Behind the Domain Name: GUESTWORKAGENCY.ART

Our Adopter Alana Kushnir is an international curator and lawyer based in Melbourne, Australia. We talked to her about her Agency, how she keeps balance working on international projects and best practices for artists.

Above: Photograph by Justin Ridler

Alana Kushnir is the perfect example of someone who, rather than following, has led and shaped her own individual path in the art world. She confidently takes on the many roles that interest her: she is a sessional lecturer at The University of Melbourne, a Director of the Lyon Foundation (an Australian art museum entity that operates the Lyon Housemuseum & Galleries), a volunteer lawyer with the Arts Law Centre of Australia and the Principal Investigator of the Serpentine Galleries R&D Platform Legal Lab. But that’s not all – she also runs her very own curatorial and legal practice – the Guest Work Agency.

Guest Work Agency is an art advisory and law firm for artists, collectors, commercial galleries and arts organisations. It embraces the role of the non-traditional advisor – part lawyer, estate planner, sport-style agent, studio manager, producer, and relationship facilitator. Based in Melbourne, Australia, but international in reach, the Agency also runs the Guest Club, a subscription-based art advisory service for emerging art collectors.

Photograph by Justin Ridler

The Online vs. The Offline

The ICA, London, Zabludowicz Collection, London, the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney and at the IMA, Brisbane (forthcoming) are some examples of the famous international art spaces where Alana curated exhibitions.  She also recently curated a playlist for another .art adopter – daata.art.

You are based in Australia, and yet stay highly involved in projects across the globe. Would you encourage others to pursue initiatives internationally rather than solely focusing on the local ecosystem?

I think balance is key. Participating in international initiatives has a strong impact on the work we do locally, and vice versa. For example, with our work on the Legal Lab for the Serpentine Galleries R&D platform, we bring our local network of Australian artists, legal designers and lawyers into our research so that the project can benefit the local ecosystem, as well have an impact in the global art world. I’d certainly encourage others to pursue both local and international project opportunities where possible, as this can give your work a wonderful porousness, allowing new ideas to develop in unexpected ways.

What are some of the changes you had to make in light of the pandemic?

Fortunately, we have not had to make many changes to the way we work, as we work remotely day to day. Working on international projects also means that we are very used to communicating and delivering projects via virtual means –whether that be by email, Whatsapp or online conference meetings. The biggest change for us has been the shift of our Guest Club event to an online format.

The Guest Club is a membership network and subscription-based advisory service we established for emerging collectors, to encourage the next generation of supporters for art and artists. Instead of putting the project on hiatus, we have been focusing on producing live, interactive online events. These events have included exclusive stock room visits to galleries like STATION, guided tours of online art fairs like MAF Viewing Rooms, and new online art platforms, like Daata.art. With the enormous short and long-term impact of the pandemic on the international and local art industries, I think that educating audiences about the importance of supporting the arts is now more important than ever.

Installation view, Spring, from the Relative Permanence exhibition series, Aesop Sydney, 2019. Photo by: Jessica Maurer. Artwork credit: Sarah Meyohas, Cloud of Petals, 2017. Courtesy of Guest Work Agency.

What motivated you to choose a .art domain for your business?

While Guest Work offers a range of services and work on a broad variety of creative projects, art is at the centre of everything we do. That is why using the .art domain for the business -including for both the website and our email addresses – was very important.

Also, the name of the business, Guest Work Agency, draws its inspiration from the first independent curating enterprise which was initiated by the groundbreaking Swiss curator Harald Szeemann, Agentur für Geistige Gastarbeit (Agency for Intellectual Guest Work). However, I’m aware that unless one has a background in curating or art history, this connection can be a little cryptic. That is why ending in .art enables us to send the message that what we do is about art.

These pandemic times have been interesting to reflect on the importance of the .art domain too, now more than ever our website is the first point of contact someone will have with our business. Our website traffic has increased considerably in the past couple of months.

Advice for Artists

What are some of the key things brands look for when inviting a digital artist to collaborate?

Brands will always have a brief, and it is essential that any artist understands that from the outset. A brief summarises the key characteristics of the brand and ultimately, a brand wants to collaborate in order to better bring out those key characteristics. Brands want to work with creatives who appreciate that a little give and take is essential in any collaborative process. We’ve produced a number of digital art exhibitions for the renowned skincare brand Aésop (which was first founded in Melbourne) and we have found that such projects have worked best when both the brand and the artist understand that collaboration is a two-way process.

Installation view, Spring, from the Relative Permanence exhibition series, Aesop Sydney, 2019. Photo by: Jessica Maurer. Artwork credit: Sarah Meyohas, Cloud of Petals, 2017. Courtesy of Guest Work Agency.

As a lawyer, what are the top 3 things you would advise artists to think about as they launch their careers?

  1. You are launching a business, not just a practice. Like any business, getting your legal ducks in a row – for example, negotiating the details of and signing a written gallery representation agreement – can save you a lot of financial and emotional hardship down the track.
  2. Read contracts carefully before you sign them. If you don’t understand what something means, chances are you are not the only one. Ask for clarification and don’t sign up to something you don’t understand.
  3. Good documentation can protect you in the future. Get it in writing. Save your emails. Write down and date important conversations you have. Record and date all of your ideas, sketches, experiments etc.

What do you think about the artist as a brand?

I’m all for it. I love that an artist that can be a brand, but at the same time can exploit that paradigm in a way that makes the audience see through the smoke and mirrors.

Duchamp is the original granddaddy of this tactic. All roads lead back to Duchamp.

Research and Documentation

How do you approach the process of recording and archiving your projects?

I am extremely interested in the legal implications of recording and archiving, and how new technologies are changing these processes.

I also think there is a lot of potential to automate inventory management for artists and galleries –inventory and archive management is an area we specialise in and in my opinion is an undervalued component of the art business infrastructure. I’m keenly following where .art is going in this space!

You can view more about Alana’s work with The Serpentine’s Research and Development Platform here. You can read more about Guest Work Agency on guestworkagency.art

Aleksandra Artamonovskaja
Aleksandra Artamonovskaja
has worked in consulting prior to joining the art world and is one of .ART's first employees. She contributes with articles covering the intersection of art and tech. You can connect with Aleksandra on LinkedIn