’s auction house post graduation. With a background in finance and marketing, Zoe was always looking for a way to combine the business side and the art side. This quest brought her to Sotheby’s Institute where the options for a career opened up through conversations with fellow classmates and opportunities to see how things actually work in the industry, behind the scenes. This all led her to Frieze, working with departments from VIP Relations to Marketing and Partnerships, helping evaluate and interpret data on audience profiles, fair attendance, and geographic markets.
Kasia Ploskonka (alumna, MA Contemporary Art, London) and Zoe Lee (alumna, MA Art Business, London) at Frieze in London
Frieze Art Fair on the inside
The inaugural edition of Frieze Los Angeles was a much-anticipated event. The fair’s arrival was yet another major mark of LA’s new central role in the art world, and everyone in the industry was eagerly waiting to see how it would differ from the London and New York editions. So how was it? “Oh it was fantastic,” says Kasia. Unlike the New York and London fairs, where Kasia dealt with over 200 galleries in her past role of Exhibitor Relations Associate, in LA it was just 70 galleries. As a result, “you had this boutique environment that a lot of the guests and gallerists loved,” which provided a more intricate, involved experience of viewing the art. It was also interesting to be in the land of the movie industry—the fair was set on the Paramount Studio lot and welcomed many celebrities. “It was interesting to observe the different types of personalities…to see how everybody sort of interacts within the scene here,” says Kasia about her LA Frieze experience. But unlike the thousands who come to see the finished product—the booths, the art, the performances—Kasia and Zoe also get to see how it all comes together. “I absolutely love going to the committee meetings when the committee selects the galleries; I’ve been going to them since 2013, to all of them” Kasia shared. Being able to observe the selection process, to go through the applications of prospective fair participants and view the images, to see all the different components come together and develop—and be part of it all on the inside—are what make the experience of working for a major art fair a rewarding one.
Words of advice to students
What advice would Kasia and Zoe give to current Sotheby’s Institute students aiming for art world success post graduation? “Participate,” says Kasia. “When you meet people, continue those conversations, continue to have exchanges, ask questions every opportunity you get.” This especially applies to people and topics that may be unfamiliar; don’t be afraid to ask guest lecturers what it’s like to work where they are, and ask your fellow classmates—who likely come from different backgrounds and far corners of the globe—for their perspectives. “We learned so much from each other,” says Zoe. “Going to exhibitions together, you’d see art through different eyes. It trains you to see the world, art, and problems in a different way…it teaches you how to interact with people in different ways.”
Written by Alina Girshovich