Tell Me About Yourself: Carolina Barrero
by Angelina Medina
Have you ever thought about working at a top auction house? As a part of my Tell Me About Yourself series, this month, I interviewed Carolina Barrero, the Pre-Sale Shipping Coordinator at Christie’s, about her career path. She is very passionate about art handling, so I knew that she would provide critical insight into this aspect of the art world and the art world at large.
1. Can you tell me about your career path and what led you to your role as the Pre-Sale Shipping Coordinator at Christie’s?
I am going to go back to where I got started in Bogotá, Colombia. That is where I am originally from, and I studied graphic design. Because I’m from a big city, I always wanted to be in a big city like New York, so I packed my bags and moved here 15 years ago. I was learning English and working a bunch of odd jobs to survive. I was also still freelancing as a Graphic Designer.
I was doing that, and one day I was introduced to the owner of a fine art shipping company. We talked for a while, and I mentioned to him that if he ever needed help at his company, I was super available. I didn’t even know that art handling was a business, that it was a thing. The more he talked about it, the more fascinating it sounded to me. Two months later, he hired me. I worked at that company as the logistics manager for 10 and 1/2 years, so during that time, I decided that I wanted to pursue a master’s degree in Art Law and Business at Christie’s Education.
Basically, I started to try to get into all the schools, and they didn’t take my degree from Colombia. So, I had to go back to school and get my bachelor’s degree in order to do my master’s degree. I basically had to work and study full-time for four years, which it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible. Once I completed my bachelor’s degree, and after being at this company for so long, I felt the need to do something different. I was told that there was no space for me to grow in the company, so I decided to leave.
I immediately applied to Christie’s. The program required that I did a couple of internships, actually they only required one internship, and I did two. One in the summer with Gurr Johns, an art advising company, and I did it because I wanted explore while I was out there. Then, because the school is owned by Christie’s, they offered us to intern with them. I asked the school if perhaps the Post-Sale department was interested in having me as an intern because they gave us a big list of options, and Post-Sale wasn’t there. I was interested in that program because it was kind of the same that I was doing at the other company, but the other side. The school asked, and they were happy to have me. On the last day, my boss says, “There is an opening at the Pre-Sale department, they are looking for a coordinator. If you’re interested, of course, we can arrange an interview.” That was on a Friday, the last day of my internship, and I got my interview on Monday, and on Friday, they were already hiring me. I believe it was based on that they liked what I did during my internship. We were only required to do it twice per week, and I told them I’m available every day. I treated it as I was working there, so I think they saw that and appreciated that, which led to this other job. So, that’s basically how I ended up here at Pre-Sale.
2. How did you become interested in the commercial art world?
I don’t see the art world in those terms of commercial and noncommercial. To me, the street art or a million-dollar piece are equally valuable. I just have been always curious and fascinated about the arts and art history, colors, forms, shapes, and perhaps, that was one of the reasons why I decided to study graphic design. I was presented with this kind of new way to see the arts, the behind the scenes. I just happened to fall in love with this process. I became interested out of chance, I guess. Like I said in the beginning, when I was talking to my former boss, to see how passionate he was about it piqued my interest. In the 10 years that I was there, I always felt that things were the same way, and he shared with me this passion, and it became my passion.
3. What does a typical work day look like for you, before the pandemic versus now?
I don’t feel there is much difference. I’m a part of Christie’s art transport team, and I’m responsible for arranging domestic and international transport of pre-sale property, which is collection, packing, crating, freight, customs, and insurance. I’m in direct contact with the auction house specialists for each department, so I have to make sure that I’m maintaining a good relationship with them to understand the property requirements and working on issue resolutions. I’m monitoring the progress of the shipments, and this is something that I can do anywhere as long as I have good internet and a phone. The influx of the emails is insane, so I need to be there and paying attention. I will say the only difference is being at home, and I don’t get to see the artworks in person, which I miss, but other than that there’s not much difference.
4. What skills do you think are the most important for someone interested in a job like yours?
I love my job, but I got to say it is very stressful. You need to have a high-level of patience because the auction coordinators can ask you a thousand changes in a matter of minutes. You have to understand that this kind of job requires all those changes, and it’s normal. You need to be extremely organized. I have like a hundred pads, where I’m organizing the little details that I need to not forget. I also have my excel file, where I have all the jobs and all the requests, so I know what’s the status of each of the shipments. You need to be an active listener because you need to give full attention to what other people are saying, and you need to take the time to understand the points that are being made because you need to provide this information to the vendors, the shipping companies, or to the department. Be good with time management because you can be working on so many projects at the same time. Those four points are super important. Patience is the number one.
5. What do you wish you would have known about the Fine Art Industry as an undergraduate student?
I would say that it was a little bit different for me because I was already in the field when I was pursuing my bachelor’s, and I was already older. Maybe, I wish that I had pay more attention to networking, and I think that was something that Sandy, a career counselor, always told me to do. She was always telling me to reach out to this person and this person. I feel that I was just a little bit overwhelmed because I was working full-time. I didn’t make the time to actually network until I was doing my master’s because I was only studying. I wish I had gone to more art openings and talked to people there, like talk to the artists or talk to the Gallery owner. I’m super shy, so that’s something that I wouldn’t usually do. I had to network during my master’s because there was a class where we were asked to network with at least three people per week. So, when I was forced to do it, I was like, “Oh my God, who is going to want to talk to me,” and you will be surprised by how many people are actually willing to talk to you. When I was trying to find out what to do next, I reached out to so many people that were in the position that I was probably interested in, and I just talked to them. Everybody was willing to give me couple of minutes of their time, so that’s one of the things that I wish I had done because when you are connected and when you know these people, that’s so important. It can take you to places more than the studies that you have done. It is definitely key.
This interview has been transcribed and edited for clarity.