Broadsheet, The Blog

Two Lady Artists with Bees in Their Bonnets

19 June 2006

Gallerina For A Day

Chances are, there will come a time during the exciting roller-coaster ride that is your art career, that you will be asked to gallery sit. If you're in a group exhibition at a non-profit, this may be par for the course. And “so what?” you say. Gallery sitting is a job-job for many, many artists. But what if the request comes from the gallery that represents you? If they ask you to take a turn behind the desk, should you do it?

I for one, say yes. But ask these questions first:

(1) Most importantly – will you be paid?

(2) Do you actually have to do any work? If you’re not going to have time to read magazines, call your friends and troll the web, you need to know if, beyond grunting at people who enter and answering the phone, you will be asked to do any skilled labor. Then return to question (1) and ask “how much?”

(3) A touchy issue for some -- will you be sitting during your own, someone else’s or a group show? Are you in said group show? If you are, will you be filled with anxiety, jealousy, rage and/or insecurity facilitating a sale for another artist? Will you be uncomfortable talking to potential buyers of your work? Will you feel the need to assume a false identity and pretend you're not an artist who needs to pick up extra cash by gallery sitting? (I wouldn’t worry about this because with your youthful disposition and lack of information, everyone will assume you’re an intern!)

(4) Which leads us to the ultimate question - do you even have a job? If you don’t and the answer to (1) is yes, you'd better just do it and suck it up! Your gallery probably asked you to do this because they were sick of hearing you whine that even though they sold out your show, you're still broke. That, and watching you clap with glee at events where free food was involved.

I know, some of you are going to say it's exploitive, it compromises your position, your gallery will see you as a “worker” and not as a “serious artist,” and thus it is “bad for your career.” This may be true if the requests start to become a pattern. But if you’ll actually be responsible for doing some work, remember that information is power and it can’t hurt to know who calls, who stops by and what actually goes on behind the desk!

Pragmatically Yours,
That Broad


Blogger This Broad said...

I think you have to think really hard about whether it's a conflict of interest.

I respect the division of labor between Gallery and Artist, and I think in general that it works well for both parties. The gallery has to balance the varied interests of its artists and its program as a whole, and an individual artist should not be put in the position of acting on the gallery's behalf with the public.

That makes me sound like a total stickler, but I can't say I'd rule it out under all circumstances. I would be slightly uncomfortable though. It might undermine the relationship of the artist with a for-profit gallery.

Non-profit galleries, artist-run galleries, cooperative galleries, etc., are a different matter of course.

And then there's the bottom line that artists have to make money and it could be a really good gig!! Far be it from me to pluck money from the hands of artists....

1:03 PM  
Anonymous sucker said...

Wow. I'm an artist and I've never gotten a request like this. I couldn't even imagine what it would mean for my integrity to accept it. I think I would just need to get a free lunch or maybe a drink after work...

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never been asked to do this although I have been asked, and accepted, to help install the gallery's booth at art fairs. i didn't get paid but i did get to go to the private opening events and i felt it was in my best interests and i had a good time. a couple of hours of work invested and i got to meet a lot of people, including press and collectors. nothing wrong with that.

3:11 PM  
Blogger This Broad said...

Anonymous, I'm not sure why but I think it's a really different matter to help set up your gallery's booth for the art fair, especially if they're showing your work. Gallery-sitting seems more analagous to *working* the art fair.

Sucker, I can't tell if you're arguing for or against!

4:59 PM  
Anonymous sucker said...

Sorry. I guess I'm being a little flippant. I actually don't think I would have much of an ethical dilema with it, but I wouldn't want to feel taken advantage of. So if they made me feel good about it I'd probably do it. I guess I'm kinda of a nice guy (read: sucker) that way. I wouldn't worry about not being seen as serious or it being bad for my "career". I have enough other things in my life that do that.

This Broad, kudos for the brave comment on ed's blog. I got in there a little too. Looking forward to Indian next month...

