From Law to Art: Meet Our Team — Yi Gao

31 Mar 2020

Christie’s Education Asia Pacific offers a rich programme combining the academic insights of art history with practical connoisseurship and market know-how. Yi Gao, our Programme Coordinator, describes her career transition from corporate law firm to auction house, and how her experiences in both law and art inform her approach.

Could you tell us how you got into the arts, and what path led you to becoming a Programme Coordinator at Christie’s Education?

 I studied law in Beijing and New York, and started my career as a corporate lawyer at the international law firm of Kirkland & Ellis. While I received the best professional training and learned a lot about business and finance, my long term passion for history and curiosity for different cultures led me to Europe to pursue further studies in art.

I enrolled onto the master’s degree programme in Art, Law and Business at Christie’s Education London, and through art trips across Europe, I immersed myself in art—from the classic beauty of Florence to the avant-garde movements of Paris, from the cutting-edge institutions of Berlin to the dynamic art market of London.

Art has given me a new perspective on the world. I feel passionate about sharing it. To translate my passion into a career, I came to Christie’s Hong Kong, taking up the education role. While from time to time I miss advising Chinese tech companies on their initial public offerings, art fills my days with intellectual growth and joy—be it marveling at the literati aesthetic of Song dynasty as I handle a rare Ru ware bowl, or being awakened to the urgency of climate change as I encounter the artworks of Olafur Eliasson.

Taking our students from the Chinese Art Collecting in Hong Kong course to visit the K. S. Lo collection of Chinese ceramics at the Museum of Teaware.

How has your time at Christie’s Education affected your current role?

 During my studies at Christie’s Education London, I learned the art historical framework for appreciating art. I also acquired the practical tools and resources to study and analyze critically the market. I import these elements into the programmes we offer in Asia, from academic lectures and object handling sessions, to exhibition visits and conversations with industry experts.

The content and structure of my studies in London inform me on the key aspects of a successful programme, based on which I decide the optimal teaching format for different categories of art; establish clear learning framework to guide our students on future self-study; and leverage Christie’s access and resources to deliver unique behind-the scene experiences and insider insights.

How do you stay current in the art field?

 I want to design relevant, timely programmes that engage our audience and lead the trends in the region. Given my legal and business background, I am particularly interested in the market aspects of the global art industry, which is my area of expertise and teaching.

I read widely, from industry reports, legal cases, to investigative articles, and have a growing library of art market books. I use online resources such as Instagram to discover exciting projects in the art communities of London, Berlin, New York and Tokyo.

But to spot the latest trends in art making, curating and collecting first-hand, I regularly visit exhibitions and art fairs and speak with insiders. I love brainstorming with our Director Sara Mao, especially on our art trips together. We share the latest news, connect the dots, and build these insights into our courses.

Visiting student studio at the Oil Painting Department of Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, with Sara Mao (Christie’s Education Asia Pacific Director), Fang Fang (Founder of Star Gallery) and artist Etsu Egami.

What is your most memorable course to date?

Art Business Essentials, where I get to combine my previous experience in the legal and finance world with my master’s studies in art. The course encompasses art, the business and the market, taking advantage of the auction house’s global insights and Hong Kong’s dynamic art scene. It is unique in Asia.

I am also proud of our art trip to Beijing, where we take art lovers and collectors to explore the capital’s rich art scene. I am looking forward to our future art trips to Paris, Shanghai, Seoul and Venice. Thanks to Christie’s art world access, we can connect our students with the wonderful artists, dealers, curators and collectors in major art cities around the world. Being this bridge is truly rewarding for me.

Concluding our Beijing art trip in 2019 at the studio of artist Huang Rui. 

What recommendations would you make to others about learning about art in Hong Kong?

Developing an arts career in Hong Kong, I have met extraordinary people in our community. Dr. Yeewan Koon of the HKU Faculty of Arts helps me decipher the seemingly “superflat” Japanese contemporary art. Johnson Chang, the founder of Hanart TZ Gallery, has shared profound insights on Chinese art, literature and culture. In our close-knit art community, I meet these accomplished people at art events throughout the year. They have guided me and our students on art appreciation and collecting.

The courses we offer at Christie’s Education in Hong Kong are also interesting and relevant.  This year, our series Building Collections focuses on collecting the classic arts of China; our joint programme with HKU Faculty of Arts Asian Contemporary Art: An Insider’s View brings together art historians, institutions and commercial players of the art ecosystem; seriesArt of Luxuryour introduces a framework to appreciate and evaluate luxury collectibles, from high jewellery to masterpiece watches; and our Art Business Essentials series offers the unique cross-disciplinary perspective of art and the law.

Coming into art from law, I have been especially impressed by the power of art to bring people together. I am committed to making it more accessible through education, so that more people can share this transformative experience.

Taking our students from the Art Business Essentials course to visit Johnson Chang at his Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong.

If you want to join Yi and the faculty and alumni of Christie’s Education Asia Pacific on their exciting art studies and journeys, please visit our website.