Art Dealer Confidential: An Interview with Anna Erickson

Emilie Trice | October 29, 2021 (Updated September 20, 2022)

Anna Erickson's daughter in front of a painting by Max Frintrop. Image courtesy Anna Erickson.

Anna Erickson is an art dealer and single mother who sold $20million of art in 2021. Here's her advice for young artists and professionals just starting out.

“Oh wait, my boss is calling,” Anna Erickson says as we start our interview. Her “boss” is her two year-old daughter, Ava. As a single mother, Anna has managed to do what many art world professionals can only dream of—live and work somewhere other than New York City, and have autonomy over her own time, sort of. 

While the pandemic has made remote work more acceptable, Manhattan is still the epicenter of the global art market. It’s also where Anna began her career, nurturing the relationships that have enabled her art advisory firm to transact—on average—tens of millions of dollars in annual sales. 

During her 15 years in New York City, Anna was a rainmaker at both Gagosian Gallery and Hauser & Wirth—two of the art market’s most notorious global enterprises. Her time in New York bookended a year-long sojourn in Berlin, where she worked as the director of Haunch of Venison and, among other projects, organized Yoko Ono’s first solo gallery exhibition in Berlin.

Eventually, seeking to be closer to family and in search of a home where she could raise her daughter at a slower pace, Anna took a leap of faith and left New York City behind. Now based in Nashville, Tennessee, Anna is launching her pop-up gallery platform “Anna Erickson Presents” at this year’s Untitled Art fair in Miami Beach (November 29th - December 4th) with a solo presentation of new work by LA-based painter Jonathan Casella.

Having worked her way up from the role of intern at Gagosian to salesperson, Anna has been in the trenches of the art world for two decades and lived to tell the tale. But, she never will. As a private dealer and art advisor to high-profile clientele, from celebrities to international royalty, her most important attribute is an iron-clad commitment to discretion. 

What she can say is that, this year alone, she has sold over $20million worth of contemporary art, a staggering number considering the pandemic’s many challenges. Still, her passion isn’t just closing seven-figure deals, but also working with young artists to help them break into the market—hence her new venture.

Even while working full time at high-intensity blue chip galleries, Anna has curated independent exhibitions featuring young artists and juxtaposing them with A-listers—to everyone’s benefit. She curated one of the first shows at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, as well as a series of large scale group exhibitions in Berlin as part of the beloved “Tape Modern” series. 

We sat down with Anna to talk about her background, how her advisory is succeeding away from the art capitals she previously called home, and what it’s like to be a working single mother in one of the world’s most competitive industries. 

Whether you’re an emerging artist seeking entry to the NYC gallery world, or a collector wondering how to get off the waitlist—this interview is for you. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Anna Erickson at her home office in Nashville. Image courtesy Anna Erickson.

AA: How did you get your first job in the art world?

AE: I started as an intern at a Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2003 while I was still in graduate school. One of my professors introduced me to a senior director at Gagosian and he helped me secure the internship.

Damien Hirst was a huge part of my early career. I wrote my dissertation in graduate school on his market at the time, which was really ascending. (This was around the time my former boss, Larry Gagosian, sold Damien's shark sculpture for $12million.)

Damien was very generous with his time and I visited his studios in London to conduct primary research. We remained in touch and, years later, he helped me get a job in Berlin working on his show at Haunch of Venison—that was an incredible project.

After I got my master's degree in Art Administration, I was hired at Gagosian full time. Over six years, I worked my way up from receptionist to salesperson and then I relocated to Berlin, where I worked for Haunch of Venison (the gallery once owned by Christie’s). I moved back to New York in 2012 and worked for Hauser & Wirth as a sales director until 2017. Since then, I've been a private dealer working independently.

As a private dealer, I work on brokering transactions where I source material for my clients, or I sell artworks from my clients' collections. Purchases can range in price from $20,000 up to $10 million—it really varies.

I also help to broker relationships between collectors and galleries, specifically those galleries that I'm close with. Through these relationships, my clients can get primary access to works they want that might not have been available to them otherwise.

My clients are collectors that I've worked with and known over the years. My ideal client is someone who is dedicated to building a great collection, really loves art and understands the process, is patient and collaborative with me, is willing to listen to my ideas, but also has solid ideas of their own.

