Lauren Wittels is a partner and director at Luhring Augustine gallery based in Chelsea, New York, where she represents contemporary painters, sculptors, photographers, and multimedia artists from around the world. The art world professional began her career as a receptionist at the same gallery 30 years ago, after graduating from Columbia University, and has also been the contemporary art expert at Citibank Private Bank Art Advisory Service and founder of non-profit publishing organization Regency Arts Press. She currently resides in the West Village with her rescue terrier mix, Bee, who will happily greet you upon walking through the gallery doors.
Have you always been a dog person?
Yeah, I had a dog when I was a kid. I was probably five when we adopted him—I always really had a soft spot for homeless animals. There was the North Shore Animal League, a well known no-kill shelter. And they were pretty close to my house, and when I was a kid, I used to tape coins to paper and mail it to them. Which is such a sweet thing, now that I think back on it.
So I’ve always had this kind of empathy, or sympathy, for animals that don’t have homes. My dog when I was growing up, Chuckles the poodle, wasn’t the love of my life like this one is—but I’ve always had a soft spot.
Was Bee your first dog as an adult?
No, I adopted a dog with my ex-husband before we had our daughter, and that dog was fantastic. His name was Snaps, and he was a hound mix from the North Shore Animal League, and he was a three-time loser. Three different people had brought him back, and we got him and we had him until he died at 12.5 years old. And he was a fantastic dog, but he was the exact opposite of this dog in every possible way. So this is the first time I’ve adopted a dog alone, just as a single person.
“I think a dog makes the gallery feel more friendly and accessible. She brings a real kind of warmth and homeyness to our business—especially because people often feel very intimidated in art galleries.”
Let’s talk about Honeybee. How did you know she was the one?
I saw her on Petfinder, and I was looking for a hound because that’s, aesthetically, the kind of dog I’ve always really liked. I saw this picture of her and I thought, I’ve never even considered a terrier, but that’s a super cute dog. So I sent an email, and it took a long time for them to contact me—maybe two or three weeks. And they said that she was in foster care with her puppies. They were only able to rescue two, and her.
She was in the foster home in New Jersey, and I went out to see her. She was beautiful and sweet, but I didn’t feel any deep attachment to her. You see how engaged she is with people now—she really wasn’t like that. We met in a big park, and she was pretty distracted. But the report from the foster mother was really outstanding: She was the most loving dog, perfectly house-trained, and very polite. Everything seemed great, but I didn’t feel it.
I went home and decided to go ahead with it. But one of her puppies had a heart issue, and she had to stay in the foster home with the sick puppy until he was adopted. I didn’t get her until a month after we met. I went with my friend. The second she was in my car, I looked at her and thought, I love this animal. This deep, undying love. It was so strange—I’m not sure what the leap was. But that was when I really felt it. My friend thought I was nuts! I was crying and driving. It was great.
How did she get the name Honeybee?
Her first name was Opal on the website, but the foster people named her Mama because she had these puppies. And I wanted to keep the name Mama, but my daughter lost her mind. She was like, “You cannot name that dog Mama.”
Technically, her name is really Bee, because that’s what I call her. It says Honeybee on her tag, but I wanted a name that was kind of southern and a name that wasn’t a person name.
I had ordered her a collar and a leash before I got her, and it had ladybugs and honeybees on it. So, a colleague said, “Why don’t you just name her Bee?” I did, and then it morphed into Honeybee and that’s what the vet calls her. That’s what’s on her file and stuff but it’s just too much of a mouthful, so I just call her Bee now.
It’s the perfect name for her since she’s so sweet. Tell us about—when you’re not traveling—a day in the life with you and Bee.
She sleeps squished up next to me, no matter how hot it is or where we’re sleeping. If we’re at a friend’s house, she’s attached to me. We wake up between 6am and 6:30am, and we go to our local bodega for an iced coffee, and we stroll around the West Village. It’s not a very long walk—it’s probably like 20 minutes. But there’s not a lot of people out; it’s only people with dogs. She’s not really a dog-person, she’s more of—I mean a dog-dog, she’s a people-dog.
I bring her home and feed her, and then I run to the gym, and then I come back, shower, change, and take her to work. We walk the same route every day, and when we get here, typically she spends most of the day under my desk. I get in pretty early, so before the gallery opens, she’s always sleeping under my desk.
And then once we’re open, she’s very social. So if people come in, she trots out. She makes friends. She walks around the gallery. She really loves our front desk person; she spends a lot of time at the front desk. And I walk her a couple times in the afternoon; she comes to meetings with me. She comes upstairs to my boss’ office when we have meetings, or in the viewing room. She does viewings with me when I’m showing art.
There’s only been one person ever, in three years, who was like, “I’m not really into this.” People love her. She often winds up on their laps, or sticking her head in their handbags. She doesn’t really understand boundaries. She just loves people so much, and most people are thrilled she’s there. So, she follows me around all day, and then we walk home.
Often, we stop at The High Line Hotel, because they have a beautiful outdoor bar where I can bring her. You can bring her inside, too. Now, it used to be that I’d go out with a number of friends at a number of different places after work, but now because of her, we’re always at The High Line. And she and this one bartender are madly in love with each other. She pulls me in from half a block away. She can smell if he’s there or not, and she will pull me all the way down the sidewalk straight into the hotel, and leap into his arms.
