Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Don't Hassle the Gallerinas

Sung to the tune of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" (with sincere apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber):
Don't hassle the Gallerinas
The truth is they don't disdain you
For what they suffer
Ensconced in Prada
Their compensation
Borders on nada
Jan Hoffman has penned a charming profile of today's gallerina. Published in the Fashion section the Times on Sunday, I've just only happened upon it.

We discussed the reasons people misread the attitudes of the gallery staff who face the public. Back in 2005, I suggested:
If a gallery goer knows what they're looking for, or is genuinely interested in learning about the work, they'll get past the gallerina and on to the director or someone who can help them, with no problem. If all they want to do is vent about how much they hate contemporary art (and it's stunning how many people interested in that will punish themselves by going to galleries), the gallerinas develop the necessary skills to respond accordingly.
Although her article focuses on fashion and posturing, Hoffman more or less reveals the same sentiment:

[Alexis Rose] and other gallery assistants throughout Chelsea defended their seeming frostiness. For them it is almost protective layering, a zone of privacy emanating from harried young women who are on display, even as upper-echelon staff work in back rooms.

On Saturdays, they are barraged by people dashing in from the street looking for restrooms; who, when denied access, can turn nasty (“Do I have to spend $2 million on a painting just so I can use your bathroom?”); and sniggeringly pose that war horse of rhetorical questions: who buys this stuff?

The answer, in case you're curious, is "No." Only after spending $6 million do you earn restroom privileges. $2 million might get you a paper cup, but don't push it.

I've heard so many people discuss the issue of why gallery staff seem standoffish over the years, but never has anyone been as direct about it as Hoffman is in the following:

Assistants hold the public at arm’s length because, frankly, that’s not where the gallery’s clients come from. Top dealers, who must manage an artist’s career and cachet, are exquisitely selective about buyers. The public is almost irrelevant: encouraged to look and buzz loudly, but that’s about it.

“A gallery is not like a retail store,” explained Ms. Plummer of Lehmann Maupin. “For every 100 people who walk in, maybe one-half of one person actually buys something. It’s rare that collectors even come to the galleries — it’s mostly art advisers. And they have appointments.”

So should the buzzing-but-not-buying public feel used? Shouldn't they expect a certain degree of access for their role in spreading the word?

I think the equally direct response to that is they do get an incredible degree of access, as galleries are entirely free. Regardless of how much it costs to produce the exhibition, no one is collecting entrance fees. If a gallery can't afford a steady stream of passersby trudging through their offices to tie up their restrooms, I think it's entirely disingenuous of those denied access to protest as if they've been profiled and maligned. The cheap restaurant down the street posts a sign saying "Restroom for Customers Only" (meaning, most certainly paying customers). Are folks denied things in a gallery truly so surprised?

I'll go one step further here and admit that you don't have to buy $6 million of art to gain restroom privileges in most galleries. Being a regular visitor will most likely do. What galleries can't afford, honestly, is for folks who don't care about what they have on the walls to decide their facilities are simply the most convenient for them. In our building, for example, another business in the area who didn't want to let folks use their restrooms told the steady stream of people asking them that they should sneak into ours. This led to a parade of folks coming and going, so to speak, all day until we asked one of them why they thought this was appropriate. You didn't want to be the guy in that other business I spoke to when I learned the truth.

So give the public-facing gallery staff a break as you make the rounds. Treat them like you understand the types of questions they get all day, the situations they have to handle, and you'll probably find, perhaps over time, that they'll recognize and appreciate seeing you.

UPDATE: I guess I see things too much from the gallery point of view. As Eric, rightly, points out in the comments, most folks reading here would not be the same people likely to abuse gallery staff. And Joerg takes objection to the notion expressed in the article that gallery receptionists ever have justification for boorish behavior:
Maybe it's because I am so immensely old-fashioned that I expect anyone who I ask a simple and polite question to give me at least an equally simple and polite answer. It's what is called basic manners or common courtesy. And for me, courtesy does not depend on who one is talking to. Imagine someone asks you for directions on the street: Would you base your decision on whether to give directions or not on what the person looked like? Clearly not (hopefully, that is). So yes, you might be busy "e-mailing jpegs of artwork to collectors, writing news releases, updating a gallery’s inventory or simply ordering lunch for the staff" or doing whatever it is you're doing, but still that doesn't mean that you're somehow absolved from the rules of courtesy, which, after all, provide the basic glue that makes living in large groups possible.

Labels: gallerinas, gallery-public relations


Blogger Tyler said...

This post would be twenty times better if it featured an audio file of Murat singing the song at the top...

4/02/2008 08:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is a nice restroom at paula coopers main space you dont have to ask to use it, best unkept secret in chelsea. i think it was genius of them to do this for the public.

4/02/2008 09:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Available restrooms can always be found in the multistory gallery buildings on West 26th Street and West 20th Street. Plus you can sometimes sneak into the Half King bar/restaurant on 23rd. Any good New Yorker knows where to find an easily accessible bathroom in most any neighborhood in Manhattan. Why is this such a mystery!

4/02/2008 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since we're talking about bathrooms, the gallery buildings are usually more hospitable:

. The ones on 529 W. 20th are usually open--certainly the one on the first floor is.

. At 511 W. 25th, just ask the person behind the desk for the key--though it would be nice to look around the gallery before doing so.

.At the building on 27th street, corner of 11th, there's one on each floor and I think they're open.

4/02/2008 10:07:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Anyone who visits Chelsea regularly should know by now that if you want to use a bathroom without having to consult a gallerina(o) you should enter one of the buildings where there are galleries on multiple floors. Most of the ones I have utilized in said spaces do not require a key to enter. Walk around any floor and you are bound to find an unlocked loo. And yes, I have discovered exhibitions that I knew nothing about and that I ended up writing about because of said journeys. As a critic I have been snubbed by front end greeters and glorified receptionists on several occasions. If their belligerence is so off putting that I can't get what I need, knowledge about how the art was made, catalogs/press kits, and color thumbnail images with dimensions, titles (or lack thereof) and materials used listed, I tend to walk out and continue to search for something to write about. These days I am not working on assignment so I am free to do this, but this will change over the summer. Sorry. I am only human.

4/02/2008 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Since we're talking about bathrooms, the gallery buildings are usually more hospitable:

If the building is providing the bathrooms, though, the galleries have nothing to do with them.

There's a big difference between a building's facilities and the private restroom of smaller galleries, where supplies often need to be stored etc. Our bathroom has been vandalized repeatedly, as well, which of course doesn't make us more eager to open them up to the public.

4/02/2008 10:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always feel somewhat sorry for the gallery staff. Having done that for a while years ago, I was consistently surprised with artists who would whip out a portfolio if I even smiled and start begging for a show. The assault of neediness requires a defensive posture.

4/02/2008 10:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, I think it's true that the main reason for the "frostiness" is that the walk-in public is not where the clients come from.

But then this doesn't make sense:

from the article: "
How long can galleries afford such attitude? As contemporary art’s Armory Show in New York concludes this weekend and the auctions unfold later this spring, many are watching to see what impact the sliding economy will have on the art market....
A springtime thaw in prices may well trickle down to the gallery’s front desk. When the public, perhaps of necessity transformed into eligible customers, pushes open those chilly opaque doors, will gallerinas finally look up and smile?"