That being said, you don't have to be an experienced collector to work with me, but you do have to be ready to look, learn, and make decisions. I'm certainly open to working with new clients and people new to collecting.

AA: Can you explain what primary access is and why it’s important?

AE: Primary access applies to highly-coveted artworks that are coming directly from an artist and being sold through a gallery. Sometimes it’s challenging to get “primary access” for certain artists. Secondary market works are pieces being sold by a collector (or, typically, at auction).

The more popular an artist is in the market—the higher their auction prices, etc.—the more control their gallery will want to maintain over their “market.” If an artist is really relevant and at the forefront of the scene, their gallery will likely be highly selective in who they allow to purchase the work.

In order to gain primary access, it’s imperative to build a relationship with the artist’s main gallery. Sometimes that means investing in the gallery’s other artists as a sign of good faith and a commitment to their program. 

It's important to develop your relationship with the gallery staff and owners, attend events and dinners, and invite them to lunch or to your home to see your collection. Building trust is paramount.

AA: Working with young artists is less profitable than working with established artists. So why do it? 

AE: I really like to see how the work I do can benefit someone's life. For example, when I was working at Hauser & Wirth, I had an art handler colleague who was also a struggling artist. I saw some work that he did and I thought it was really great, so I offered to put on a show and we sold everything. His career really took off.

I didn't take any money from that show, but he gave me an artwork as a thank you. I just really wanted to help him get started and his career really accelerated after that. I saw that the work I put in and the exposure he received through my relationships really impacted his life in a positive way. That felt really satisfying in a different way than most of the other work I've done. 

Since then I’ve done several other projects with artists, as a way get back to the reason why I got into this business in the first place. Doing studio visits and organizing shows is really inspiring. The artists that I'm working with are usually more accessible for the kinds of projects I want to do.

AA: What are some criteria you have when deciding which artists to approach for a project? 

AE: First of all, I need to like the work and actually want to own it myself. I need to believe in the artist's work, that it's going to be successful, and that they’re committed to their career and it’s going to move forward. 

That's really my first criteria and then, of course, recommendations from friends, other collectors, or other artists are also really important. If you're easy to work with and if you're a nice person—those are the kinds of things I appreciate.

I don’t care how many followers an artist has on Instagram. That’s just not important for me. But, I do want to see a website with images, or works online somewhere. If you don't have a website, then everything should at least be on Instagram, so that your work—and different bodies of work—are available to be seen, cleanly, and in context.

I would also recommend to artists that they network, go to events, and be ready to talk about their work. Studio visits are very important. Make people feel comfortable and be professional. Be on time and be prepared. 

It’s a fine line between being assertive and pushy, however. If you meet someone at an event and they don’t seem that interested in talking about your work at that time, don’t pressure them to do so. But, always try to get contact details so you can follow up and direct them to your website, or wherever they can see more of your work. 

Once you’ve secured a project as an artist, understand that your work is not done, even if the art itself is finished. Works need to be properly photographed, crated, and shipped—on time. 

Artists do have a responsibility to be professional partners. That means being responsive via email or cell, working together to establish appropriate prices, and being willing to collaborate on marketing the work, such as agreeing to interviews.

AA: What advice do you have for collectors just starting out?

AE: My top pieces of advice would be as follows:

  • Look, listen, learn, read.
    Visit as many galleries and art fairs as you can and educate yourself. Look at as much art as you can so you know what you like and what you don't.

  • Be open minded to things you might not like immediately, always take a second look.
    Sometimes the conceptual context of a piece will make it more interesting, so it’s important to not just take a work at face-value, but to learn more about the artist, their practice, and the ideas behind the work.

  • Be clear about how much time you need to pay and don't ask for a discount more than 20%.
    It's a case-by-case thing, but the industry standard is generally two to four weeks for payment.

  • Be wary of trends. 
    Right now, highly figurative work is having a resurgence in popularity, almost surrealist figuration. Be true to your own taste and don’t follow the trends, unless, of course, you really love the work.

  • It's always wise to ask for a private viewing before committing to a purchase.
    If a work you’re considering is not on view in an exhibition, you can still request that the gallery set up a private viewing for you to see it in person before you decide to buy. Usually, the potential buyer pays for the private viewing, since some require reserving a room at a storage facility, for example. The collector usually also pays for a condition report on the piece in question. Sometimes the seller might offer to help to cover those costs, but not not always. 

