Lucy Chadwick has been busy putting out fires. The lauded gallery director is meeting me for a drink in her Bed-Stuy neighborhood after a day in the fast-paced New York art world. She enters like a flash. With her signature rapid-fire British wit, the London-born mom of one explains she’s been dealing with budgets, the fickle nature of creatives, and jet lag. She’s just off a weeklong excursion to Art Basel Hong Kong, where I saw her in action amongst the stylish throngs of Asia’s elite art collectors. There, in Asia’s world city, she was closing deals in a stylishly insouciant way, walking about her booth on the heels of snakeskin “old Celine” boots, cracking jokes, quickly conferring with her colleagues on a sale, and then directing me to where I may find some pieces of black contemporary art to admire.
That exchange, like the one we’re having now, is why Chadwick has become a beloved fixture in the art world: someone who is incisive, professional, warm, inclusive, and very well heeled. Outside of culling must-see shows, like her upcoming exhibition with Cy Gavin, Chadwick exists as a reluctant style star who makes catch-her-if-you-can appearances at New York Fashion Week that leave most fashion editors taking notes. But, as she tells me, she’s really just fascinated by the “choices” people make when putting an outfit together. That cerebral approach to dressing feels like a call-out to her Central Saint Martins and Oxford education, and also her super-creative upbringing—all of which has left her constantly looking, whether it be for the next best artist to represent or appreciating the intricate details of the Raf Simons shirt she models for us here.
GROWING UP IN A CREATIVE HOUSEHOLD
My dad and his whole side of the family are architects, and my grandmother was a scientist. My mum was a buyer for Liberty’s in the ‘70s, before having us kids. Now she runs a hat store in London. The visual world was always amplified in my upbringing. We grew up above my dad’s office, which was a converted pub in the center of London, right by the Telecom Tower. It was a ridiculous situation for children. The central staircase had no banister. We fell down it several times and probably lost a lot of brain cells. So nothing was ever regular.
HOW HER PERSPECTIVE IS SHAPED
My dad would always talk about things in a spatial way. I know that sounds abstract, but we could never go somewhere without talking about how something was made or what the layout was. He would go into a shopping mall, and he’d talk about the circulation—the way that people circulate through the building. That was just stuck in my brain. It manifested in his in an entirely different way, but I guess it meant that I always look. I’m always looking. That’s why I love looking at people’s clothing as much as I love looking at someone’s face or their feet.
ART SCHOOL KID
I went to university and studied fine art, which was 60% practical and 40% work. I started to feel really odd being examined. It’s very clear when someone’s an artist; they can only be doing what they’re doing. Unfortunately, I could’ve done 25 other things. I think, maybe if I had stuck to it, if I had stayed at Central Saint Martins, or stayed in the structure of a more traditional art school, maybe things would have gone differently. But, by the end of it, I was like, “Ah, what I really got out of this is that I love talking about other people’s work, writing about other people’s work, and I’m less interested in my own work.” Facilitating other people’s creative paths is what I love doing. But it just took a minute to figure that out.
EAT, BREATHE, AND LIVE YOUR CAREER
Now [in the art world] you’re kind of a personality from the get-go because everything is so shared. You can build a personality virtually. When I was starting out, it would’ve looked like my energies were being used in the wrong way, just because getting a job was so competitive to start with. I would be like, “I’m not taking lunch. I’m not going to the bathroom. And never taking holiday. And never on my own phone.” If I’d then walked in in a showy outfit, my bosses would have been like, “Who do you think you are, and what is going on?”
THE NEW YORK ART WORLD MOVES FAST
The well-documented difference in pace between London and New York hit me like a truck. I kind of loved it because it took a decade to get even the smallest of projects off the ground in London. And truly in the British way of doing things, no one ever really was saying no because they wanted to be polite. You’d never get an answer to anything. That was one of my favorite things when I moved here: a little bit of no, a little bit of yes. But we get an answer. Just how quick things could get done was amazing. And now, a decade in, I’m interested in slowing back down, pumping the breaks a little bit.
THE NEW YORK ART WORLD NEVER SLEEPS
My job now is all consuming, and that is part of what I love about it. It never feels like a “job,” as it’s 24/7. I don’t turn off, although maybe I should on occasion. The challenge is making sure that I take a breath. The joy is working with such extraordinary minds. Artists are some of the most exceptional individuals, and to represent them in all the facets required of us is something I take great pride and joy in.
CREATING AN INCLUSIVE ROSTER
It feels imperative to give air to as many voices as is possible within our exhibition program. To not focus on underrepresented voices would be to blinker yourself to the lifeblood of contemporary culture. Having a gallery in a multicultural city anywhere in the world, you need to make sure that as many voices are represented as is possible. Without a multiplicity of voices, you are only seeing part of the picture. Histories are so intertwined and layered, and I also love to see the way that art is able to function as a universal language, one that is able to communicate and touch people who would otherwise not be exposed to certain ideas or emotions.
VIEWING THE ART WORLD THROUGH HER TIMELINE
The reality is I see the majority of art shows first on Instagram. And I don’t hate that. I like it because I see more. I make a habit of doing in-person, physical follow-ups to things that I want to see, but, again, this maybe goes back to how I grew up. I’ve always articulated things in a visual way. So for me, Instagram, I see its dark sides, but at the same time I love it.
WHAT SHE WEARS TO WORK
On the one hand, I’d like a uniform. I love Fran Lebowitz. She’s amazing. All the time. There’s part of me that wants to be that person. But I know that I can do that for a minute, and then I’m like, Life’s too short. There are moments in my working life where I have to be like, “Okay, make an effort,” like for openings. I’m not getting on the subway in a high heel, but I always have to strike the balance between being comfortable and then presentable. I want to know that if at the drop of the hat I had a client come in or a meeting, I’m not walking around in a hoodie. I mean, I could.
THE ALLURE OF FASHION WEEK FOR AN ART WORLD FIXTURE
I respond to the circus of fashion months. It’s so fascinating because you see people really wearing clothes. I also enjoy the peacockery. Generally speaking, I have friend invites, because the other thing is, I have a 2-year-old. The one Fashion Week I always wish I could be around for, but I never can, is always London.
I think it’s helpful for people that work in a gallery to have had a history of making work themselves. If you’re talking to an artist and they’re talking about different grains of wood and the reason that they might use one or two materials over the other, if you have no practical connection to that or any notion of how to pick up a drill—you just can’t fake it. And your ability to work with artists is greatly impacted if you don’t understand.
HOW SHE HANDLES THE MOTHER LODE AT WORK
Navigating the workplace as a mother has been something that I’ve taken seriously. It’s been of particular importance to me to ensure that our workplace has the flexibility needed for employees to have a family—be that through proper maternity/paternity coverage, or through flexible workday/hours. How any parent is able to manage without support from their employer is extraordinary to me. Equally, how the U.S., one of the most supposedly progressive countries in the world, does not have federally sanctioned universal parental leave is an anathema.
DIPLOMATIC (AND STYLISH) PERSISTENCE IS KEY TO SUCCESS
My advice would be to do everything—and by that, what I mean in practice is, don’t ever say, “That isn’t my job.” Only by grafting through every iteration of the industry did I get to the position I am in now. I started at the very bottom interning and offering to do everything from cleaning a bathroom to writing a press release. It pays off to understand on a molecular level every part of a business, even if it means learning firsthand what it is you don’t want to be doing. Oh and never taking no for an answer. Diplomatic persistence is something I’m probably known for now.