Even if prices go way down and even if galleries start closing, the walk-in public is still not going to be the client base. A Saturday gallery-goer is not going to buy a painting because now, instead of being 6 million, it's 4 million. Or even from $6 thousand to $4 thousand.

I'm usually annoyed that these kinds of articles are in the Styles section, but that's a tip-off that they're fluff. Like that one a couple months ago about new collectors using consultants. The Times has writers who know the art world, but when it's in the style section, you know it's fluff for the Sunday reader. They always end with a little kick, like the one above, that makes no real sense in the context of the article, but makes it Sunday Styles-worthy.


ps loved those licorice shoes, although they have lost some of their delicious fragrance since I smelled them at the Brooklyn museum a few years back.

4/02/2008 10:37:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Let me clarify my position. A member of the public should not enter a street level gallery, a single point of operation, and expect to use the bathroom. If they are clueless tourists then they will learn from the experience of being rejected by the person at the front end. Can you name one receptionist position in any context, especially one that requires the receptionist to deal with members of the public who wander indoors from the cold or balmy weather, which does not include interactions with a-holes? Trying to gain sympathy for the gallerina(o)s by pleading with the 'public' on your blog is a bit misguided because it is the gallery owners who truly screw over the gallerina(o)s by paying them so little. Obviously they work in galleries because they exude the aura of art and everything that entails, and the gallerina(o) somehow hopes to makes important connections that will help them with their own budding or non-existent careers as artists. How often does this work for them? Probably not that often. But when a gallerina(o) does make it to the big time, word spreads and myths are born.

4/02/2008 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Trying to gain sympathy for the gallerina(o)s by pleading with the 'public' on your blog is a bit misguided because it is the gallery owners who truly screw over the gallerina(o)s by paying them so little.

Two separate issues, Eric. Unless you're arguing that it's OK for the public to abuse gallery staff because they're not paid that well.

What galleries can afford to pay their staff is hardly admirable, but there is no shortage of applicants for any opening, and so it continues....

4/02/2008 10:57:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Okay so let's put aside the issue of pathetic compensation rates. Certainly smaller galleries can't afford to pay their desk front end staff a lot. But other galleries, the bigger ones, certainly can. And the owners of those galleries suck because they are hypocrites. They exhibit art that tends to incorporate very progressive world views, and then they stick it to the man (or woman) at the front desk.

Now the issue at hand, the public's treatment of the gallerina(o)s. Receptionists have to deal with a-holes in any setting, whether it is in public institutions or the private sector. That was the point I was trying to make. My mom worked as a medical secretary her entire life and her griping about a-holes was constant. Her biggest target though, was her boss, not the crazy patients or other doctors who she dealt with over the phone and had zero social skills. It will always be part of the job in other words. It is like a garbage man complaining about people who don't put the lids on the trash cans tightly enough on his/her blog. It will never stop because it is just part of the dynamic of the job. Also, I think you are focusing on half the picture. For the most part, the members of the public I spy on when I am hovering in a gallery for too long, trying to see something worth thinking about, are quiet and polite. They come in and sign the guest book, take a title list (if they are available), or don't even approach the front desk before exiting.

4/02/2008 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

I have the feeling that many of the front desk folks (and I love how Eric has democratized the word with "a" and "o" endings)are terrified of their bosses, of making a mistake, hence the coolness.

I was taking photos at a midtown gallery and the gallerino pleaded, "Oh, please take any more pictures. I don't have the authority to give you permission. I can't lose this job." He was the total opposite of cool, but he was certainly terrified.

4/02/2008 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Also, I think you are focusing on half the picture.

Fair enough, but that's the context of the post, not the other half (which is actually more than half). One a-hole, though, can throw off a gallerina/o (OK, OK...but it doesn't have the same ring to it) for the entire day.

Bottom line here, though, is I'm asking folks to consider what it feels like on the other side of the desk. I'm not sure why you're protesting that as strongly as you are.

4/02/2008 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, for one, can sympathize with anyone who has a frontline position, being the first point of contact for the public, in any business. They've got stress from outside and from inside the office. We've all been there in some way.

I proclaim solidarity with my fellow toilers in the trenches of capitalism, be they blue collar, white collar or Prada flats!

Comrade Oriane

4/02/2008 11:32:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Ed I think it would be interesting to hear from readers of this blog and find out if they could tell us about any experiences they had with gallerina(o)s in which they treated them disrespectfully.

4/02/2008 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

OK, so everyone one of you who has treated someone badly, please own up here in public.

I'll start: I think I once asked for a price list when I had no intention of buying anything in that gallery. :-p

Eric, I think I get your point: That readers of this blog are less likely to abuse gallery staff (and perhaps more likely to be dissed by them because they work in galleries), so why not flesh out the other corners of this issue, but I still think it's fair to ask anyone who feels they've been dissed to consider how the staff feel, no?

If you want another thread on pay for gallery staff or whatever, I'll be happy to do one later, but this one is focused on why gallery staff can come across as icy when they're really just busy or appropriately defensive.

4/02/2008 12:04:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I am not protesting the claims you make or questioning your request for sympathy for all of the gallerina(o)s out there. I am just wondering about how your argument actually relates to the specific experiences of the readers of your blog.

4/02/2008 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why gallery staff can come across as icy when they're really just busy or appropriately defensive

This has not been my experience at all, I've had some very nice conversations with gallerinx. Just because they happen to sit behind that desk at the front doesn't mean they are obligated to talk to you. It's just like talking with anyone you do not already know, a little politeness goes a long way.

4/02/2008 12:13:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Sorry Ed. Your last post came up in my viewer after I posted mine. I of course have my own prejudices about the issue. I somehow think that front desk people should drop everything to help a needy critic. They usually look like they are multi-tasking when I approach them but some of them do not look very busy. I mean how many of us critic types enter the gallery each day? I would imagine that we are far outnumbered by the art student and tourist visitors. Frankly, I don't give a damn whether or not the gallerina(o) is super friendly or cold and off-putting, as long as they get me the stuff I need to write the best review I can.

4/02/2008 12:15:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I am ALWAYS polite.

4/02/2008 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, maybe, but you've got no street smarts.

4/02/2008 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric, I've noticed, here and on other blogs, that you are very quick to take offense. You often jump to the mistaken conclusion that someone is dissing you when their comment or behavior has nothing to do with you. Maybe you are taking the galleriners behavior too personally. Maybe their boss just yelled at them for ordering the wrong salad and Marie Josee Kravis is pissed because she wasn't recognized, etc.

I find, generally, if you send out good vibrations (to the gallery people, and others), you will get them back. If you walk in with an attitude that they are snobs and are going to treat you badly, they probably will.


4/02/2008 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous sharon said...

I think as with anything, direct eye contact and a friendly "hello" when you walk in the door/when someone walks through your door can go miles.

Honestly, while I've experienced some dismissive returns in Chelsea I've never seen outright disrespectful behavior on the part of gallery folks. But Joerg does nail it on the head rather well, in my opinion. Even if I am of the belief that all parties should exercise politeness, I certainly don't feel entitled to anything. I just want to look at the art.

4/02/2008 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Hang on, please. Let's not turn this into commentary on Eric. He's very upfront and honest about his comments.

4/02/2008 12:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are an out of towner, there is this myth that New Yorkers are curt and unfriendly, nothing could be further from the truth.

I would suggest the same is true for gallerinx and that what we are discussing is a myth.

