The Columns

A Day in the Life: Meera Kumar ’16 Day in the Life, Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner, Intern at Christie’s Global Headquarters, London

— by on September 5th, 2016

Meera Kumar '16

“The most exciting part of interning at Christie’s was getting to interact with pieces that I had studied in the classroom.”

“Christie’s is a name and place that speaks of extraordinary art, unparalleled service and expertise, as well as international glamour.”

So reads the introduction to the Christie’s website Who We Are section. It also best describes my time interning in London in the Islamic Art and Contemporary Indian Art Departments at Christie’s King Street.

As an economics major with a strong interest in art history, I have long tried to connect my interests—though the links seem few and far between. At Christie’s however, for the first time, these seemingly disparate interests went hand-in-hand, as art specialists need to understand valuations and the art market in order to make reasonable estimates for items up for auction.

I was fortunate in that I got to experience two different departments: Islamic Art is rooted in provenance, researching the history of an object and determining its intrinsic value, while Contemporary Indian Art is not about historical worth, but about market trends and the whims of buyers.

Between attending auctions where pieces regularly sell for over £1 million pounds and helping create timelines for upcoming department sales, I had the opportunity to understand how an art auction house runs. From the moment that the contract is signed with the consigner to the time that an auction is held, the entire department involved works tirelessly to generate interest through collection viewings, well-designed catalogues, and pre-sale exhibitions all around the globe. My specific tasks were varied, depending on the daily needs of the department. A typical day might include re-organizing a bookcase in the Islamic and Indian library, finding the provenance of an item down in archives (Christie’s has records going back to the 1760s), researching traditional picchvai painting in Rajasthan, India, and finally handling some pieces in the warehouses.

Having spent the year studying at the University of Oxford and taking tutorials at the Ashmolean Museum, I thought that my exposure to object-handling had been quite thorough. At Christie’s, however, my experience was simply at a different level. I got to peruse illustrated Ottoman texts such as the Dala’il al-Khayrat and touch ancient Gandharan sculptures as I helped catalogue items in the warehouses.

The most exciting part of interning at Christie’s was getting to interact with pieces that I had studied in the classroom. During my last few months at Oxford, I had been involved in giving gallery talks about Bengali Art in the age of Nationalism at the Ashmolean Museum. From Nandalal Bose to Jamini Roy, many of the artists I had researched for my project have pieces that are regularly exhibited and auctioned at Christie’s. It’s an environment saturated with artworks and with expertise—an environment I am grateful to have been part of for a few weeks of my summer.