Meet the Curator: Lee Sharrock

This International Women's Day Auction has a totally different format to other years. We have invited seven female curators to each create an auction of female identifying artists, which will all run concurrently from 23rd February to 9th March. We are introducing each of the curators on our blog, this week speaking with Lee Sharrock, a curator, writer and creative publicist.

Bid in Lee's Auction

We're very excited about having seven female curators for this year's AOAP International Women's Day Auction. Do you think it's harder for women to be successful in the art world than it is for men?

Women are still underrepresented in gallery and museum shows, art fairs and Biennials, and fetch much lower prices at auction than male artists. There isn’t one woman artist in the Top 10 auction prices to date, but there are plenty of alpha males (Picasso, Bacon, Munch, da Vinci etc.)  However things are rapidly changing and the gender imbalance in the art world is being addressed: I noticed a big shift at last year’s Venice Biennale, when Sonia Boyce won the Golden Lion for her exhibition in the British Pavilion, and Cecilia Alemani was the curator of the Biennale, which resulted in a noticeable focus on more women artists, including many surrealists such as Leonora Carrington.  

Since I started out in the art world at Sotheby’s, there were always plenty of women working in that industry, and I had a really interesting job as an administrator in the 19th Century European paintings department. And when I got to know the contemporary art gallery scene, there were and still are some very prominent and respected gallerists and museum directors such as Victoria Miro, Sadie Coles and Frances Morris. There are also a lot of successful women art critics and writers, including Katy Hessel who rewrote Gombrich’s famous tome ‘The Story of Art’ as ‘The Story of Art without Men’, following a similar timeline but featuring only women artists (not one woman artist was mention in his original book printed in 1950).  Hessel deservedly won the Waterstone’s book of the year for her valuable reassessment of art history.

Can you tell us about how you got to the position you are in today? 

When I was at school my favourite subject was art, and I wanted to be a fine artist for a while.  I took a foundation course at Norwich University of the Arts, and then I studied History of Art and Italian at University College London (UCL) with a year at the University of Bologna in Italy. After graduating, I worked at Sotheby’s Auctioneers, first of all in the wine department, which was fun, and then in 19th Century European Paintings as an administrator. I left Sotheby’s to work for the Chairman of M&C Saatchi, because I had an interest in the advertising industry.  I spent a couple of years at M&C and at that time went to several exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery, which ignited my interest in contemporary art and led to me finding a job in a small gallery in Mayfair called Laurent Delaye.  Laurent represented Grayson Perry before he won the Turner Prize, so I got to work with Grayson and some other interesting artists such as Rut Blees Luxembourg.  I ended up working for the director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), and during my time there I became interested in PR and got involved in arranging the private views and special events. I met some amazing artists and musicians at the ICA including Yoko Ono and the Pet Shop Boys, and my highlights were definitely working on the Pet Shop Boys performance of a new score for ‘Battleship Potemkin’ in Trafalgar Square with the Dresdner Sinfonika, and Yoko Ono’s exhibition ‘Odyssey of a Cockroach’.  I had to greet the Directors’ guests at the back entrance of the ICA and bring them to the office in a tiny lift, and I remember being rather tongue tied when I greeted Yoko Ono, and everyone in the meeting hung on her every word when we were discussing the exhibition.  Her private view was amazing and the great and good of the London art and music worlds came, David Byrne of Radiohead, Sam Taylor Wood and even Lucien Freud made an appearance.

After the ICA I worked at Timothy Taylor Gallery, starting out on the front desk and then getting involved in the PR and ending up taking care of press for major artists including Bridget Riley, who was a formidable, inspiring woman and such a talented artist. Then I moved back to advertising and became Head of Global Creative PR at Saatchi & Saatchi where I spent several years. During my time at Saatchi & Saatchi I was responsible for PR of the New Director’s Showcase in Cannes, which spotlighted many amazing directors who went on to have stellar careers.  After leaving Saatchi & Saatchi I set up my own business as a Creative PR consultant and curator, and ever since I’ve straddled the worlds of art and advertising, with clients in both areas including an advertising agency called Serviceplan Group who have Houses of Communication around the world that I handle international communications for. Those worlds cross over a lot more than they did when I started out on my career, and I like the variation of working as a publicist, a curator and also writing for arts publications. Art, music, fashion, film, design, advertising, photography, all these disciplines bounce off and inspire each other, so I’ve found a nice balance that enables me to work with a variety of creatives in different disciplines.

At AOAP we always try to champion rising talent. What emerging artist are you most excited about in your auction?

I admire all the artists that I’ve featured in my auction, but I’m particularly excited about Yurim Gough.  Yurim is a ceramicist of South Korean origin, who I worked with last year when she had a solo exhibition ‘VainEgo’, supported by Arts Council England at APT Gallery in South London, which featured ceramic bowls, busts, photography, painting and film, all inspired by her own personal journey and in particular on her breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Yurim also exhibited in ‘Rebirth’, a group show I curated last spring at 99 Projects.  She had a really prolific run of exhibitions in 2022 – exhibiting at the Fondation d’entreprise Bernardaud  ‘Esprits libres: Céramique affranchie’ group show in France during the summer, and at the Mall Galleries last November in the ING Discerning Eye Annual Exhibition. Most recently I saw her ceramics at the London Art Fair. I love Yurim’s contemporary take on the art of ceramics, with an autobiographical approach, which is authentic and captivating, and a flair for storytelling through beautiful draughtsmanship. Her work has hints of Tracey Emin, Louise Bourgeois and Grayson Perry, yet it’s completely unique.  She’s definitely one to watch.

What artwork would you buy if money were no object?

Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne (1520–1523) which is in the collection of the National Gallery, and has been a favourite painting of mine since studying it during my Art History Degree at UCL when our tutor took us to the National gallery to study it up close. The painting illustrates a story told by Ovid and Catullus, of Cretan princess Ariadne, who was abandoned on the Greek island of Naxos by Theseus, his ship sailing away in the distance. God of wine Bacchus fell in love at first sight with Ariadne and leapt from his chariot towards her, before throwing her crown into the air and immortalising her as the Corona Borealis constellation, represented in the painting by stars above her head.

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