Valuations: Zuzanna Ciolek, Director of UTA Artist Space in Los Angeles, on Underrated Artists and Overrated Luxuries


So much of the art world orbits around questions of value, not only in terms of appraisals and price tags, but also: What is worthy of your time in These Times, as well as your energy, your attention, and yes, your hard-earned cash?

What is the math that you do to determine something’s meaning and worth? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we’re asking individuals from the art world and beyond about the valuations that they make at a personal level.

Zuzanna Ciolek is Director of the UTA Artist Space, which she joined in 2016. The mission of the Ai Weiwei-designed exhibition venue is to showcase art created by globally recognized talent and to expand United Talent Agency’s role as a tastemaker in the visual arts. So far, the mission seems to be going swimmingly.

Opening during Frieze Los Angeles and running through April 1, UTA‘s space in Beverly Hills will exhibit rarely seen Ernie Barnes paintings. The survey show, “Ernie Barnes: Where Music and Soul Live,” co-curated by Ciolek, includes 30 works that span street scenes, portraits of musicians, and images of dancers in nightclubs. It is the first major Barnes survey since his painting (1976) became a surprise hit in May 2022 when it sold at Christie’s for $15.3 million to film producer Bill Perkins. That painting will appear in the UTA show.

Originally from Warsaw, Poland, Ciolek previously curated the exhibitions “Beyond the Looking Glass“—featuring artists Genevieve Gaignard, Kiki Smith, Gahee Park, and Jesse Mockrin, among others—and “Dark Fantasy,” presenting contemporary design artists, both for UTA.

Recently, Ciolek helped sign filmmaker and contemporary artist Shirin Neshat, artist and filmmaker Glenn Kaino, and artist-activist Titus Kaphar for representation at UTA.

We spoke with Zuzanna Ciolek about some of the things she values most.

What is the last thing that you splurged on?

I love Loewe. That’s where I go to splurge.

Loewe bags photographed with artwork by Sasha December.

Loewe bags photographed with artwork by Sasha December. Courtesy of Zuzanna Ciolek.

What is something that you’re saving up for?

I need a big yard so I can adopt more dogs.

What would you buy if you found $100?

A nice sushi lunch. Sushi somehow always ends up being $100.

Brothers Sushi in Woodland Hills preparing omakase.

Brothers Sushi in Woodland Hills preparing . Courtesy of Zuzanna Ciolek.

What makes you feel like a million bucks?

Driving down Pacific Coast Highway with no traffic. I’m not originally from L.A.—I grew up between Poland and the East Coast—so sometimes it still feels like a movie.

What do you think is your greatest asset?

I’m an optimist.

What do you most value in a work of art?

How it makes me feel. I’m very intuitive and don’t take a long time to decide to buy something.

Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention?

Ryan Wilde. We are working on an exciting show together opening later this year at UTA Artist Space’s Los Angeles location. Also, Chinaedu Nwadibia. She’s made me really excited about photography again.

Zuzanna Ciolek being interviewed for the last show she curated.

Zuzanna Ciolek being interviewed for the last show she curated. Courtesy of Zuzanna Ciolek.

Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet gotten their due?

Pamela Colman Smith. She was commissioned to illustrate the famous Rider-Waite tarot deck for which she originally received no credit. Her watercolors are eerily dreamy and she has a fascinating life story.

What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world?

Following a traditional path. There are so many ways these days to forge an amazing career.

What is your most treasured possession?

Currently my bed. I’m a terrible sleeper and I finally found one that does the trick.

What’s been your best investment?

Supporting the careers of artists I believe in, whether that means buying work or giving them a platform at UTA Artist Space. Buy what you love, as opposed to just following the market, and get to know the artists. 

What is something small that means the world to you?

I recently got engaged so I’m still pretty jazzed about that ring on my finger. It belonged to my fiancé’s grandmother who was his favorite person, so it is extra special.

What’s not worth the hype?

Constant travel. I’m excited to stay put and be more involved in the local community in 2023. 

Zuzanna Ciolek

Zuzanna Ciolek at the beach with her dog. Courtesy of Zuzanna Ciolek.

What do you believe is a worthy cause?

Supporting animal rescues. Adopting and fostering has been life-changing—animals make us better people.

What do you aspire to?

I would like to write a book. Putting it out there so I can hold myself accountable!


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