Curiosity never killed the cat: Wisdom is the result of curiosity. One can never ask enough questions or listen too carefully.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Heather Flow.
After beginning her career at MoMA PS1, Heather Flow founded Flow Advisory, a collecting firm that functions as a type of collecting laboratory, primed in generation of artists examining the onset of digital changes in the mid-2000s. Through this scholarship, Flow Advisory collaborates with clients to create inventive, pliable, and dynamic private collections, which preserve collective history. Flow has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and Artspace.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My third grade teacher, Mr. Neil Wilcox, changed my life. Every week, he would project a different painting for the students to study. We were allotted thirty minutes of writing in response to the image. I was enamored with the assignment. Wilcox encouraged me to continue to look at and write about artwork — a daily practice I still continue!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting story is an amalgamation of multiple stories: the evolution of artistic practices. Watching first hand how artists mature is full of unanticipated revelations. The cut-outs by Henri Matisse are a perfect historical example. When ill health prevented the artist from painting, Matisse began to paint and cut sheets into varying shapes and sizes. The series reflects a radical continued commitment to innovative play with form and color. These twists and turns of growth illuminate the limits of assumed realities: Imagined possibilities of the future yield expansiveness!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I helped clients acquire a delicate and heavy sculpture to be installed on the wall. Art handlers were hired and the corresponding hardware was sent by the gallery. I did not check the spacing of he studs to ensure the dimensions matched the hardware — an idiotic mistake, as the clients’ house was built by Frank Gehry, the iconic deconstructivist. Of course, the studs were far from standard and did not match the hardware. From that project forward, I always check for studs.
Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture/art more representative of the US population?
My methodology for comprehensive value based research is fundamental. Redundancy of representation is rampant within a circle of blue chip galleries — and the majority of these represented artists are white men. Research must not depend upon this network of galleries. If more collectors and advisors were to similarly broaden and diversify research, we would eventually alter demand, force supply to change, and thus create more market diversity. I hope to initiate this chain of events, which will eventually align ideals about equity with the logic of the market.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
My impact is the deliberate introduction. I acquaint clients with artworks and artists, a relationship intended to deepen with time: a long-term kinship. I understand that collecting art is more than the accumulation of transactions and collaborate with clients to build and maintain living repositories of indelible artistic history. Clients and I provide unrestricted support to exhibitions, performances, publications, and educational programs. We also have spent hours in conversion over dinner consuming and sharing both food and ideas. The connection, which I initiate, creates an initial and lasting impact for both the collector and the artist.
As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Art and its potential effects on our culture?
As complexity is central to the issue, I would rather not narrow down and simplify the answer to three points. Museums hold significant power in representing a narrative of culture. Art presented by these institutions is inherently deemed as legitimate and thus claims authoritative depiction of public culture. Empowered patrons inevitably impose their tastes onto institutions and following onto the public. This domino effect creates a limit not only on the art that the public can view, but also in the broader art historical narrative. Art history is intended for representation and reflection on how civilization evolved over the centuries — the restriction on representation allows for an inadequate portrayal.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the art world?
We, members of the industry, must take responsibility and action. 1. Institutional boards must accept younger and more diverse individuals. 2. Viable pathways into the workforce for more diverse individuals must be developed. 3. While Advisors and Collectors must diversity research, a broader range of stories must be presented in exhibitions and art fairs.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I have a bit of an anti-authoritarian spirit in me, which inherently shapes my understanding of leadership. Cohesion, interpretation, and encouragement are foundational to my nuanced understanding of leadership. Cohesion as establishing and maintaining solidarity; interpretation as decoding and clarifying; and encouragement as to inspiring and emboldening.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Value your instincts: Your instincts will point you in the right direction. Listen with your gut and look with your eyes.
- Befriend and collaborate: The industry is small. Know your generation and work together to build something.
- Curiosity never killed the cat: Wisdom is the result of curiosity. One can never ask enough questions or listen too carefully.
- The days are long: Every day is a new Rubik’s Cube; being creative, patient, and open can solve most puzzles.
- Handwritten holds power: Personal, handwritten letters on nice stationary can move mountains.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
History has shown that society becomes radically creative after deadly pandemics. The Black Death led to the Renaissance and the Spanish Flu to the Roaring ’20s. When this pandemic ends and culture reshapes itself, I hope the structures of power within the arts change dramatically. The current system is narrowly antiquated and not viable in the twenty-first century or for the future. Within my community, I hope to inspire conversations and action to enable a more suitable art world for the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Nothing will work unless you do” — Maya Angelou.
I grew up in the same city as Angelou. I met the poet 25 years ago. Tea with Ms. Maya remains one of my most unforgettable memories. The short sentence — “Nothing will work unless you do.” — has possessed me for over two decades. And I continue to unpack the meaning: perseverance, self-knowledge, humility, privilege, flexibility, kindness…
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian! I admire the couple’s commitment to activism and I am always looking to meet people earnestly and authentically advocating for a better future. I would love to hear the couple’s thoughts about the shared foundation of activism and art: exposing the truth.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@flowadvisory on Instagram
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!