4/02/2008 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Maybe we should acknowledge that the desk that comes between us in a gallery creates more than just a physical barrier.

I'm not suggesting galleries get rid of it; it's necessary. But I wonder if there's a correlation between the size and solidity of the desk and the degree of coolness(perceived or actual) by the gallerina/o as perceived or experienced by the visitor. I mean I've seen some desks the size of the Hoover Dam and others as open as a kitchen table.

4/02/2008 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

We have a Hoover Dam sized desk, but it's because we got it for free from another gallery, not because it reflects our approachability. Sometimes the desk is simply free furniture and not a reflection of attitude. Still, I think you have a good point in that often there is a correlation.

4/02/2008 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...


When I wrote my post, I was actually thinking of the Max/Murat desk as having a human-scale. Hoover Dam sizes would be the ones at Pace Wildenstein, at Jack Shainman, Kim Foster--and come to think of it, they're all on the first floor.

From a gallerist's point of view, do you feel vulnerable being so open to the public? That's something gallerygoers may not think about. I certainly didn't until this moment.

4/02/2008 01:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't know where this cool reputation comes from, gallery staff have always been so friendly to me. not joking. i'm sure there have been incidents of aloofness, but i can't think of any.

4/02/2008 01:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny thing, the gallerina's at Pace have usually been friendly and approachable for me. I don't think the size of the desk matters all that much.

In contrast, Mary b's Chelsea space has a desk as I recall in the front along with some fancy seating, hospitable? Nope, it feels as cold as ice.

4/02/2008 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher Howard said...

What I found most intriguiging about this article is not the iciness of the gallerinas, but rather the necessary job qualifications for obtaining this job: good looks. This appears in the middle of the article. The Times writer writes:

But in a world in which art, fashion, celebrity and money commingle, gallerinas know that their looks — or, at least, their look — can make a difference. Yancey Richardson, the owner of an eponymous Chelsea art gallery, notes that she employs front desk assistants who can answer questions from the public and clients, and also attack a rigorous list of tasks. “You can’t just hire people who are decorative,” she said, “but you can find someone with all those necessary skills and who is beautiful.”

And later:

When she interviewed for one job, she recalled, the director shook her hand and, before she said a word, he proclaimed: “Look at her! She’s perfect!”

I don't want to play a sexism or discrimination card--and certainly would never call for regulations of any sort for galleries, which essentially are small business--mom and pop shops. But I find it interesting that art dealers are so open about favoring beautiful or good-looking women and occasionally men to work their front desks.

This kind of practice, of course, is not limited to the art world. However, I can't imagine a CEO or even a middle manager of a run-of-the-mill corporation or company making comments like those above.

4/02/2008 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

are we talking about restroom access, gallerinae attitudes, or the love hate relationship every aspect of the art world has in and amongst itself? if you ask me it is all entirely stemming from option 3. Yet we still talk about one and two as if they are an actual issue?

Restrooms: this is an easy fix folks. i worked at an amusement park for two brief summers of my teenage years - knowing where the restrooms are an unwritten, unintentional, and unwanted yet important part of any job where you are in direct contact with the open public. Whether you work in a high priced gallery, or a grocery store. Get over yourself. Are you too important to know where one is? You don't have to offer up your own. Look at i don't really see any chelsea entries do you? put em up. I mean if you work there just take the five minutes and ask around to where you can point people to should it come up.

Gallerinae: Like everyone said. Underpaid and yet expected to carry out gallery tasks AND essentially be the public face for the gallery to the public since no one else would dare waste a moment of their day with the unwashed masses who may walk through the doors. We all know why it's the low paid or probably intern at that desk. If you're nice to them, they'll be nice to you - at least that has mostly been my experience. If not, they're just a jerk - not because it is in the gallerina book of codes and standards. [and if the gallery if giving them so much work that they cannot bother to deal with the people coming in the door then they shouldn't be put out front plain and simple. just buy a security camera instead since that's essentially why they would have them out there if they're too busy to look up from their desk.]

Art world love hate relationship: too much to cover here.

4/02/2008 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

For Eric and other art writers - In a way, this discussion of the person at the desk reminds me of the archive - if you are tactful in sharing your interests and prove a degree of worthiness, a good archivist, knowing what is in the back room and what is not, will depart from neutral service and guide you to material with a yield that no card catalog can live up to. But you are also subject to intellectual prejudice - some archivists will discriminate because you don't speak French, or you reek to them of some kind of marxism, for ex.

The gallerina/o is entrusted to manage the public space of the gallery, and to guard the door of its interior, which includes the PR manager and the registrar, if not the actual gallerist, and even better, the artist. These are people who truly do need to be protected from those who would selfishly waste their time.

There are a lot of people who make absurd demands upon the galerina/o, out of town collectors or artists who wish to be pampered, etc., and so you also have to put your own rather lowly role - with respect to their job -in perspective. An experienced gallerina/o will have been there long enough to know how to make a judgment about you, and an inexperienced one will not. Usually, I have found that they can pick up on the degree of interest that you show in the work, and are very willing to help.

Also, I always ask about photos first, this is just basic ethical courtesy if not also a matter of legality, absolutely someone could lose their job. Pretty much all of my photos come from the registrar.

4/02/2008 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Whether you work in a high priced gallery, or a grocery store. Get over yourself. Are you too important to know where one is? You don't have to offer up your own.

This still doesn't resolve the frequently nasty responses to telling someone they can't use yours. So while you're right that the restroom, per se, isn't really the issue (not wanting a steady stream of interruptions by people you don't know using your private facility where your stuff is stored [because it has to be], only to find they've clogged the plumbing or graffiti'd the wall, or helped themselves to your cleaning products or whatever is the issue), knowing and telling folks where to find a different restroom doesn't prevent the abuse they'll fling in response to your denial because they already associate the calm demeanor cultivated in a space, so folks can contemplate the art, with an intentional snootiness and assume your refusal is a judgment of them.

We all know why it's the low paid or probably intern at that desk.

Yes, in bigger galleries it's because the people in the office are using their years of experience and carefully cultivated relationships to try to close the deals that pay the rent and electricity bill. As soon as the person at the desk begins to do that, they generally get moved to the back. At smaller galleries, everyone shares the front desk, and it's simply a matter of space and coincidence as to who you'll find there, not a matter of superiority complexes.

4/02/2008 02:34:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

anon 4/02/2008 12:32:00 PM:

Sorry anon but I don't get into pissing matches with anonymous cowards who make cowardly assertions. Also, Ed didn't pull this stuff out of his ass. Gallerina(o)s often do seem aloof or whatever, and we are discussing the reasons why this might be the case. Of course there will be people who will disagree with the entire premise. Go for it!

4/02/2008 02:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

ahhh...see, there we go, it's gone off thread and become about personalities and not the issue. Let me try to get it back on track by seconding Eric's question.

If you disagree that gallerinx are sometimes aloof, do share why.

4/02/2008 03:28:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

"For Eric and other art writers - In a way, this discussion of the person at the desk reminds me of the archive - if you are tactful in sharing your interests and prove a degree of worthiness, a good archivist, knowing what is in the back room and what is not, will depart from neutral service and guide you to material with a yield that no card catalog can live up to. But you are also subject to intellectual prejudice - some archivists will discriminate because you don't speak French, or you reek to them of some kind of marxism, for ex."

