Friday, April 01, 2011

All the Service You've Paid For

OK, so here I was all set to run with my new April Fool's Joke (it involved the "newly found" Egyptian Cobra, details on the international plot to hide the fact that the real one was killed by the overzealous 5-year-old of a famous Italian politician during a private tour, and the tell-tale physical differences between the original and the replacement cobra they quickly rushed over from Cairo to quell the controversy...), but I got distracted by this response to the latest Jerry Saltz "Ask an Art Critic" article.

The original question was:

Dear Jerry,

In a past column you wrote about the "bad dealer behavior" you experience as a recognizable critic. As an ordinary engaged observer, however, I often experience something very different at galleries: smugness. I'll ask for a piece of information and am dismissed with some uninformative answer. Occasionally, I’m asked if I’m a collector. It's not a big deal, since I'm there to look at the art, but it does leave a bad taste. Would you please ask those galleries to be a bit more welcoming to those who've made the trek to the windy west?

-- Plebeian

And Jerry's response to the letter:

Dear Plebeian,

[...] The people who work at those front desks are usually paid very little. Many have no insurance or benefits. Like you, they're poor, in it more for the love or desire than money. They may be on the "inside," but there's a spiritual cost to that: Dealers are ultra-demanding control types who expect impeccable work out of them. Moreover, they're on public view and subject to all manner of abuse. They're sneered and stared at, and are asked for restaurant recommendations, street directions, bathroom keys, suggestions of what else to see. They are pummeled with demands to know who bought this, how much it costs, what the artist thinks they're doing, and why the gallery would show such crap. They are bombarded with artists asking them to look at their slides. [...] They may be short with you, but they're not dissing you. They're probably as concerned about how they're perceived as you are.

Actually, with all due respect to Mr. Saltz, let me (finally) confess and get this off my chest. The truth of the matter is THEY ARE DISSING YOU. That's their job. Dealers, you see, make employees sign confidentiality agreements; so they'll never tell you this out of fear of being sued, but it's in the job description of nearly each front desk worker in Chelsea to be as dismissive and short as possible with anyone who enters a gallery who isn't an obvious collector. We actually spend several weeks when someone first starts at the gallery working with them on their haughty airs and bored eye rolls. The goal is to make you feel so inferior you eventually feel compelled to sign letters as "Plebeian" or something equally demeaning and self-pitying. Every time that happens, you see, each dealer in Hell gets a shiny new pitchfork. It's a pact we make upon opening a gallery.

But the thing that really pushed me to finally come clean about this is the response to Jerry's post by a commenter:

I remember loitering near the front desk at {Gallery X} some time ago (the {Artist Z} show was up) A woman was politely asking for a price sheet and the underfed art school chicky at the desk looked down at her (somehow, from below) and said "Oh no, the show sold out LONG before we opened the doors" in the most dismissive and undermining tone possible.

This left an impression stronger than the paintings.
Not everyone who wishes to work in a gallery wants to be this way toward the public, but they're trained to not forget it's the dealer's demand that they are. If I, for example, catch someone in our gallery being helpful or chatty with someone who isn't writing a check or not insidery enough for my team to recognize them on sight as important, I'll scream at them the moment the nonentity leaves the gallery and assign them some mindless, tedious task as a punishment. Making them re-label all the artwork in our storage area, even though there's nothing wrong with the current labels, is one of my favorite penalties for breaking this rule. Sending them on some trumped-up errand to the Upper East Side on a rainy day with just bus fare is my second fave.

So don't blame the person at the front desk of a gallery for not greeting you like the purser on a cruise ship; there is a engraved sign posted right beneath the ledge of the counter facing them that spells out in a large, Gothic font "Each Visitor is Entitled to All the Service They've Paid For and NOTHING More." Taped under that on a Post-It note is often usually "You can smile all you want in the storage area or on the uptown bus."

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

April Fools!!!!!!

-----ondine nyc

4/01/2011 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Mark G. Taber said...

Edward -

Have you read Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him? It's a romance novel told from the point of view of a gallery front desk employee. Guess who gets the girl!

4/01/2011 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Julie Sadler said...

Happy April Fools Day Ed!
This post was sarcastically delicious.
signed,
yet another plebe!!!

4/01/2011 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

I heard James Franco is opening his own gallery in Chelsea with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Julia Roberts as bondage-bound receptionists. The celebrity gallerist will show paintings by Richard Gere, Debra Winger and other actors and actresses.

4/01/2011 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Rumor is that there is a script in development to alter Julie Taymor's Spiderman play to include a super-villain who through a freak gallery accident caused by a clumsy receptionist who drops radioactive art materials and causes a tall, red-haired gallerist to obtain x-ray vision and fingers that turn whatever is touched into a glowing, luminous radioactive blobby substance. According to the story this super-villain goes on a rampage beginning in Chelsea, then the New Museum and onto Williamsburg and then onto Paris to touch the Mona Lisa. Spiderman is close on his tail (forgot to mention, he also grows a tail).

4/01/2011 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Well, they *say* that confession is good for the soul....

lol -- Happy April Fool's Day. : )

4/01/2011 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger words in a line said...

very funny.

4/01/2011 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

And here I was hoping you'd announce tht your next show would be by that abstract painter extraordinaire, Sylvester Stallone.

OK, don't yell. I'm bowing now and walking out backwards.

4/01/2011 04:34:00 PM  
Anonymous TLC said...

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

4/03/2011 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger Beth E. said...

Nice April Fool's, except for the fact that it sure reminded me of what always seemed to me like the über-attitudinal person posted at the entrance to the Mary Boone Gallery (starting from way back in the day down in SoHo). That one always seemed very intentionally placed/trained to me....

4/09/2011 10:34:00 AM  

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