A day in the life: Katherine Oliver

Art Sales Programme Curator

Published 12 January 2016

From visiting artists in their studios to advising Art Sales buyers, Katherine Oliver’s role at the RA is ever-evolving.

  • How did you come to work at the RA?


    I studied Fine Art at university and had always wanted to be an art teacher. When that didn’t work out, I got my first job working as a curatorial assistant at the Barbican. After a spell at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney, I started working on the Summer Exhibition at the RA. Since then, my role has evolved and now I run the Academy’s online Art Sales programme. Our most recent collection, selected by Barbara Rae RA, showcases a number of Academicians alongside invited Scottish artists, whose work explores artists’ relationships with the land or the sea.

    How do you start your working day?


    Always with my inbox, which is a constant distraction, followed by lots of list-making. I’m a natural procrastinator and like putting off paying the bills in order to focus on more interesting tasks (like looking at pictures!). I still love being hands-on and wrapping the occasional print in our Viewing Studio.

    What does a typical day at the RA look like?


    It often involves a visit to an artist’s studio, which is my favourite part of the job and a huge privilege. Some artists work from home and some from private or shared studios – meeting them in their working environment gives such a valuable insight into their practice. We try and pass this insight onto our visitors through short films on the website and I often tell buyers about my experiences. I visit art fairs and exhibitions to stay on top of developments in the contemporary art world. Instagram is great for this if you can’t get away from the office.

  • Katherine Oliver in the art store at the Royal Academy

    Katherine Oliver in the art store at the Royal Academy

    Photo: Harriet Baker. © Royal Academy of Arts, London

  • What projects have you enjoyed working on?


    Launching the Art Sales online programme was a big challenge and a great example of collaborative working across departments. Although the Academy has been selling work through the Summer Exhibition for nearly 250 years, we’ve only been selling artwork online in a focused way for just over a year. An important part of my role involves working closely with the RA Schools; much of the revenue that Art Sales generates goes directly to helping the Schools continue to flourish. Our connections with artists means we can promote and sell work by emerging graduates as well as internationally renowned artists.

    What’s your favourite place to go for lunch nearby?


    Despite many of our staff now being based at Blackfriars due to the Academy’s Masterplan building project, I still get back to the RA as often as possible for the fabulous soups and stews from Atelier on the ground floor of 6 Burlington Gardens.

    What exhibition have you most enjoyed at the RA?


    I loved Radical Geometry which celebrated geometric abstract art from South America, held in our Sackler Galleries a couple of years ago.

    Tell us something that most people don’t know about your job role.


    At some point every year, I still find myself up a ladder in the Summer Exhibition before it opens, trying to read the label dangling from a painting during the cataloging process. Some things never change.

  • What’s different about the RA compared with other places where you’ve worked?


    I’m lucky to have primarily worked in the arts, but I think the RA has a special atmosphere. The staff love the institution and are committed to helping it continue to flourish.

    What advice would you give to someone wanting to go into a career in the arts?


    Get experience in your chosen field but don’t underestimate the importance of transferable skills. I worked for a short time at The Guardian and still value what I experienced there. I continue to learn so much from those who I work closely with, even after 11 years at the RA.

    What are your future ambitions?


    I hope to travel more to expand the Art Sales programme beyond the UK. The programme’s still very much in its infancy and I look forward to growing it and continuing to make it exciting and accessible for our visitors.


    Between the Land and the Sea is in The Keeper’s House, Burlington House, until 24 April.

    Read an interview with Barbara Rae RA, who has selected the recent Art Sales collection.

    To view Art Sales by appointment, please e-mail artsales@royalacademy.org.uk or call 0800 634 6341.

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