Creation in Offices – Meeting Citi’s Art Curator

“No one gets a job here unless someone dies.”

Artists, Interviews
November 8, 2013
by Cecilia Akerman
Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting, 1990. Citi Private Bank have described Richter as "the next great market force".

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting, 1990. Citi Private Bank have described Richter as "the next great market force".

Louise Spence is striking; with red hair, a bright smile and a soft Canadian accent. Perhaps shallowly, the first thing I notice is that she manages to look immensely glamorous, whilst wearing no make-up and delicate jewellery. I’m not the only one to have noticed her, a colleague of mine recently described her as “probably having the best job in the world” – after all as Citi’s Art Curator she is most often seen hanging art in people’s offices, with two friendly and handsome young men to do the heavy lifting.

Louise first moved to London at the age of 24, having studied Art History at Carleton University, Ottawa. “No one gets a job here unless someone unless someone dies” is what they told her when she first visited Fischer Fine Art, but still it is where she came to start her career. ‘So did someone die?” I find myself asking. No: as it turns out she charmed them enough after her first visit that they broke their cardinal rule – calling her up the day after to offer her a job. She was hired as a telephonist, despite 7 years of academic merits, but, she didn’t hesitate to accept. She loved the dynamic art scene and came to greet everyone from Mick Jagger to the delivery-men with the same openness. From there her career crossed the globe, Louise running galleries and freelancing. But then, as life would have it, she ended up in London again. A curator drew her attention to an advert for Art Curator for Citi in Europe, and wouldn’t Louise be the perfect fit?

She explains that meeting Suzanne Lemakis, the Curator for Citi based in New York, was a crucial step. Louise describes her now-colleague as “totally inspiring” and “impossibly glamorous” (and I would describe Louise the same way). Initial concerns around the work involving dust and heavy lifting vanished as Louise said to herself “If she can do it with such style and grace then so can I.” Naturally the job was hers.

The most striking aspect about Louise is how much she loves her job – she has kept that openness to anyone she meets with her from her first job and is passionate about the exciting collection she has to work with. Citi today is a merger of many smaller companies, which have brought together an eccentric art collection, combining modern British prints, Naïve Art, Indian art and Shipping Print.

Louise’s eyes truly sparkle as she tries to describe her day–to-day job, I say try because it seems no day is like the other. Louise tracks inventory and condition of the vast collection and advises on the art for offices and public spaces across Citi’s European offices. She encourages people to choose themselves what art they want. She finds that senior managers often tell her they “simply want a traditional shipping print” but after they come to explore the collection they often find themselves opting for something completely different. She also feels inspired when a team gets in touch saying they want to brighten up their grey open-plan office. By the way, it turns out that those friendly contractors who assist her in hanging the works of art tend to be artists looking for extra income – something Louise describes as “an extra perk”.

Louise firmly believes that art brings people together; art in offices can easily create a good talking point to “break the ice” in meetings. But, there are also completely different parts to her work which involve organising art tours to museums and collections for employees as well as a Citi- supported project to fund bursaries for disadvantaged children, encouraging them to return to mainstream education.

Before we part ways I have promised to come with her on a trip visiting the Henry Moore foundation and to take time to admire the 14-storey high Bridget Riley art work that hangs in the lobby. I find myself thinking that Louise’s job is even better than we had imagined – perhaps because she does everything in her power to share this joy with everyone she meets.