Art Collector Questionnaire

Arts Executive Mike Steib Shares His Essential Advice For Those Looking to Join the Industry

Mike Steib with Willie Stewart's All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, 2020. All photography by Nate Palmer and courtesy of Steib.

The first artwork Mike Steib ever acquired was by Tariku Shiferaw, an Ethiopian-born painter he discovered while scrolling through the online marketplace Artsy. An early adopter of the platform, he joined the beta waitlist prior to its launch in 2012. Then, in 2019, he took over as the company’s CEO.

Coming from a business and international relations background, the art world insider previously held positions at Google, NBC Universal, McKinsey & Company, and XO Group. Now thoroughly embedded in the art market, the executive still swears by the platform he took a chance on years back. He has also acquired the pleasure of passing the collecting bug onto his kids. Here, he shares how art fairs and exhibitions became a staple for family bonding, his advice for getting started in the industry, and whose career he’s most excited to follow.

Henni Alftan, Reminder, 2017.

How has working at Artsy changed your perspective on the art market and collecting?

After I joined the company in 2019, we launched a number of features that help collectors discover more art and buy with confidence, including art advisor-level personal recommendations, extensive information about artists and the galleries supporting their practice, a free database of art price histories, a $100,000 guarantee on any artwork acquired on Artsy, and free software for managing your own art collection and staying informed about your artists’ markets. These features have been indispensable to me personally as we’ve grown our collection.

The other thing that has changed my perspective is the wonderful people I have met in the art world the last four years. I have become friends with a number of artists and gallerists, which has made art collecting much more personal for me. I have developed a deep appreciation for the importance of being a patron of their work.

What advice would you give those starting their professional journey in the art world?

Any job worth doing is hard and the art market is no exception. My advice to anyone starting out in the art world is to always remember the reasons you were drawn to the art world in the first place. Supporting artists and galleries and helping people bring art into their lives is a noble calling. Keeping your purpose in mind will keep you motivated to continue to learn, grow, and persevere when work is hard. A great way to stay mindful is to see art every chance you get—not for business reasons, but because it nourishes you and makes you whole.

Paul Kremer, Glow 04, 2019.

Where does the story of your personal collection begin?

My personal collection began in earnest when I acquired a piece by Tariku Shiferaw from Addis Fine Art, a gallery in Ethiopia and London. I discovered Tariku on Artsy and then saw his work in person during Miami Art Week. He was doing a series of pieces that honored the history of mark-making, inspired by the visuals of crates piled in a warehouse where he had spent time. Each piece was named after a hip hop song that the artist related to the piece. I was very proud when, a few years later, Tariku was honored as part of the Artsy Vanguard 2021

Which work or works provokes the most conversation from visitors?

We have these beautiful pieces by Henni Alftan, a Finnish artist who paints in an exquisite deductive figurative style, and Sophie Treppendahl, a young artist from New Orleans who paints warm and chaotic scenes from her studio and home, that contrast and yet complement each other so well—people really love to hear about them.

The other is probably Stanley Whitney. Guests are fascinated to learn that his colorful pieces are inspired by the facade of the Colosseum in Rome, where he studied.

Kikuo Saito, Blue Trail, 2015.

Which artist are you currently most excited about and why?

Our piece by Kikuo Saito, an amazing abstract painter who studied under Helen Frankenthaler and Larry Poons and passed away in 2016, is amazing to live with. We have loved seeing his career flourish posthumously, as James Fuentes gallery has been doing incredible work to bring the art world’s attention to Kikuo’s paintings.

What factors do you consider when expanding your collection?

For me, it's about the artists and the stories they tell the world through their work. Last weekend, I was in a former furniture factory in the Bronx that is now the studio of an artist I love, Moyosore Martins. I watched him bring to life a painting full of symbolism about his journey from Lagos and struggles as an artist to where he is today, with his pictures hanging in important collections around the world. It’s a real privilege to live with something he created.

Moyosore Martins, Egun Adugbo, 2018.

What was the most challenging piece in your personal collection to acquire? 

I asked Sarah Meyohas, who is now with Marianne Boesky Gallery, to commission a piece for me. She is brilliant and creative, with work that speaks critically to the intersection of art and finance—she might be the only Wharton grad and Yale MFA in the world. Before she agreed to create the piece, we met in person so I could explain why I wanted this work and what it would mean to me if she took on the project. She’s done so much with her career since and the piece always reminds me that the price of something is very different than the worth of something.

Is there one piece that got away, or that you still think about? 

Yes, many. I always tell people: you only regret the art you don’t buy.

How has your collection changed as your home and space has changed?

What has changed is that as our kids mature, they love being a part of the journey of collecting art with us. Art fairs and gallery shows are an important part of our time together as a family, and acquiring pieces for our family is something we all participate in. I did not have the opportunity to have art in my life when I was a kid, so I am really grateful that we can give this gift to our son and daughter.