I am not an academic. I do not speak any language besides English fluently, and I do not make my world views, be they Marxist, Fascist, Libertarian, or Koreshian, known to the gallerina(o). So hopefully in person I do not reek of any ideology. My blog comments are another matter altogether. I also think that it is absurd that, beyond being courteous and articulate, I need to prove my worthiness as you say in order to get the information I need to write a review essay. I am not requesting time alone with a rare manuscript that I need to wear gloves to page through. I tend to use very plain language and I try to be as clear as possible when I am talking to gallery staff, artists I am visiting with, etc. An archivist (I have an M.L.S. degree and took several courses in Archival studies so I am familiar with the topic) does way more work than a front desk person at a gallery does when they are putting together a press kit, etc. Sorry, but I am a slightly incensed by the comparison. Usually when consulting with an archivist, hours and hours can be spent locating material, finding material that is appropriate or material that contains the information being sought after. Archivists are taught how to organize very complicated groupings of materials and the types of materials can vary greatly.

When I come into a gallery and I need information because I am going to write a review I approach the desk, say "Hi" and tell them that I am writing about the exhibition and that I need any press clippings, catalogs, and artist statements they have available. I also prefer to get color thumbnails because they help me later when I am writing and remembering things. It also helps me tremendously to know exactly how the art works were made. Why is this? I don’t want to look stupid and I want to get things right. Usually my editor requests the images so I don't deal with those, but on occasion I email the gallery later on when I am done writing the review and request jpegs if the review will be appearing online.

The problem I have with galleries in general, and the blue chip galleries are guiltier of this than others, is that even after I show my press I.D., they refuse to give me a catalog if one was in fact manufactured for the particular exhibition I am writing about.

4/02/2008 03:29:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Sorry that I couldn't let that pass Ed.

Would we all agree that most if not all gallerina(o)s want to be artists or think they are already artists? I would say yes to this. Perhaps this has to do with the phenomena we are talking about. There is a rather large chasm between artist and receptionist, with reference to the value systems most of us abide by. Not only that but gallerina(o)s often have to deal with wealthy collectors and tourists, successful artists. It is kind of like asking someone to pretend they are royalty while they are getting peasant wages. This would piss me off. They are supposed to put forth an aura or attitude that is consistent with the vibes the gallery owner wants to communicate to their clientele. They aren't chewing gum, wearing ripped jeans, etc. They are part of the frame of mind the gallery owner wants to construct in the gallery space.

4/02/2008 03:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would we all agree that most if not all gallerina(o)s want to be artists or think they are already artists?

I wouldn't, but then I don't know for sure.

4/02/2008 03:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the wide array of tangents - and deeply personal reactions showing up here is that there is indeed an atmosphere of "us" and "them" . Further still it's not even a clear delineation of who "us" and "them" are - which only leads to more specific and less applicable examples to the whole of the discussion.

4/02/2008 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

I'm a pretty modest person - if they don't give me a catalog, I sit cross-legged on the floor and read it. It's only another way to show your credentials. Some times you even get the catalog, too.

4/02/2008 04:37:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

anon: I thought it was pretty clear that we (the people reading and commenting on EW's blog) are talking about the people who work behind the front desks in galleries.

Not a bad idea Catherine, but my time is precious (I make scheduled and not cheap visits to the city from upstate and don't have time to read catalogs, when they are available, while I am in the gallery), and I need to spend my time in the gallery looking at the art and taking notes. I like to read things during the train ride home. Also, if I am not getting paid for the essay I am writing I like to get free mementos. Human all too human. Also, I don’t like to have my thoughts clouded by the catalog essays. Sure, sometimes I will read all available press on the artist that I can get for free on the Internet before I see a show, but that usually doesn’t influence my thought process while I am writing. If anything, I usually attempt to counter the other writers’ opinions as much as possible. After all, if I can’t add something worthwhile and new to the discourse why bother?

I know of several people working as front end people in galleries who are still in art school or are recent graduates from them. That is what I am basing my generalizations on. OBVIOUSLY, there are exceptions.

I think that fact is very relevant to the topic at hand.

4/02/2008 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I think at the root of the arguments in the commenting here its a question of class and morality.

If you have the money you would go to a local restaurant - maybe even the pizza place. If you felt obligated you might buy something. Red Cat, Half King, Bottino, Glass, Bongo - these are places that suck if you have no money to spend but have to pee. Who hasn't been there?

If you think people without money should stay home, or walk three or one block(s) to the nearest bathroom, then perhaps we should form a club and we can drive around in a pickup truck and spear the bums with fire hardened sticks. OR guns, I'm into that too.

On the other note: Gallery workers are often a product of their corporate culture - which is the direct responsibility of the gallerist. If the gallery is frosty, well you know who to blame. Move on. Artists who show at galleries that suck know what they are doing and are culpable as well - you needn't go there right? The continued (after the learning curve which may be the real problem - the continual stream of newly minted artworlders) attention paid to such bad behavior speaks to a psychological disorder - perhaps stockholm or stauckhausen syndrome. I don't know, but I think you will agree that going to galleries that suck is counterproductive for everyone.

Some galleries hipocritically reap the status benefits of being "for education" or "enblightenment" by keeping their doors open, while at the same time creating a poisonous atmosphere redolent of status consciousness.

Pee if you have to is my advice. Why not?

4/02/2008 04:57:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

"The continued...attention paid to such bad behavior speaks to a psychological disorder - perhaps stockholm or stauckhausen syndrome."

You aren't saying that EW is suffering from a mental disorder simply because he is bringing this topic up are you zip?

4/02/2008 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's not dump on the powerless. Gallerin.xoxos are merely fronting for their bosses, often a vain, self important and abusive group of individuals with a God complex. When they act curtly, they are merely passing the abuse onto the most likely victim: the powerless public.

4/02/2008 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reductio ad pissurdum

"I'm a pretty modest person - if they don't give me a catalog, I sit cross-legged on the floor and read it. It's only another way to show your credentials."

I am fairly immodest. If they don't give me a pot to pee in, I'll pee on the floor. It's only another way to show my credentials.

4/02/2008 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The art world (all of the arts) in general underpays. Secretaries at the Met who have PhDs in their field make less than the average receptionist. These kind of jobs are viewed as a good job for a rich kid or as a vehicle for learning the business.

I've received frosty looks and disdain from gallery staff. Generally I write it off as asking a question when they need to be doing something else. Bad timing. Sometimes I think it's just a sign of bad management.

4/02/2008 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

EW's annoyance with john q public, while justified as presented, is it's own issue (which I presume was resolved with a baseball bat and some strong words and resulted in some shattered porcelain).

The comments (which relate to the issues evoked by EW's somewhat singular and repeated predicament) refer to another issue (conflated no doubt by dear reader with the broader issues relating to social class and economic means).

What is the obligation of the gallery system (In chelsea) to provide facilities to its presumed audience? Or should its stance of nobliesse oblige be dropped as hipocritical and self serving?

And said audience, uppon being rebuffed as inadequate, continuing to suckle at the teat of nihilistic chill, what of them? That compunds the syndrome. Or shall I say adds up to more than the sum of its parts? And istn that sort of a microcosm of the world today? And theoreticly speaking, who is dealing with these sorts of issues in any meaningfull way? By selling art on the streets? I dunno, that seems like pissing into the wind.

