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Jonathan Greenberg '79

Prior to joining Sotheby's, and after I graduated from UMass in 1979, I worked in a variety of jobs in the art market in New York for a few years; until I was hired to run the Prints Department of Kennedy Galleries, a hundred-year-old company that had begun as a Print dealer (first store on Wall Street, if you can believe it!).  Since the 1970s the company had expanded to become a major force in American Art, but retained a vast inventory of prints from all periods and schools. It was my job to sell this stock off.  Additionally, as a salesperson, I was expected to sell American Art.

I started working for Sotheby’s as a cataloguer of Prints for their first venture into online auctions.  They needed someone who could catalogue quickly and accurately and who knew values and how to research quickly.  Again, I have to credit my education at UMass with giving me the ability to manage varied and largely uncharted areas in art, and basically to catalogue anything.

When the online program closed, I was put to work cataloguing for live auctions again, sometimes cataloguing for American Art sales, and for Impressionist & Modern Art sales, and Contemporary Art sales. I also catalogued for the Israeli Art auctions, for Indian Art auctions, and for Latin American. I am also the US liaison for the Modern British Art department in London.

I currently serve as the Senior Specialist in Fine Arts in the Valuations department, where I am responsible for appraising Fine Art. In this case, ‘Specialist’ is misleading: what qualifies me for this position is my general knowledge of art of all periods and schools.

My education at U Mass has been especially useful at every stage of my career.  For instance, during the Methodology course, which I took with Walter Denny, I was given a week-long assignment to research and report on the history of the market for the Prints of Giovanni Battista Piranesi.  Over the years, I have handled scores of Piranesi prints and every time, I relied on what I learned in that week’s class in Methodology.

I think the thing I remember most vividly was also something that came up in Walter’s Methodology class – in fact I think it was in the introduction pages he handed out at the beginning of the course: he stated that at UMass, we may be disadvantaged being in the ‘bibliographical boondocks’ (versus those lucky people in Harvard and Yale), but overcoming that disadvantage, figuring out how to access information and where to go to find it, will set us up well for the real world. 

This has indeed been my experience. When I took the job at Kennedy Galleries I had studied no American Art; but I rapidly learned the field, using the gallery’s library and its inventory as study guides. At Sotheby’s I found myself one day suddenly responsible for the midseason Contemporary Art auctions.  Again, I’d studied no Contemporary Art before; but the learning curve was steep and rapid, thanks to the study skills I’d acquired at UMass.

Researching Fra Angelico’s use of Space and Time in his predella panels was wonderful; so was absorbing Craig Harbison’s wonderful lectures on northern Baroque art.  All the classes were engaging, entertaining and stimulating.  But what prepared me for the real world, and what made the UMass experience so vital to my career, was the emphasis on Methodology that ran through all the course work, and was the concentration in the Methodology class.  This is what distinguishes the UMass Art History program, and what has been responsible for my succeeding the art world.