5:21 PM  
Blogger This Broad said...

hey sucker, thanks!

at the risk of seeming a double-dunce, what's Indian??

2:37 PM  
Blogger That Broad said...

I would like to clarify, after reading the comments, that I don't think this is actually a usual request. In situations where galleries are "emerging" along with the artists, there are boundaries that get blurred in the effort to move both the gallery and the artist forward. But I think it can be a slippery slope and both parties have to be clear where to draw the line.

Likewise, artists should not get sucked into doing free labor for their galleries on a regular basis, even in exchange for "accesss." Neither should they routinely fill in behind the desk, for the above-mentioned reasons so eloquently stated by my fellow Broad.

Do I contradict myself? I like to think so.

10:06 PM  
Anonymous sebastian said...

hmmm, although i have suckerish behavior patterns in these type of situations, my first question to them would be 'would i have total creative freedom in performing my duties?.'

I mean, positing no great value on issues of integrity and career advancement, i'd take the gig anyday if they let me, for example, guide any willing visitor trough a tour of the exhibition, making up elaborate, and most often than not false, eloquent narratives about each piece and the artist that made them, then the next person that comes give them a completely different story, preferably in the presence of the person who i just gave the tour to, and so on.

and if that after that they say, 'yeah sure, come at 9 thursday,' then i would now for certain that this is a gallery i would like to be involved with. And if they said no, well, i would learn that i was probably wasting my time showing there anyway.

now, yo don't have to take my ridicuous approach (though i recommend it). Most importantly, you should have a clear idea of what it is that you want with this gallery, and how you wish to be taken by them.

Careerists: try it. Chances are, they'll give you a solo show after the stunt (though it must be honest and heartfelt, you should practice it with a focus group), and never, ever, ask you to gallery sit, which you will sorely regret, but so it goes.


10:15 PM  
Anonymous sucker said...

This: Whoops. I guess I slipped into double-vague. How's this for single vague: Indian is Indian in Jackson Heights!

1:12 AM  
Blogger That Broad said...

my first question to them would be 'would i have total creative freedom in performing my duties?.

Sebastian, I should have included that question as #5!

I like your approach, but it could put you in a position of being both "performance artist" and gallerina, allowing the gallery to exploit you on two fronts. "Is he in the show? Is helping out? Maybe we don't have to pay him..."

8:25 AM  
Blogger This Broad said...

hi sucker! you outed yourself, but I guess only to me.

yes, that sounds good!

2:13 PM  
Anonymous sucker said...

Hey, I don't mind if that broad knows too... I may try to hang on to this moniker for a bit.

5:54 PM  
Blogger That Broad said...

no secrets between us Broads... suckaaaaah!

6:43 PM  
Anonymous sebastian said...

hmmm, i see. call me a whore, but if they let do whatever i want, i'd do it for free. As for the title and function ambiguity, i prefer to be in that interstitial space rather than be a 'performace artist' or 'gallerina', and the last three questions, i'd let them figure out themselves, it's not my problem after all.

"exploited": maybe, i wouldn't argue against someone who called me a whore because of my stance, but i qualify it by adding that i am a picky whore, if that makes any sense.

That Broad, thanks for sending the print issues of Breadsheet!


6:49 PM  
Anonymous sucker said...

Now I'm scared!

10:37 PM  
Blogger That Broad said...

sebastian! I was wondering if that was you. welcome back to the metropolis. now, I know some will say it's a semantic distinction, but I do believe that if you don't get paid, that makes you a slut, not a whore. xox

10:52 PM  
Anonymous sebastian said...

Oh, how right you are. Well, i'm sure glad to be around the metropolis instead of following form a distance.

Let it be known, there's a slut available ! (although i'm not above whoring).


1:35 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

I think galleries should do everything possible to keep you in your studio making the work you want to make. If you don't have a job, then ok, maybe it would be helpful, we all like food, but otherwise its best not to know how the sausage is made too much.

12:01 AM  

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