4/02/2008 05:22:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

That is kind of what I meant when I said, "They are part of the frame of mind the gallery owner wants to construct in the gallery space." But I think there is an ugly manipulation going on as well. These people, perhaps desperately, want to be a part of the art world. They want to be like the artists whose work appears in the galleries. I think people are sucked into these humiliatingly low paying jobs because of this. Obviously some of them might be there because they want to learn the ropes and move up the ladder in the gallery hierarchy, if it is even possible. A poet friend of mine has described spending time around poet wannabes who have not published books (my friend has) like this: they think that by kissing my ass it will help their careers. And he hates sycophants, unlike an ex-poet laureate who will go unnamed. Many budding artists in whatever area of the humanities you can name treat those who are successful like magic totems, as if they can bestow success at will upon whomever they fancy. (Sorry but I am done for the day.)

4/02/2008 05:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the musical Urinetown, set in the near future, you have to pay to pee, because the water shortage has made private toilets unthinkable and public bathrooms have replaced them for a fee which is controlled by a private company that keeps the prices high."

So perhaps, after being asked "What is the shit on your walls" once too often, the galleries have tried to get ahead of the curve?

4/02/2008 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

ugly manipulation sounds more on the mark, dude. DOne for the day or not.

COnversely though or maybe just also, the loathing of "sycophants" is a possible sign of insecurity. Whgy not be gracious and tell other people how to compete? Or is the market so small no amount of Extenze will help?

4/02/2008 05:30:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

"The comments (which relate to the issues evoked by EW's somewhat singular and repeated predicament) refer to another issue (conflated no doubt by dear reader with the broader issues relating to social class and economic means)."

You are either too complex or too confusing for me right now zip.

I am just saying that there are ulterior motives involved when someone accepts a position as a gallerina(o) that have something to do with their desire to be an artist. They are not working as waiters/waitresses, entirely outside the world of art that they want to enter. But when working as gallerina(o)s, they are constantly reminded of the very thing that they desire but do not have.

4/02/2008 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

good point. I wonder why people think artists are difficult sometimes. Peck peck peck.

4/02/2008 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"These people?" Excuse me, but I find it inconceivable that anyone would try and lump together the employees of a particular industry and tie up with a bow, as if they all had the same background and motivations. Surely you are joking, but April fools was yesterday.

The galleries are like any other New York business when it comes to using the facilities, I can completely understand Ed’s reservations.

On the tiny matter of catalogues, obviously a side issue attached to the gallerinas. I think if you have clout, you get a catalogue, if not, by definition you’re a nobody.


4/02/2008 06:04:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

"These people?" Excuse me, but I find it inconceivable that anyone would try and lump together the employees of a particular industry and tie up with a bow, as if they all had the same background and motivations. Surely you are joking, but April fools was yesterday."

Sorry if I can't comment on every situation that exists in the known universe 'x'. I do agree with your last paragraph though, even if it relegates me to the 'nobody' category.

zip: The poetry world is much smaller than the art world if you can imagine that. Saying it is a backwater is being generous. I am sure that my friend would graciously offer advice if it was appropriate to do so. He is innsecure but that doesn't have much to do with the point I was trying to make.

I think people accept dead end low paying jobs in galleries because they have ambition and hope that the magic will rub off. More often than not, it does not.

4/02/2008 06:31:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Sorry about the double negative.

"More often than not, it does not."

Usually it doesn't.

4/02/2008 06:34:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Obviously if the gallerina or gallerino ends up working in the business end of the art world it isn't a dead end job and could look good on a resume. But I would bet that young college graduates don't get jobs in galleries because they want to have an administrative position in a museum one day or some such thing.

4/02/2008 07:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe they just need a job, for the money or for their parents.

Maybe, it looked like something fun to do for a year or two, not as a career.

Maybe they just want to see if it’s something they might want to do.

Maybe they just like art and want to be in the flux. P

People have a lot of reasons for doing things, sometimes young people do things for no good reason, or just that it seemed like a cool thing to do at the time.


4/02/2008 07:19:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

'x' you can apply that point of view to every situation and say absolutely nothing about everything. That is fine. Imagine if EW started out this trail of tears with your bland comments about gallerina(o)s. We would all be like, "So the fuck what Ed?"

How about this 'x'. Your superior reasoning skills have left me speechless. Every single point that I have tried to make up until this point has been rendered worthless by your sterling wisdom. I bow down to you in disgrace.

As Commander 'x' has pronounced it so shall it be. Gallerina(o)s work in galleries because of a lot of different reasons. There is nothing else to say about the subject.

4/02/2008 08:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is getting more silly by the minute. Gallerina’s aren’t a species, it’s a job. People don’t all behave the same way in this job, or any job for that matter.

Oriane said earlier " I'm usually annoyed that these kinds of articles are in the Styles section, but that's a tip-off that they're fluff." I think she’s got it right.

To the original point, whatever contact I have had with them has been pleasant. If this conflicts with your experience, then I guess it’s an unexpected response to your earlier question.

If you feel you have been slighted by the gallerina’s then I would accept it as one point of view but not the only point of view. In my estimation it’s a myth.


4/02/2008 09:22:00 PM  
Blogger hyperfocus said...

I recently went to a show with two people who were really pretty much newcomers to the Chelsea art scene and I was so very pleasantly surprised at how happy to talk about/explain/celebrate the work that the staff was...of course it was the work of the sublime Charles Ray-I suppose he brings out the best in everyone. Honestly, though, the gallerina and gallerino(masc?) at Mathew Marks were fantastically generous with their time and expertise! It wanrmed the heart of cynical and bitter old art world me.

4/02/2008 10:02:00 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

I think most people who work for ANY art-related business, and at whatever level, do so because they feel they're wired in such a way that if they can't make a living doing what they want (being a full time artist, writer, musician, film maker, whatever) then the feeling is that WORKING is more palatable for them, if it's at least in an art-related field.

I find that the gallerinas, gallerinos, or "these people", as they've been referred to, are for the most part, "willing". Willing to be helpful, polite, friendly, even humorous. Usually they give what they get. I don't believe they take pleasure or satisfaction from having to tell someone "I'm sorry, the restrooms aren't for public use." But there are always exceptions.

How you feel probably depends on which side you're looking from - but how you act, well, "take a look at yourself."

4/02/2008 10:18:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

EW – What is it that keeps the gallery desk person so busy all day? I’ve encountered kind as well as mean specimens over the millennia, but usually whenever I approach the desk they are deeply engrossed in something, these days usually on a computer, but in ancient times, they would often be just typing – or writing by hand! – this when not on the phone, in what can only be described as Beckett-like inquisitions. All the same, skills, one would scarcely credit their attractive but essentially vacuous countenances with. But there is, upon approaching, almost always a sense of interrupting some vital train of administration.

I assume it won’t be correspondence with the gallery’s artists or regular patrons, because the dealer will want to take care of that, since it may involve delicate information, and I assume it won’t be archival documentation, because an archivist will want to inspect works, other documents etc, much as indicated above. And I assume it won’t be press releases or biographies, for these again will be composed in consultation with artists and others. Nor can it be just a re-typing exercise, what with the advent of word-processing, spell-check and so forth.

So that leaves…? Updating the mailing list? Paying the utilities bills? A little discreet blogging? Tasks one can hardly believe take all day every day, at least not for anyone with a modicum of literacy or common sense, which leads me to conclude unfavorably, firstly about the caliber of person, secondly that the tasks are, intentionally or not, largely a pretence or diversion, simply maintain an image of business in the face of the mystique and controversies of art. They are largely unwilling and unable to confront quite what it is they are selling, or to whom they sell, or merely display, are more comfortable thinking of themselves as an elite arm of investment and privilege and as a consequence remain deeply hostile to the general public, to any sense of responsibility to neighborhood or neighbors.

