Don't Hassle the Gallerinas
Don't hassle the GallerinasJan 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.
The truth is they don't disdain you
For what they suffer
Ensconced in Prada
Borders on nada
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:
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.
[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?
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:
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?
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.”
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.