Life after the Warburg: Phoebe Liu

Since graduating with an MA in Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Culture,Warburg alumna Phoebe Liu secured an internship with auction house Sotheby’s and is now working as a floating assistant at the company. 

We caught up with Phoebe to find out more about her roles and how studying at the Warburg helped to influence her professional career development.

Could you tell us a little bit about what your internship involved at Sotheby’s?

A large part of my role as the department intern was to help the specialists and cataloguers in picture and provenance research during the cataloguing process and support the team in the lead up to auction.

What was your favourite part of your internship?

I was lucky enough to be a part of the Sotheby’s Old Master Drawings and British Works on Paper July Sale. The auction contained a great variation of works, from Perugino to Turner; from a six-metre-long panorama to a fan design. It was wonderful to witness the entire process of taking in artworks, research and cataloguing, hosting the exhibition and auction, and managing post-sale arrangements.

Tell us what your current role as floating assistant involves?

The role of floating assistant is to offer office support to any department in need. As a result, I get to see different departments and cover different roles. So far, I have been in Old Master PaintingsContemporaryRussian Art and Impressionist. I also accompanied Old Master Paintings to Hong Kong during October for a private selling exhibition during the autumn auction season there.

J. M. W. Turner painting Der Vierwaldstätter (Lake Lucerne) similar to one on sale in the Old Master Drawings and British Works

Did your experience at The Warburg Institute help to equip you for the role?

The MA course has most definitely equipped me with the right skills to carry out the research-based tasks and the training from the National Gallery curatorial staff helps to provide an approach towards provenance research. The general framework of art history allows me to recognise the context of the different works we receive, especially now that I go in between different departments.

What did you enjoy most about studying at The Warburg Institute?

The encouraging atmosphere – the Institute’s daily structure allowed me to approach so many people for discussions. The conversations during lunch/tea time and Work in Progress seminars really helped to form my own ideas.

What was the most valuable thing you learned during your MA?

One of the things which I learned and continue to remind myself constantly is to be precise in language. It is a great skill that I acquired during the MA and very useful even now, when I have to communicate to colleagues and clients through emails.

How would you rate the level of support you receive from faculty as an alumni?

As a Warburg graduate working within the art world, I have enjoyed the continuous support from the Institute, both personally from the staff, researchers and readers, and in terms of resources: the library continues to be ‘that one place’ I can rely on, especially when looking for rare publications and I have no doubt that I will keep returning.

Would you recommend The Warburg Institute as a place of study and why?

Yes. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the Institute, you meet people from different academic backgrounds and so often it inspires new approaches to your own work.

What advice would you give to graduating students?

I would say two things. One is that the Warburg has prepared us better than we think, so we should take our next steps confidently. The second thing is to keep in touch, even if it’s only occasionally going to the library.

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Founded in London in 1744, Sotheby’s is one of the world’s largest brokers of fine and decorative art, jewellery, real estate, and collectibles. Today, Sotheby’s presents auctions in ten different salesrooms, including New York, London, Hong Kong and Paris.