The washroom key is for more than a pee.

4/03/2008 12:54:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I think the ghost of Derrida is haunting the tail end of this comment thread. It is hilarious that "These people..." caught so many people's attention. Excuse me but being called a gallerina is not an abuse of language, a dehumanization of the subject? These phrases are all about convenience of communication.

If you feel that every single gallerina(o) that you have ever encountered is nice and helpful and that EW's initial proposition that they come across as cold or distant is false, that is your perogative. Or if you want to say that, "I disagree with ericgelber because he thinks that front desk people in galleries are not there because they want to be paid next to nothing just to be in the presence of art when they go to work each day, but because they hope that being in the gallery will jump start their nascent careers as artists, that is also your perogative.

I also think, hence my use of the phrase 'ugly manipulation' that some gallery owners dangle a carrot in front of their lowest paid workers, keeping alive the idea that continuing to work in the gallery environment WILL help their art careers. Certainly this is not the norm but it happens.

These people, meaning art critics, can only throw their opinions out there, like everyone else.

4/03/2008 08:21:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

These people, the people who misspell prerogative, should be shot.

4/03/2008 08:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


i can vouch that at bigger galleries, gallerina/os have SO MUCH to do that their heads are spinning. you have no idea how much stuff gets piled on their plates, and it's not all easy little admin tasks. it is a really hard job and, at least at the gallery where i worked, they get fired really fast for screwing up (so did everyone). so... not only is there a lot of work but also a lot of pressure. no kidding.

4/03/2008 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Cap asks, "What is it that keeps the gallery desk person so busy all day?"

The closer you are to the gallery process, the better you understand what it is that gallerineaux do all day: correspondence, inventory,invoicing, handling the requests and needs of the artists on their roster, screening artists' packages, answering the phone, and being the gatekeepeer.

Ed also noted that in a small gallery, the front-desk duties are often shared by dealer and gallerina/o alike--and by extension, some of the larger responsibilities, such as dealing with collectors, other dealers.

Think about everything you as an artist do all day. It's often hard to quantify, but at the end of the day you've put in a full day's work.

4/03/2008 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually know one of the young women discussed in the article, and the only way she can afford to work there and live in NYC is the financial support of her parents.

I mention this because if a grown, well-educated, intelligent and attractive 30-year-old woman is still getting her bills paid by her parents, I can see why she might be a bit frosty - either she is ashamed and embarrassed or she thinks her shit doesn't stink.

4/03/2008 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric, how is it that you don't have to read a catalog in the gallery, but you have time to participate so fully in this discussion, making arguments that mostly illustrate the point of the person above who said that you take things a bit too personally? You are so defensive that you take any minor disagreement with your point of view as an attack on your very personhood. I thought you were done for the day quite a while back?

4/03/2008 03:26:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

As per Ed's request I will leave unsaid what I would like to say to you anon. You are invisible right now and I am very visible. I don't argue with people who refuse to say who they are. If you really think that your ideas and arguments are so valid and wonderful then let us all know who you are and then we can properly judge your point of view. Have a nice day.

4/03/2008 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

As an willing participant in several artist-run spaces, that involved much the same administration as a commercial gallery, I have put in desk-time sitting shows, and dealt with the various paperwork and filing (before and with computers). But I never found that took more than a couple of hours. Admittedly these were modest enterprises, with nothing like the publicity or foot traffic of Chelsea, and there were from time to time, difficult visitors, but I still had plenty of time to attend to any requests, and never felt threatened by common courtesy or sincere curiosity in an exhibition.

4/03/2008 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not the same thing, trust me. i worked at galleries in chelsea for years and didn't even have time to go to the bathroom. maybe that's why the gallerinas don't let the public use them, either.

you know what else? people can be really rude when you tell them they can't use the private staff restroom. it's annoying. everyone else has to learn where the public restrooms are, so there's no reason why some people should expect special treatment. most stores in nyc don't allow you to use the restroom, so why should a gallery?

furthermore, i'm sick of people thinking working at galleries is easy - i've worked tons of jobs: design industry, teaching on the college level, etc - and working at a gallery in chelsea was the absolute toughest and least rewarding.

4/03/2008 05:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps if they weren't so off putting more than one half of one in a hundred people who enter the gallery might buy something. Maybe not. But I still think a phony smile and fake pleasant demeanor would be much more likely to garner sales than the sincere bitchiness which seems to posses so many of the gallerinas.

4/03/2008 05:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mary Boone was a gallerina for Klaus Kertess. Andrea Rosen was a gallerina for Daniel Newburg. Gagosian and Deitch have graduated scores of gallerinas, male and female. Many of the proprietors of new spaces in the LES/NoHo/Nolita arcome from a gallerista background.

The art world is structured like a guild, and the best way to enter is to apprentice as a gallerina. When you work for a dealer, you not only learn the biz, you also learn the 'tude. Part of the 'tude is certainly snobbery. Another is pretense. Let's face it: dealing art is not as difficult as digging ditches, and gallerinas are never so busy that they cannot be more accommodating to the benign wishes of the general public. But they are aloof and contemptuous precisely because this is the valuable they are in the process of learning from their bosses, the people they are being groomed to join in what can be a vicious, backbiting, elitist business.

So do not resent the gallerina who treats you like shit. Accept it as part of their educational process.

4/03/2008 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

There once was a school called Horace Mann,
Sold its integrity to The Man;
The teachers got screwed,
By students most rude;
Thus, the asylum by inmates is ran.


By Man_From_Nantucket on 03/31/2008 at 3:03pm

4/03/2008 11:22:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Hey zip I interviewed for a librarian position at Horace Mann. I didn't get the job. I felt like the janitor when I was on the premises for the interview. Read the book "Academy X" written by an ex-English teacher at Horace Mann, who got fired soon after the book came out. It tells it like it is. Funny book.

4/04/2008 08:46:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

4/03/2008 10:36:00 PM

My comments were geared towards the majority of gallerina(o)s who get chewed up and spit out by the system. Obviously there will always be exceptions, like the ones you mentioned, but they are statistical aberrations. The medieval guild system, which your comment refers to, worked very differently, because once you went from apprentice to journeyman, you actually had tangible craft skills that could be used to generate commerce. Also, masters treated their apprentices like they were their own children.

4/04/2008 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Why do so many people find going into an art gallery an intimidating experience?

I think for good reasons, because often galleries do present a very cold, distant, forbidding kind of front.


I don’t know whether they do it because that’s the attitude of the gallerists but when I first started going around the galleries I was aware of it, and sensitive to this. In fact, we’ve always tried to have someone right upfront at the reception desk, someone smiling, someone who says hello.

That’s the problem. They never say hello.

… well, I find it off-putting too. Especially in a situation where you walk in and you can’t see a human being. In fact the art that they’re showing was made by individuals. It’s all about that specific human talent. And therefore it really is completed, the kind of emotional, psychological exchange, if you will, by a person interacting with that work of art. Presumably it is intimate. It ought to arouse all of the senses … so not to have a person there, to make it more machine-like or clinical, does seem antithetical to the existence of the institution itself.

Do you think most dealers care? I mean what do they care about the public?

