The Columns

The Art of Movement A three-month internship with New York-based artist Taryn Simon presented Sara Dotterer ’18 with myriad possibilities for her future career.

— by on December 1st, 2017

“Most of all, W&L encourages you to be a sociable, curious person.”

— Sara Dotterer ’18

Sara Dotterer ’18
Hometown: Richmond, Virginia
Majors: Anthropology and Studio Art

How did you end up in a summer internship with New York artist Taryn Simon?

I knew I wanted to work in New York and explore options in the art world in either a gallery, studio or museum. Last summer, a high school friend worked at New York’s Gagosian Gallery, the gallery that represents Taryn. At Gagosian, he befriended a previous intern of Taryn Simon Projects, and connected me to the studio through her. I sent her studio a letter of interest along with my resume, and then completed a meticulous research assignment to be considered. The assignment asked that I locate the 1981 Presidential Finding signed by Reagan that authorized covert aid to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. I found that the finding did not exist and, instead, discovered other documents that were relevant to this time in Reagan’s presidency. I presented my research in a succinct report, and they invited me to work for the studio for a three-month internship.

So it was a trick question?

It wasn’t necessarily a trick assignment. Taryn investigates and answers seemingly impossible questions; in her work, she pursues the unknown, and in turn, reveals hidden truths. I ended up finding a different document that answered the same question, and found out why it was for a different year.

What was the specific focus of your work with her, and how is it connected to your course of study at W&L?

To my friends and family, I’m often known to misplace everything. I tend to be a generalist, and am often disinterested in perfecting tiny details. But this summer, the focus of my work was precision and investigation. I had to check everything five times over, keep track of every detail in each assignment, and record everything I did. Whether researching or organizing, I learned to investigate and exhaust a problem before coming up with a solution. All of these methods have changed how I work on campus. I appreciate the ways in which this internship has informed a more systematic approach to my own research and artwork. Taryn’s work expanded my view of the possible artistic manifestations of an idea– from photographs to text to performance to book making.

Tell us about an average day on the job, if there was such a thing.

No day was the same at Taryn Simon’s studio. One day I was organizing archival materials, another day I was running books to other artists’ studios (a highlight was touring Cecily Brown’s studio). Throughout the summer, I built a fundamental knowledge of not only the inner workings of a well-established artist’s studio, but also a general overview of the contemporary art world. To be more specific, I experienced the day-to-day happenings within a studio– including getting the mail and disposing of boxes, phone calls and meetings, book editing and photo printing. On a macro scale, I have a better grasp of the fluctuations of the art market; partnerships between galleries and artists; the variety of art fairs that exist internationally; museum commissions; and the realities of being an artist (and specifically, a female artist) in today’s world.

What did you learn about being a female artist in today’s world?

I learned that the top artists are men. When art consultants offer ideas to their clients about the top artists, they first name the top male artists: Koons, Hirst, Basquiat, Pollock, the list goes on. Most exhibitions centered around one artist are by men; galleries often represent more men than women. This makes it increasingly difficult for female artists’ work to be presented at international art fairs such as Art Basel or Frieze. There has been lots of headway in recent years, and I believe artists like Taryn, Yayoi Kusama, Marina Ambravonic, and others are progressing women’s presence in the art world even more.

What did you find most fulfilling about the experience? 

Experiencing life in New York City for three months was the most exciting part of the experience. I worked on my own anthropological/art-based research project with the Leyburn Scholars Program in Anthropology (pedestrian movement as it is influenced by the smartphone) while I was there, and spent every Friday walking through the city with my video camera. I filmed pedestrians all over the city, and discovered so many hidden corners, parks and neighborhoods that way.

At the studio, Taryn’s pieces inspired me to critically analyze a variety of systems that our society has created to navigate the world around us, including systems of power and justice and methods of classification. For example, her series Paperwork and the Will of Capital looks at powerful world leaders through the lens of beautiful and delicate flowers. She photographed flower arrangements present at the signing of many different international treaties and agreements, and paired each photo with a biographical description of the event. I appreciate this newfound interest that I have in considering these systems, and using the systems as a means to satisfy curiosities, dispel anxieties and better understand the complexities of our world.

What was the most challenging aspect of it, and how did you overcome that challenge?

It was intimidating to work for an artist so respected and successful in the international world of art, especially in New York’s competitive and chaotic environment. Another issue was knowing when to ask for help and when to find my own solution. A lot of my assignments were self-designed or self-imposed based on a meeting I had with the studio manager at the start of the summer. I eventually learned to speak up and ask for work, and if I finished early, I left early. It took some time to build confidence, but I think that will be a lot easier in my next work environment.

What did you like most about spending time in New York City?

Every day, I stepped out of my apartment and was instantly invigorated by the energy and people of the city. There is a sort of organized entropy in the choreography of pedestrians of NYC that never failed to entrance me while filming for my research. I rarely ever sat down, and I used every day I wasn’t working to visit museums, parks, libraries, restaurants, concerts and shows. The public art that pervades the city constantly inspired me as I was creating my own art. I can’t wait to be back there!

How did your education at W&L impact your summer adventure?

Most of all, W&L encourages you to be a sociable, curious person. This emphasis on building relationships created more depth in my conversations with the studio managers, and allowed me to hear their personal opinions of working in art world. W&L teaches you to be honest, hardworking, up-front and detail-oriented. I believe all of these characteristics stood out to the studio in comparison to past interns. Privacy is very important at the studio, and it was funny how often I was reminded to keep things to myself, as they had no idea that is a given at W&L. In the copy-editing process for Taryn’s newest book, I caught a few errors that my manager didn’t see after reading the book over and over again. I definitely relied on my business classes in Excel and marketing to do my work in a more efficient manner.

Do you think the internship will change your future plans in any way?

I was hoping to cross a few things off my list in terms of what I wanted to pursue after school. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I think this summer expanded this list. I learned about careers in art production, arts nonprofits, fundraising, branding, landscape architecture, digital marketing and more. I met with a lot of alumni in the arts and marketing, and as of now, my goal is to be back in NYC or abroad after school– but who knows what I will be doing.