Robin heads American & European Works of Art, one of Skinner’s most active and important specialty departments, conducting three major auctions annually and contributing artwork to other department sales. In this key role she oversees a staff of specialists who appraise and catalog prints, paintings, sculpture, photographs and works on paper for a wide variety of Skinner clients, including arts and cultural institutions, estates, major collectors, and private individuals. Outside of her role at Skinner, Starr is a major contributor to the success of Boston’s thriving arts and culture community. She conducts numerous benefit appraisal days, lectures, and benefit auctions throughout the year. She is also a familiar face on the 16-time Emmy® Award-nominee PBS program Antiques Roadshow.
How did you get your start in the auction world?
After finishing my master’s degree I wanted to get a little work experience before moving on to my Ph.D. Ultimately I was going to study medieval architecture, and spend a lifetime teaching. I saw an ad in the Boston Globe – do they even post job listings in newspapers anymore? – for a cataloguer in the paintings department at Skinner. I was only going to stay for a few years but fell in love with the job. Essentially my job was – and is – to look at art all day long. Who wouldn’t love that? So I stayed and grew with the job.
Tough question. The Uffizi means great art and if I’m there, I’m in Florence, so how could I go wrong? The Clark Art Institute has changed dramatically since my grad school days both inside and out, but it’s still like going home and seeing old friends; to say nothing of the surrounding pastures and woods. And as a hometown favorite, nothing beats the courtyard at the Gardner, especially in the middle of a cold, gray, New England winter.
What do you love most about auctions?
I get to be the steward of amazing works of art. Over the years I have had amazing objects greet me on my desk each morning. It might be a little Calder sculpture or a small Agnes Martin canvas. Most recently, I had an Andy Warhol multiple Portraits of the Artists from 1967 sitting on my desk leaning up against the books on the lowest shelf. For three months I had the pleasure of seeing it as I chatted on the phone or cataloged works for auction, then off it went to a new home. Who knows what will sit in that spot next?
What book(s) are you reading?
I just finished listening to Tulip Fever – since I’m on the road quite a bit I listen to a lot of audio books; before that, I listened to the Leonardo biography. Meanwhile, I’m reading Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling the old-fashioned way, and The Weight of Ink is at the front of the queue on my nightstand. I love historical fiction in particular.
How have auctions changed since you started?
Let’s just say that when I started at Skinner we used to send out Polaroid pictures of the works. I’ve been here so long that nearly everything has changed. The Internet has changed how we all learn about auctions, how we all interact, how we preview and bid. The necessity to sell works in the location where the artist is best known has fallen by the wayside. Finding a hidden gem is harder than ever – although it still happens. What hasn’t changed is the passion for art. The people who are bidding are still in love with what they’re buying. Which is a big part of what keeps this job fresh and exciting.