Meet Madeleine Casella
Madeleine Casella is assistant to the director at one of my favorite museums, The Museum of Modern Art. Learn about her role, her advice for young professional women, and more!
How did you end up at The Museum of Modern Art? What was your career path?
Between my junior and senior year in college I was fortunate to have been an intern in the Director’s Office at The Museum of Modern Art so my relationship with the museum really began at that time.
My experience thoughout the internship was eye opening and set the precedent for what I hoped to find career wise in the art world when I graduated. The work that I did was exciting and rewarding and I felt incredible dedication and respect towards the people I was working for. When I look back, the connections that I built during that short summer have been the ones that have really carried with me.
Fast forward a bit. When I graduated from college, where I double majored in Art History and French, I began working at Sotheby’s. My interest was more Art Business, so Sotheby’s was a nice fit for me. I worked there for just under four years, spending most of that time in the valuations department doing work related to appraisals. it was exciting. I visited different collections, worked with experts in all departments, and developed an understanding of the market and value of fine art, furniture, decorative works of art, and jewelry.
I was approached to go back to the MoMA when my current position opened up and for me, thinking back to my internship experience there and the connections that I created, could not turn the opportunity down. I feel that the role I am doing now is a once in a lifetime opportunity to work for such an intelligent and passionate museum director, and I am so fortunate to be involved every day.
What are your roles and responsibilities as assistant to the director?
I support the director of the museum, Glenn Lowry, and his chief of staff. My responsibilities include managing the director’s agenda, which involves organizing his travel to art fairs and biennials and creating, with the assistance of the directors of his fairs, his itineraries. I coordinate his daily meetings and phone calls and communicate on his behalf with all institutions where he may be lecturing. I am the primary contact for all of his trustees and board members as well as MoMA and MoMA PS1 staff, artists, scholars, dealers, and art world professionals. I work very closely with the senior staff at MoMa as they are quite involved in Glenn’s daily agenda, as well as with all curatorial departments concerning exhibition planning and incoming and outgoing loans. I work closely with our special events team as our department is involved with mostly all receptions, openings, cocktails, and events that take place at the museum. I also work with many galleries, as Glenn is interested in seeing new shows that open and dedicates time as often as he can to see exhibitions.
What do you like most about working at the MoMA?
I have been fortunate to work at two institutions where the community really stands out as being exceptionally kind and nurturing. The colleagues that I gained at Sotheby’s are both personal and professional friends.
I find MoMA to carry such a sense of family amongst its employees. There is passion in the sense that people really love to work here and love the work that they do. There is room for growth and experimentation to try new things and I have found everyone, even the most senior people, to be approachable. I was amazed to see all of the same faces that I had met when I was an intern. That alone speaks to the loyal community here.
You previously worked at Sotheby’s. What were your responsibilities as associate account manager of valuations?
The Valuations department at Sotheby’s is responsible for putting together comprehensive appraisals for clients’ collections. We provide different types of values depending on the needs of the client. Sometimes appraisals are provided in an effort to bring in property for sale and other times they are to provide the client with an evaluation of their collection. For each appraisal, I was responsible for managing and meeting al deadlines and facilitating the movement of each document through the production process, proofing process, and ultimately producing the final booklet for the client.
Each appraisal requires a site visit with a team of experts to photograph and inspect each item first-hand. The site visit enables the production of the booklet as every appraisal identifies each work with a thumbnail photograph and the value assigned by the expert. A large component of my role was to organize and attend these visits and to build the relationship with the client for whom the appraisal was being provided.
At any given moment I was working on a number of different appraisals – some in the initial stages and some that were almost complete. I worked with experts throughout the company, in both the Fine Art and Decorative Art departments. Another daily part of my role was to establish strong working relationships with my internal colleagues because their research contributed significantly to each document.
What advice do you have for someone who hopes to work at an auction house or museum?
I have found the art world for women just out of college to be very competitive. My biggest advice that I lend to others, and also guard for myself, is to first and foremost be hard working and persistent. Second, learn how to accept criticism and demonstrate resilience. Third, be confident in your voice and presence.
What would you tell your 22-year-old self?
I would tell myself to trust my instincts and speak up. I am a naturally reserved person, but I have learned that you need to always assert your presence and speak your thoughts in order to rise up in your career. Also, ask questions. More often than not, your peers are wondering the same thing.
How would you define your professional style?
My style has always been simple and elegant. My eye is drawn to basic cuts in classic colors – like white, black, and navy – that I can wear multiple ways. I tend to wear one statement jewelry piece – whether it’s a unique necklace, a beautiful cuff, or an interesting ring – and either a modest heel or a nice pair of flats.
My go-to outfit is a black A-line skirt with a tucked in top, black tights, and a great necklace. It’s simple and it makes getting dressed in the morning a no-brainer.
What is your favorite piece of art at the MoMA?
That is a very hard question. I’m going to dodge the answer a bit and instead tell you some artists that I am especially interested in.
My eye is always drawn to three-dimensional objects and small sculptures. I love the craftsmanship of Henry Moore’s sculptures and also the work of Barbara Hepworth. For both artists, I particularly love when they incorporate string. Henry Moore’s The Bride in the MoMA collection is a favorite. The Tate has a gorgeous Hepworth, Orpheus (Maquette 2).
Ai Weiwei’s work fascinates me; his curiosity and creativity are thought provoking. I took a few trips to the Brooklyn Museum during the exhibition According to What and also had the opportunity to see many of his works firsthand when I was at Sotheby’s because they came for sale in the Contemporary auctions.
Lastly, and this is somewhat different, I love Flemish and Dutch art for its depictions of interior space and families. You can learn about lifestyles and habits of the individuals depicted and the works have the power to really pull you in. You feel like your eye is deep into the work, almost reaching the back of the canvas! I developed this interest and appreciation in college when I studied Art History.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
I have an amazingly smart and supportive family whom I rely heavily on. I am sandwiched between two brothers, my older brother is very close in age to me and my younger brother is much younger. They inspire me without really doing anything. My parents are loving and kind and I admire how they have shaped our family.
For quick boosts of inspiration, I love to get lost on Instagram. I like getting ideas for interior decorating, travel, recipes, and I love seeing what my friends are up to!
What advice do you have for other young professional women?
Be curious, ask questions when you have them, and set goals for yourself in all areas of your life.
Also, be flexible. It is good to have a routine that works for you but it is also important to be spontaneous. That is how you meet new people and expose yourself. I think that some of the greatest moments are those that happen unexpectedly.
Thank you, Madeleine!