Probably not. I’ve never kind of discussed this issue or aspect with other dealers.

Have you ever had just somebody walking in off the street and spending three million dollars on a painting?

Um, I don’t think so.


i mean not that its all that. Just saying you know, I guess this conversation is as old as the hills, and the hills have eyes, and also, teeth.

4/05/2008 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh pity the poor gallerina, who is "chewed up" by the system, and once her bloom has faded or been crushed out by the awful time she has behind the desk, is turned out on the street to fend for herself, selling the only commodity left to all women, what she carries between her legs.

Balderdash. Hogwash.

Gallerinas generally come from very well-to-do backgrounds, and their temporary employment behind the desk of galleries is seen as a temporary moment, a necessary apprenticeship as they learn the ropes and climb up the art world ladder.

As to the "medieval guild system" working very differently, "because once you went from apprentice to journeyman, you actually had tangible craft skills that could be used to generate commerce". WRONG!! What do you think gallerinas are doing with their time? Just fending off the advances of random would-be pissers? Defending the integrity of the staff bathroom from a bladder engorged public? Hardly. They are there to learn, to meet the clients (and possibly form their own relationships), to meet the artists, but also to learn how to snob and snub, to ignore those who can safely be ignored while toadying up to money and influence. They are learning exactly those arcane skills possessed by their boss, the gallery owner. They are also privy to mailing lists etc. which might come in handy should they go off and start their own biz.

So ixnay to the girl of the streets scenario. Gallerinas do not snub the public out of overwork or spite. They treat the walk-in schmuck poorly because they saw their boss do the same, and try emulate their boss. It is just another part of their training made manifest.

4/06/2008 09:18:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Wow anon your language is so similiar to that of another blogger I had a run in with not so long ago. But I guess you believe in your opinions so strongly that you will remain cowering behind your anon status. Fine.

(And by the way, the whole gallerina as sad streetwalker thing, comes from your mind and your mind only. You can extrapolate all you want, but just remember it all originates with you.)

The problem I have with your point of view, and why I completely discount it, is because I have many real world examples that contradict it. I know many middle class people who worked as gallerinas and they hated it and thought the gallery owners were shithead lechers.

Your whole tirade about the medieval guild system is missing one key ingredient, historical facts, truths, you know, stuff like that. I have read a fair amount of medieval history and that is what I am basing my opinions on.

If you think data entry and answering phones calls are unique to gallerina work you are really clueless. These generic clerical skills, which are widely available in almost every office situation in the world, are better compensated for in many other fields of employment. So again, my point holds. Stay away from gallerina(o) jobs if you can because the pay sucks and there usually is, for most people that is, no carrot on the end of the stick.

They would be better off working in a number of different areas. Yes you mention the old carrot again, that somehow getting shitty pay and treated like shit will mean they will be able to move up the art world ladder, but THAT ISN't TRUE. Most of them quit in disgust or get fired.

It is funny but sad that it is so difficult for you to accept the fact that people are horribly used in the art world, just like any where else.

I could go on about the whole art school racket but I think we have gone there already, no?

4/06/2008 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Linda Paul said...

As a successful artist who used to sell work in galleries, but abandoned the attitude of gallerinas and ridiculous commissions for the immensity and success of the web, I applaude you for opening a discussion on soul stealing art galleries. I think it should be less about bathrooms and more about how galleries are really just consignment shops and their staff consignment shop store clerks.

4/06/2008 12:05:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Excellent point linda paul. Going back to a previous comment thread, I think art students, rather than being shown how to prepare their slides or portfolios for the gallery system, should be taught how to control the means of production. The Internet makes this possible.

Going back to the mysterious anon's comments:

I think comparing the medieval guild system and working as a 'gallerina' is wrong. It is apples and oranges. This is true if you treat the medieval guild system as an historical fact rather than a loosey-goosey rhetorical device.

Maybe working as an artist's assistant is closer in spirit to joining a medieval craft guild, but more often than not this kind of work leads to more of the same, working as an artist's assistant for many years, until it is abandoned and something completely different is sought out. Of course there are EXCEPTIONS!

4/06/2008 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I applaude you for opening a discussion on soul stealing art galleries.

The point about taking charge of your career is true (I advise it repeatedly), but the tone and knowledge about the gallery system revealed in this comment are anything but "excellent" Eric.

To be quite blunt about it, artists exhibiting this level of ignorance about the business make me cringe. Linda, before you come on the blog of a gallerist and insult his business you might want to first educate yourself.

Do you realize, for example, that at your price point, most Chelsea galleries would need to sell over 21 of your most expensive paintings to even break even with the costs of mounting a solo exhibition of your work? That's before they see any profit for their efforts.

Average Chelsea gallery expenses for one person 5-6 week exhibition is $40,000 (of course that's skewed upward by the cathedrals galleries, but those are also the ones most likely to have the icy gallerinas you say worked to drive you out of the gallery system, so it's a fair mid-point to make an assessment). At $3700.00 a pop, your website's stated high range for your paintings, then, the gallery, taking only 50% of that would need to sell 21 of your most expensive paintings (that's if you have 21 at that price point available) to recoup the money they spent on your exhibition.

You're right that the commission is "ridiculous." Selling only 1 painting can take weeks of work. Do the math for 21. Why should they have to work that hard before they see any profit?

4/06/2008 01:18:00 PM  
Anonymous George said...

hey eric, FYI, the anons aren't me

4/06/2008 02:05:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Yes the price of real estate is expensive. That is why the Internet has completely transformed the music and book industries. No one asks anyone to go into business to lose money. The idea I took away from linda paul's points, and this goes for writers and musicians as well, is that most of you will be rejected by the systems that are in place. They are very exclusive and as Ed points out, they must be this way in order to survive and thrive.

So if groups of or individual artists can't figure out a way to make a living and profit off of their art without depending on intermediaries, then they should train for different careers early on, and get busy paying off their student debt. Gallerina positions pay too little to really help out with this process.

Also, my points about gallerina(o)s was based on the fact that I have known many people who have done this sort of thing because they wanted to be artists, not because they wanted life long careers in a gallery.

Ed I apologize if I insulted you in any way. The same goes with you anon (or anons).

Time to do something constructive on this rare mild and sunny Sunday in upstate New York.

4/06/2008 02:09:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I know it wasn't you George. I was thinking it was a certain blogger who likes to use archaisms when they curse. I could be wrong though.

4/06/2008 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You didn't insult me Eric. Linda did, but you didn't. I simply wanted to counter your statement, which, through its not correcting Linda's other statments, suggested that the only take-away kernel from Linda's comment was that artists should forge their own markets (I'm on record as saying exactly that again and again) rather than correct her assertion that the commissions are "ridiculous" (they are not) which I think is equally important information for artists to understand.

4/06/2008 03:06:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Ed the information you provide on your blog about running a Chelsea gallery, how much it costs, what specific tasks are necessary to run things smoothly, is invaluable, and every would be artist out there who reads your blog should take note. Concrete information based on real world experiences is a good thing.

4/06/2008 03:23:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

I haven't read this whole (de?)volution, but it seems like the topic has become more about gatekeeping than the people who work at the front desk.

Artists tend to hate gatekeepers, and tend to want everything to be very open and free. That's how I feel in my heart of hearts, and that's why I am not a particularly good businessperson.

