1. Jessica, the really nice intern who is genuinely interested in contemporary art
Jessica is bright and passionate about contemporary art. She can write excellent texts in academic German that would make any review on art agenda sound like unedited marketing copy for Burger King; she’s more organized than the world’s best project management software; and she looks at art without irony or consideration for the perverse elements – nepotism, tax evasion schemes, a particularly vicious form of elitism – that make it what it is. The latter quality is what will ultimately sabotage her career: you have to be somehow Slytherin-esque to actually elbow yourself to the top. To one day wine and dine with Jay Jopling, your moral role model should be Dolores Umbridge, not Hermione Granger. Also, you might be able to get the girl out of that Nordrhein-Westfalen sadness, but you can’t get Nordrhein-Westfalen sadness out of the girl.
2. Kevin, the brilliant kid who refused to wear navy suits
However good your papers, however brilliant your mind, however sharp your networking skills, the art world has a couple of unavoidable rules you must abide to. Kevin stupidly thought he was cool enough to ignore one of them, which is that any male subject in this microcosm should be, in most situations, wearing a boring, expensive, uninteresting navy suit. Little Kevin might have imagined he could show up at the Frieze VIP preview in a pair of shabby pseudo-off white cargo pants and still be taken seriously by potential employers. But alas, this is the art world, where uniformity and Italian wool will always trump originality and individual spirit.
3. Kathrin, the smart associate director who got pregnant
Oh, Kathrin. You had everything for you: good hair, an aura of pissed-off-ness, the ability to stand in a booth for 14 hours straight in high-heels, a PhD from a small but prestigious university. Your only – but sizable – defect are your functioning reproductive organs. Why oh why would you, at the tender age of 33, decide to burden yourself with the handicap that is pregnancy? The mere thought of you having to dedicate your attention to a human larvae will turn off any blue-chip gallerist boss. At 2am on a Thursday night, they expect you to be analyzing the latest Sotheby’s evening sale results, not wipe poop off a child’s butt.
4. Theodore, the dude who once said he actually didn’t think HUO was that brilliant at a dinner
Have you ever seen that SNL skit in which criticizing Beyonce will land you in some sort of pop music jail? Hans Ulrich Obrist is the art world’s version of such a threat, which Theodore will learn the hard way. Encouraged by one too many glasses of pinot noir, this talented young curator will feel compelled to voice his doubts about Obrist’s writing. Pretty quickly, this inadvertence will lead up to total exclusion: no dinner invitations anymore, no VIP status at Art Basel, and not even the possibility to get a few bucks out of a convoluted critic’s pick for artforum. For HUO has as many ears as he has done unfocused interviews, which we evaluate to be at least five hundred thousand. And we would all rather make an ambitious young curator pay for his risky statements than be in the bad books of Switzerland’s most hyperactive sexagenarian.
5. Amber, who missed CCS Bard’s application deadline
It would have been hard enough to achieve top status in the art world with a name like Amber, which conjures visions of New Jersey malls and gas station coffee. But alas, our Amber has found an additional way to mess things up: missing the application deadline for CCS Bard’s MA program, the only course on North American soil where one can truly learn how to dress, act, and write like a woke curator. Inevitably, she will chose another, less elitist (but probably more expensive) program, which will lead to many rejection letters, unpleasant interviews for unpaid internships and ultimately, a move back to the suburban hellhole the poor woman had fought hard to get out of.
6. Your mom’s cat
While this feline companion possesses all the qualities required to work in the field – unhinged individualism, disdain for humanity, a talent for emotional manipulation, and a hefty dose of psychosis – it is probably not chatty enough to create a solid network, and simply doesn’t look very chic in the latest pleats-please palazzo pants.
7. Billie, whose parents aren’t blue chip gallerists
As House of Cards has showed us, success can be best achieved with three things: hard work, blackmail, and nepotism. Billie might be well-versed in the former two, but neither her nor us can pick our parents. Billie’s are two simple souls who unfortunately have not been running a blue-chip gallery since the early 1980s, a fact that will greatly impact her chances to be entrusted with insane responsibility at age 24 in such a place. Now, she might become a director somewhere at 28, and then open her own, trendy gallery at 32, but we all know that in a world where capitalizing on daddy’s network is the fastest way to the top, that simply won’t cut it, will it.
8. Marc, who had to pay university tuition rather than start collecting at age 15
From age 12, Marc new he wanted to see, touch, experience, and live art on a daily basis. By age 17, he could quote from Ernst Gombrich’s A Story of Art by heart and would write spontaneous dissertations on subjects like the meaning of the color red in Franz Erhard Walther’s practice. A career in a London gallery was what he aimed for; but like Billie, belonging to the middle class reduced this plan to ashes. While a majority of his classmates at Goldsmiths nonchalantly bought mediocre figuration at the city’s trendiest galleries, which are in 95% of cases led by other Goldsmiths graduates, Marc had to invest his money into tuition. And what value does a 19 year-old without an art collection have for a British arts organisation? You wouldn’t even want that as an intern, because your intern must at least have holidayed in the house of some Frieze focus participant’s family estate to be taken seriously, a privilege that Marc never came to enjoy.
9. Maggie, who was just a little bit too fat to be hired as an intern at an auction house
Here is a woman who did in fact come from the right background, go to the right schools, know the right people, and have the right amount of money to be – in principle – taken seriously by the suits who hire young women at auction houses. It’s Maggie’s lack of self-discipline that will precipitate her fall into meaninglessness. While the Columbia art history PhD, the London business school MA and the Greenwich, Connecticut childhood would have played in her favor, a slightly above average body mass index disqualified her from the unpaid internship she so desperately wanted. For one essential function of junior female staff at auction houses is to pose in front of expensive paintings; it helps rich people estimate whether a work they’re interested in will fit above their beige couch. But without the hair and body of a young Elle MacPherson, one is barred from a career as human measuring tape in this industry. Maggie should have spent more time hating her body while being shouted at by a mean spinning instructor named Connor, rather than take basic selfies while biting into a cupcake at Magnolia bakery.
If you’re reading this, you’re clearly not doing the right thing, which would be implementing a five-year-strategy to get that one exceptionally successful friend of yours fired from their gallery director job and replace them in that position, preferably after having started a half-glamorous, half-sordid affair with their boss (whom you actually hate and plan to eventually sabotage as well). Don’t try to make that evil plan happen now though: it’s too late. All you can expect for the future is getting irritated by articles on artsy profiling bright young people, and death.
Illustrations by Nora Cristea