When life happens, just remember that art fairs will be 'fine without you for a while'

Melanie Gerlis asks whether the demands of the international art world are compatible with parenting

The end of the art market season in June might just clash with school sports day © Art Basel

The end of the art market season in June might just clash with school sports day © Art Basel

June is not the best month to ask me if the art world is compatible with parenting. With three children in primary school, and a job that requires covering auctions and art fairs worldwide, the end-of-season schedules on both sides of the equation just don’t add up. In the sweetest of ironies, this year’s panel at Art Basel on Career and Motherhood (13 June) clashes with school sports day.

“Juggling” always sounds more fun than the strained reality—I have a colour-coded calendar that I defy anyone to understand. Evenings and weekends are rather fluid concepts in the art market, plus, as Louise Hamlin, the founder of Art Market Minds and a mother of two, finds: “International travel is when the wheels really come off.” As I experienced in March, even the most organised parent can’t mitigate for a much-loved pet rabbit dying on the way to a far-flung art fair.

Additional childcare—generally not covered by expenses, nor is it tax-deductible—doesn’t come cheap and, as my guilt reminds me daily, a nanny or au pair is not the same as a parent. “Sometimes I start thinking about how I’m never there to pick them up from school, or do their homework with them, or hear their stories from the day, and how soon it will be too late,” wrote a fellow mother and art adviser to me just before heading out to New York last month.

Fathers get some of this guilt too, of course: the Disney shop at Hong Kong airport after the Art Basel fair is annually crammed with exhausted, 40-something dealer-dads picking up Mickey Mouse chopsticks for their youngsters. But as in most professions, women tend to bear the brunt, because we are the ones ripping up the previous rulebook.

On the flip side, the art world has advantages for parents. It lends itself to sole traders and freelancers—including artists, gallerists, curators and journalists—which means we are more in control of our time than if we worked for a bigger business. As a freelance journalist, my workload this year has included art fairs in New York, Maastricht and Hong Kong, but I also turned down potential commissions out of Los Angeles, Dubai and Venice. My decision to have more quality time at home, and even a cheeky mid-week holiday, has yet to prove to be career suicide. I regularly remind myself of the words of James Knox, a father of two and my wise managing director at The Art Newspaper when I first became pregnant in 2008: “Private views will be fine without you for a while.”

Working from home, with this in mind, means—when I’m not jumping on planes—that I can arrange certain days around homework, parents’ evenings, or the simple pleasure (mostly) of having dinner with my children. This often means picking up the slack after bedtime to meet a deadline or reply to emails, but it is definitely worth it. At the start of this term, my ten-year-old called from school to ask me to bring in a book she had left at home. “You’re lucky I’m here,” I said. But really, I knew that I was the lucky one.