But gallerists are engaged in a totally different enterprise. They are taking the flotsam that clutters our studios and turning it into a commodity. This is a massive branding project, because even the best art looks like flotsam in the wrong context, and because art has very little monetary value until gallerists create it.

Creating that value means creating valued context: putting this valueless work with work that does have value (the group show everybody starts with); in the right neighborhood; making sure the right people buy it...

...the inevitable byproduct is an aura of inaccessibility.

Artists think this is stupid because artists find inherent value in art. But frankly, I also find inherent value in eating and paying my mortgage and having time to work in my studio and having an audience. So if someone else wants to play this Branding Game with my work then I am willing to get practical about it.

4/06/2008 05:15:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

Oh. And about the people who sit at the front desk, I talk to them all the time. I don't see a problem. Most of the people I chat with are nicer than I would be in a similar situation.

As a critic, I find it's most helpful to call the gallery and ask for a press packet. Most galleries will email you everything you could ever want, including better pictures than you could take, and be super nice about it. Why shouldn't they be? Critics help them create value.

4/06/2008 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Fear not. We all realize you have read widely in medieval history, and possibly in every other subject that might be brought up on this blog. We, the anonymous, will be sorely challenged to find a subject on which you are not both an aggressive and easily aggrieved disputant.

We try so hard to meet your exacting standards for properly documentation, but always seem to fall short in your estimation. We are ahistoric, amoral. We shall try to do better in the future. Will you please forgive our laxity?

BTW -- hint!! -- you should know that every anonymous poster here is in fact THE VERY SAME PERSON, dedicated to driving you up the wall. I felt you should finally be informed.

Have you considered starting your own blog.. On your own blog you control the parameters. You could forever ban anyone who did not use their real name.



4/06/2008 06:31:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Mock me all you want anon. This is Ed's blog and if he wants to leave your personal attack online for posterity that is his decision. It will be the perfect cherry to place on top of yet another productive blogosphere discourse.

4/06/2008 06:54:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I tried to make the points I wanted to make to the best of my abilities anon. Take it or leave it.

4/06/2008 07:29:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

What is the point anon? To make me look stupid and small? You don't have to worry about that because there is no 'I' when it comes to anonymous comments.

4/06/2008 08:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Once a Gallerina said...

It's amazing to read these comments from people who never were in that position. I once worked as a front-desk person at a fairly well-known Chelsea gallery. I did not have trust funds, etc...and I needed that money. I quickly figured out that it wasn't for me. But I learned a lot about the less-gossiped about aspects of the art business.

The most amazing thing to observe is how truly rude visitors can be and how megalomaniacal so many people are. The gallery management was temperamental and contrary to overall perception, reception is where you sit, but the actual job has very little to do with it. I was also not allowed to leave the gallery for lunch, ever. I am not kidding, at least three times I day there would be a person **demanding** a solo show, a meeting with the director, a teenager asking why he couldn't just "get one of these exhibitions" you do, a request to drop off "portfolios"...people would get very angry, really. At a certain point, you are able to spot the people who are coming in with these kinds of requests. A lot of gallery visitors are not as informed about the gallery system as one would think. Others have transparent agendas.

All of the above would be especially angry that a "little" person would get in the way for their dreams of grandeur. I would always alert the staff if the big collectors were in, curators, museum directors, etc...**that** is the audience the galleries cultivate in order to make sure the artist's work can be seen for the long term.
As for Eric's request for catalogues, are you kidding? Galleries are not going to give away catalogues, only if the press person is writing articles on their artists. That makes sense, don't you think? Galleries work to show and contextualize artists part of it means spending their energy and resources in a focused manner. If every visitor got the attention they wanted, there would be very little accomplished at the end of the day.

People seem to think that galleries are awash with endless amounts of money...that's not necessarily the case. There is really high overhead.

4/09/2008 10:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

OK, so THAT deserves to be its own post.

4/10/2008 08:09:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

"I quickly figured out that it wasn't for me."

Smart thinking.

4/10/2008 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the G-rinai are much more tolerant than I would be in their situation. The people I note lingering around gallery desks, bothering the people behind them, all seem fairly transparent in their passive-aggressive need for conversation. There is one man in particular I see almost every Saturday who seems to make a point to stop and pontificate at every reception desk along his Chelsea crawl. The poor desk staffers that have to sit and listen to him have my sympathy. And he is no anolmaly.

In my 15 years of gallery crawls, I haven't been mistreated by anyone on the frontline. Remember, you get back what you give out. Some people think the world is against them, others go with the flow. The people who complain about frostness are probably the people who expected it to begin with.

4/11/2008 12:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do think the fact that bathrooms are hard to find in Chelsea a major urban development problem.
The galleries are just far from anything apart 2 or 3 restaurants. I hope the building of a new train station will be implemented by vast restrooms. For the moment I think that an artist offering an usable urinal somewhere in a Chelsea gallery would be a great piece of art (I can settle it for you).

I rarely have fights with gallerinas. They are usually nice with me, and some recognize me. They are doing a job I wouldn't dream of doing. The two times I had problems was, first at Cheim And Read, but I blasted so loud that I never saw the person working there again, and saw some change in how the galleries managed some of the issues I had brought up back then (I had just bought the catalog from the show, and it didn't feature the checklist, and the gallerina had refused to make me a photocopy. I thought that was pretty bad. Since then I have seen them at least on their website if not at the gallery). The other time was actually a higher standing person who refused me to see a show a couple hours before its opening because I have to leave away from New York. Eventually, an even higher person from the gallery let me entered on the sole premiss that they recognized my face.

But generally, I don't bother galerinas, except to buy a catalog or ask them if the checklist is available online. I will admit that I'm embarassed when a checklist is not available online, and am very happy when the receptionist have copies on the desk. But sometimes what I do is just photograph it. Titles are THAT important to me.

Otherwise I find it better to ask questions by email. There is a press person whose role is to answer you. I somehow always expect receptionists to not know what I want to know, because that is not their role, they're not the press people.

I am sorry Eric but I have a feeling you're a little prima donna on the side as far as being a journalist. You can get most info on the web, you don't need that expensive lazer colored copy
in flesh: ask for an email version and photocopy it yourself. Or do like me: buy a catalog of a show you like. You're treated like a king when you do that.

Cedric C

5/15/2008 07:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to resurrect this post from the dead, but I wanted to add my two cents.

I am currently a gallerina. I took this position in an effort to climb the ladder (eventually), and yes, I need every penny they fling at me.

I was hired because I am cordial, and also because it was clear I wasn't a pushover. I smile and greet all gallery visitors. I answer questions fully and politely, but when visitors start to i) monopolize my time when other guests also need attention, especially if it's something I've made clear I can't help them with or ii) just complain and berate, I try to cut the conversation short in the most polite way possible.

As for what I'm doing, I'm frantically typing internal and external emails, running through the phone lines, one after another, asking that each caller kindly hold while I finish with you... I am the frontline. I am literally the voice of the company, via email and phone. I am editing our publications, invoicing, scheduling appointments, sweeping, wiping down, hand-holding, and "taking it" from whomever decides to make contact with me, the "lowly receptionist," and I mean that for clients and other employees. The front desk is a lonely (but quite frenetic) island.

My question most days is why, no matter how polite and helpful I am, do people feel the need to be so rude to me? They either think talking to me (or purchasing a catalogue) is beneath them, or they're just really embarrassed and defensive from the get-go, even before any words have been exchanged.


8/07/2012 11:20:00 PM  

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