Carolyn Miner has worked in some of the most prestigious institutions in the United States and in Europe, straddling the commercial and the academic, so it would be accurate to conclude that she is not just interested in objects, she is obsessed. Her fixation manifests in her current roles as an independent art advisor and editor-in-chief of Il Libro Magazine. Carolyn thinks in movements and relationships, always asking how one artwork is inspired by another, thereby creating the ever-important art historical chains of inspiration.
Being An Art Curator & The Significance Of Art History
You are a scholar who has worked as a curator at such prestigious institutions as the National Gallery in Washington DC, the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, CA, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but you have also worked on the commercial side, both at Sotheby’s and, now, as an independent art advisor. How does your experience on the museum side influence your ‘eye’ on the commercial side and vice versa?
From the time I was seventeen, I knew I wanted to be an art historian, and from the time I was twenty, I knew I wanted to specialise in European sculpture.
Early into my studies, I read Learning to Look, the memoir of the great art historian John Pope-Hennessy, where he explained that sculpture “cannot be studied from books but must be touched and handled and moved about if it is to be properly understood.” The Pope (as he came to be known) encouraged his students to handle sculptures, particularly bronzes, often. By the time I started my graduate studies, curators were no longer encouraged to frequently touch works of art in museums in the same way they did in his time. Working in the trade, particularly an auction house, was the best way to get this first-hand experience.
As a curator, I worked to make art more accessible and demonstrate that art can reveal non-material values. Now I apply this when working with collectors - demystifying and (hopefully) enlightening the process of understanding and collecting European art, especially sculpture.
As an international design studio, Designed by Woulfe is asked to incorporate artworks into their designs. What advice would you give to an interior designer or a new collector who is considering a new area of the arts, especially when it comes to Old Masters and sculptures in particular?
Live with art that moves you. It should be a physical, mental, and visual experience. Collecting, like interior design, is a creative art form. Think of your - or your client’s - collection as a whole.
When considering Old Masters, any expert would be absolutely right to say that provenance is essential research, but what additional due diligence should clients perform, and what is the best way to navigate that process?
Ask a lot of questions, read everything you can about the artist or period, and spend time in museums looking at similar works of art.
If you are confident you want to acquire the work, the gold standard for authenticity is to consult the foremost expert or scholar of the artist whose work you are planning to purchase and, if necessary, have a conservator perform certain scientific tests - this especially applies to sculpture. I used to carry out this due diligence when I was working in museums, and now I do it on behalf of collectors.
Il Libro: The Magazine of Italian Art is a scholarly publication that offers in-depth research and gorgeous images to its readers. Who is your ideal reader, and what do you hope they absorb from reading the magazine?
We seek to reach people interested in Italian art and surprise them with the stories we tell. The impetus behind the magazine was the desire to shine a light on lesser-known figures and narratives drawn from the vast breadth of Italian culture and heritage. In our last issue, we featured the stories of Italian painters working in eighteenth-century Chinese imperial courts, a pioneering Italian collector of avant-garde American art, and postwar silver designs by leading Italian architects to name a few.
We want to enrich our readers’ knowledge and understanding of Italian art by showing them how to look at it in different and unexpected ways.
Your next edition of Il Libro coming out in April 2021; are there any articles, or is there any new research that you are particularly excited about?
The next volume centres on the idea of ‘Italy lost’: artworks, buildings, and places that no longer exist or have been forgotten. We trace the histories of real gems of art and architecture which have been looted, bombed, or lost to decay or redevelopment. It includes images by the photographer Paolo Monti, who captured the spirit of Italy in the sixties and seventies in stunningly beautiful and even slightly surreal pictures. His photographs of works of art and museums convey such a strong sense of stillness and reflection - a quality that transports the viewer to those spaces that those of us who love Italian art are all missing.
As the vaccines are circulating and there is promise that the world will begin to open up, what would you advise Designed by Woulfe readers run to see, either in museums or galleries?
Museums are suffering after months of closures, loss of staff, and reduced budgets. My suggestion is to support your favorite museums the minute they reopen. Permanent collection galleries will not be crowded, which is a gift. Much has changed since museums were open. We all have the opportunity to see these great works of art again for the first time. It’s not that the works of art have changed, but certainly, we have.
Who is your ideal client?
I enjoy working with a whole range of collectors, from museums to individuals, but I have a particular soft spot for the connoisseur, a dying breed. They have an unparalleled passion for their collecting area and are animated by the history, subtlety, and attribution of objects. At their best, they teach me to see through a different lens.
Designed By Woulfe has invited Tova Ossad of Ossad Art Management to interview a range of art world personalities. Her fifteen years' experience working in this sphere has exposed her to many artists, auction specialists, art advisors, conservators, and gallerists, thereby giving the Design Journal fresh insight into the fundamentals of art. This series will explore buying, selling, appreciating, and everything in between.