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions!
    Even if that means talking to the intimidating girl at the front desk of a gallery. I was that girl in the beginning of my career, and most of the time they are not as intimating as it seems! I am always available any time of day and night to talk to my clients about things we are working on or if they have questions about anything.

AA: What advice do you have for young professionals in the art industry?

AE: My best advice would be to meet as many people as you can and to have an open mind. You never know how long that person is going to be in your environment or in your life and what they will do in the future. Make friends and be nice to everyone. Develop relationships and sincere friendships. 

Always network and attend events, socialize as much as you can, and go to art fairs. 

I have artist friends that I met when I first started out in New York, when they were emerging artists, and now they’re showing at major galleries. Same goes for young curators, writers, and even gallery staffers. People move up the ladder and evolve at different speeds. But, it’s paramount to always always keep in contact with people, and to keep your relationships healthy and honest. 

Mentors are also incredibly important and can take many forms. Matt Carey-Williams is one of my mentors—I met him in 2005 in New York and he's now a senior director at Victoria Miro in London, but I still consider him a mentor and we’ve done some excellent business together over the years. Also, he is hilarious and a joy to work with. 

Martin Eder is another person I consider a mentor, even though he’s an artist and I’m a dealer. He has been an incredibly kind and caring friend to me, which can be hard to find in such a competitive industry. 

I also always send handwritten thank you notes whenever appropriate. Personal touches like that can really go a long way in establishing and maintaining rapport. 

Jonathan Casella in the studio with works from his Doublestar series. Images courtesy Jonathan Casella. 

AA: Can you talk about your upcoming project at Untitled Art Miami?

AE: I'm excited to be working with Jonathan Casella for the first time. We're planning on designing the booth to be more immersive than a typical art fair booth.

We're going to be showing new work from his Doublestar series, which is very brightly colored and very pop. Jonathan understands the "doublestar" form as a five pointed star paired with its "inverted self." He uses it as a literal symbol of body and spirit—the embodiment of the ideal form, so-to-speak—in which body and soul are in unison.

I think it's the right work for this moment, especially after the last years of social isolation. It's work that makes you feel optimistic and I think that's really important right now.  

AA: Of all the places in the world to live and work, why Nashville?

AE: I went to high school in Nashville and my family has lived in Nashville since 1994. I realized I wanted to come back because it's a really great place to raise children. It's also a place I'm familiar with, and it's a growing city. 

The landscape is beautiful here, and the people are just really friendly. I think it was voted one of America's friendliest cities. It's just a lovely and very easy place to live, especially in comparison with New York City.

I'm planning to do my next project as a pop up show in Nashville and test the waters to see what kind of reception it might receive. There are some internationally known artists living in Nashville right now and there’s a lot of culture here that extends beyond the music industry .

Plus, a lot of people are moving here from New York and Chicago and LA—more art-centered cities—so I think it’s a good time to begin developing my program in Nashville.

My career thus far has allowed me to travel the world—I've been all over Europe, to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Korea. I've met the most incredibly interesting and amazing people and learned a lot of business savvy from working with different galleries. But, Nashville is where I want to be right now, and that’s for my daughter. 

My intention is, after Untitled, to launch a pop up in Nashville next. I'll continue to work as a private dealer and advise clients when needed, and will also do some additional projects at fairs. Now that many fairs don’t require a permanent brick-and-mortar space, it’s really opened the playing field for dealers such as myself to do more projects with artists in a commercial context. 

I’m lucky that I can support my daughter doing what I love and I think that my story also shows that you can follow your own path in the art world, but you can’t do it alone. Relationships are the most important part of my job, but my most important relationship is obviously with my daughter. 

With everything I do, I want to make my daugter proud. Not just in terms of my career, but also in terms of my integrity and the quality of the relationships I've developed over the years. She has become my main inspiration and motivates me to keep going, even when the going gets tough. 

AA: Final question: name three artists you’re watching right now. 

AE: Jonathan Casella, of course. Rute Merk, Shannon Lucy, Issy Wood, Sarah SlappeyOk, that’s more than three, but they’re all great. 

To learn more about Anna, visit her website.  

Artwork Archive is used by art dealers and their clients to track, manage and protect art collections of all sizes. Try it free for 14 days.

Share This Article
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies. Cookie Policy