And some days when we’re going there, she just trots next to me; she’s not particularly interested, and he’s not there. She has a real thing for this guy, so we’ll sit there and have a glass of wine with a friend or two, and then we work our way home. She doesn’t go out late at night; usually when I get home at 7:30pm or 8pm, that’s it. My daughter’s home, and she tries to love my daughter and follows her around the apartment. She’s a teenager, so she plays it cool. So that’s it—she’s with me all the time when I’m in New York.
“She doesn’t really understand boundaries. She just loves people so much, and most people are thrilled she’s there.”
Is there anywhere else you like to take Bee?
Our neighborhood is pretty dog friendly. We go to Morandi and sit outside a lot. I guess, Morandi and The High Line Hotel are pretty much where we hang out. She’s not a dog run dog. When I first got her, we spent a lot of time at the dog run. I tried pushing her off the bench, trying to get her to play. And then I realized, I don’t think she’s enjoying this. You know what she loves? The river. She will pull anyone who is walking her all the way west. We’re like, three or four blocks from the Hudson; she’ll pull you all the way there and just sit and stare at the water.
That’s such a sweet image; thank you for sharing that.
It’s really nice. Saturday nights in the summer, we usually wander over to the river together at 7pm, and we stay there until 8:30pm when the sun goes down. Sit on the bench, and that’s a really nice summer Saturday night for us—that’s what we do.
What does Bee eat?
I just feed her Natural Balance dry food. She just eats whatever I buy her. She’s not food motivated. She’s love motivated.
You’re a really stylish person. Do you clothes and accessories for Bee?
I’m embarrassed to admit I like to buy her clothes. I know it sounds weird. But I’ll buy her a couple of sweaters, and I like her to have a nice coat. This Chilly Dog Boyfriend Dog Sweater is the best—she looks like a sock monkey!
Your job encompasses a lot of travel where you can’t take Bee along. Tell us about it.
I am a partner and director at Luhring Augustine. We represent a number of artists. Each director has their own artists, so I have nine artists that I take care of, and that involves everything from studio visits and selecting work to selling works. Some galleries have separate departments. They have artist liaisons, and then they have sales people, but in our gallery, you do both jobs for your artist.
So, our real clients are our artists, and then our other clients would be the people that either purchased the work or show the work in their museums. Or write about the work, so there’s sort of an internal and then an external client. I do everything for these nine artists, some of whom are based in New York.
The travel, mainly, is trying to make new contacts for the gallery. So I will meet with collectors or curators in a number of different cities. We also travel for events that our artists are in. I’m on the road a lot building new relationships for the gallery. But mainly, most of my time is spent either working with the artists or talking about the work, and trying to sell it or show it, or place it in some way.
And you were originally going into academia, right?
Yeah, I was at Columbia and I was studying Northern Renaissance painting, actually. I got my master’s degree and I kept going, but by then I had already been working in the gallery for a number of years, and I just felt like I really missed working with living artists. So I made a decision.
Also, the person that was advising me at Columbia took a sabbatical and left, and I just felt like I didn’t need to be there. So I came back to working in the contemporary art world.
Luhring Augustine was my first job out of college as the receptionist, and I’ve been working here on and off for 30 years. I left and did many other things, and I came back eight years ago.
Has the gallery always been dog friendly? Have you seen many dogs, or employees’ dogs, pass by throughout the years?
No, I don’t think anyone’s ever brought a dog to work here. They let me, which is really sweet of them. But also, if she weren’t the kind of dog she was, she wouldn’t be here. The problem is, she’s very territorial, unfortunately, and galleries are public spaces so people come in with their dogs all the time. I have to keep an eye on her, because if any dog comes that’s bigger than her comes in, it can be a problem. I try to keep her near me.
She has a fun personality, I love it.
Yeah, she’s a sweetheart.
Do any of the artists that you represent have dogs? Have you met any of their dogs?
Oh, yes. Christina Forrer. She has this amazing little ratty mutt named Sampson that she adopted, and I am obsessed with her dog. He weighs nothing. He’s almost Bee’s size, but he weighs eight pounds. He’s all fur and skin; he’s so cute, he looks like he just got out of the dryer. All of his fur sticks out everywhere, he’s black, and he is the sweetest dog.
She came to do a site visit in the gallery and he’s certified as an emotional support animal, so she brought him to MoMA. He walked around the museum. She sends me pictures of him all the time because she knows I adore him.
Is Bee an icebreaker at art parties?
I wouldn’t think of her as an icebreaker, but people just flock to her and it adds a really positive vibe to the gallery. I think a dog makes the gallery feel more friendly and accessible. She brings a real kind of warmth and homeyness to our business—especially because people often feel very intimidated in art galleries. They’re anticipating being snubbed or ignored, and then they come into our gallery and this cute little terrier trots out and sits on their feet, and they feel like this is a more welcoming place. That’s just a more positive vibe in a city that can be unfriendly.
Photography by Tayler Smith