Alumni: Jussi Pylkkanen


Jussi Pylkkanen

Fine and Decorative Art from the Renaissance to Modernism
Now: President of Europe and the Middle East, Christie's

I always knew I wanted to be in the art world, so when I graduated from Oxford with a degree in English I went to work for a picture gallery. One day, when I was sent into Christie’s, I struck up a conversation with one the senior directors during the course of which I told him about my ambition. He took me for a coffee and really listened to my ideas, and at the end he told me that if I really wanted a job in the art world there was no better way to prepare than by spending a year at Christie’s Education. It was the best advice I ever had.

Looking back, it is astonishing what I learnt in that year. I cannot say I was a natural at the outset, and I nearly failed the legendary slide test on my first day, but it was such a fantastic education that by the end I felt fully equipped to start my career seriously. It was not just history of art; one had to learn to look at objects much more carefully, to differentiate quality and execution, and to understand architecture and design. The intellectual challenge of this kind of learning is a lifetime pursuit, because the eye is never satisfied, and as one who previously had only ever interacted with pictures it fixed the decorative arts in my DNA. This is one of the fundamental reasons why I believe that decorative arts will always be one of the essential components of our auction world. From a business perspective, the ability to handle and catalogue objects and to begin to associate quality with price form the foundations of my commercial insight, without which I would not have been able to progress and develop. In addition, Christie’s Education has linked me to an extraordinary network of like- minded people around the globe many of whom remain colleagues and friends to this day. Among my contemporaries were Tom Campbell of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Graham Southern of Blain|Southern, our erstwhile tutor Antje Schmidt, and the philanthropist and scholar Gert-Rudolf Flick, which only goes to show the diversity of career paths that were opened up for us.

At that time the academic director was Robert Cumming, long since retired, and my course tutor was Patrick Bade who inc redibly is still with us more than 25 years later. I was struck then by the commitment and care of the tutors and the passion with which they engaged all of us in subjects as diverse as old master pain tings, costumes and art deco, and am reminded of this often when I meet recent alumni who have just joined us fizzing with en thusiasm. Time has moved on and some 28 y ears later I find myself working in the very heart of Christie’s, The Art People; I can honestly s ay the outcome was a brilliant investment.

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