Ashley Stewart is an artist liaison to some of the most important and well-known artists in contemporary art. After beginning her career at Zwirner & Wirth (now known as David Zwirner), Stewart has trailblazed her way into becoming one of Gagosian’s youngest directors.
After Zwirner, what made you decide to go to Salon 94? Was this a decision where you felt you could become a director?
I was familiar with Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn throughout my time at Zwirner. I was always intrigued by her. When I notified the gallery that I wanted to pursue other opportunities, they connected me with Jeanne.
At that point in my career, I knew I was ready to move on and needed to be challenged in a different way. I looked at both small and large galleries, and different aspects of their programs. The program at Salon 94 has always felt very authentic and that was important to me. I also liked the idea of working for a female gallerist.
Luckily at the time she was looking for a director so it was serendipitous.
How were you able to execute such great and challenging projects? You make it seem like it was a walk in the park.
Most of my colleagues set a high standard for themselves. When you put a group of highly ambitious individuals together as a team, it creates an environment in which you want to succeed. It’s important when you take on different roles that you consider the company’s culture.
It’s hard to find mentors. How would you suggest young professionals find one? Did it happen organically for you?
Yes, it happened organically for me. I also asked a lot of questions. I wanted to learn from those who came before me. Many people who I worked with took the time to nurture my curiosity. I’m not even sure I want to use the word mentorship, because it’s really about finding someone who you connect with and will help facilitate your own ideas and aspirations. Not everyone wants to be a mentor and that’s okay. Art has been a vehicle for me to develop relationships with people both in and outside of the industry.
Do you find yourself being in the position of a mentor now?
I’ve received a lot of emails from people in different industries who want to work in the art world and ask for a brief call. While I do enjoy people reaching out, I don’t always have the time to speak with everyone. I love interacting with my assistants and think it’s important to ask if they like the work that they’re doing, where they see themselves growing, how can I lend my expertise and wisdom to them. I think you never know what a person is capable of unless you give them the space to grow. It’s always rewarding when I receive cards in the mail from past interns that say “thank you for the time you took time to get coffee with me and give me advice, now I’m a sales assistant at X gallery” or whatever it may be.
You became a young director at 30 at Salon 94. What did your responsibilities entail?
I was hired to be Director of Sales. I maintained existing client relationships while expanding our client base. Additionally, I managed and attended all art fairs, facilitated exhibitions and helped oversee staff. Then I went on to start working with artists at the gallery.
How did being an artist liaison challenge you and what were your responsibilities?
There was no guidebook, but I think the opportunity to work with an artist’s studio first hand was the most exciting aspect. It’s still one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
So then, you moved to Gagosian?
The gallery presented me with a great opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’d been consistently working in galleries and this was the moment that was a testament to my hard work , perseverance, experience, and my abilities. Larry Gagosian hired me which helped me develop a rapport with him. I’ve been with the gallery for two years now.
What is your typical day?
My job heavily involves managing and championing the artists I work with and the artists on our gallery roster. Currently I’m working on future exhibitions, facilitating special projects, and continuing to place works in both private and public collections. I spend most of my mornings answering emails and I have a lot of zoom meetings and phone calls. I haven’t done as many studio visits since the pandemic, but that is also a part of my job.
What’s an example of where you have really been resilient?
I’ve stayed true to my own journey and progress. I’ve always been aware of my personal and professional integrity and that’s always guided me through every situation.. You have to have the courage to be authentic and true to yourself.
How do you stay updated on the art market?
I draw information from numerous channels and have conversations with my peers and colleagues in the industry.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
My favorites change and it’s hard to say one. I like to see movement, texture, and depth in a painting. I love minimalism but also gravitate towards some of the great painters like Soutine and De Kooning.