When it comes to gallery assistants, the figure of speech might be revised to read, “Jack of all trades, master of most anything thrown my way.” These entry-level gallery workers are often scholars -- many with bachelor’s and advanced degrees -- seeking to carve out a niche and move up in the professional art world.
Ready for Anything
Being a gallery assistant takes a lot of guts -- but don’t expect much glory. Writing for “Frieze Magazine,” which covers contemporary art and culture, critic Jennifer Allen describes gallery assistants as the unsung heroes of the art world. Assistants work closely with gallery managers to coordinate shows, plan opening and special events, orchestrate the logistics of installation and keep day-to-day operations flowing smoothly. Assistants handle scheduling for higher-level managers, maintain databases of artists and clients, and step in to problem-solve any crises that arise. Some galleries look for specific creative or tech-savvy skill sets when hiring assistants. One gallery assistant told “Art Career News” that knowledge of photo-editing software helped her land a job in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City.
On the Front Lines
It’s time to get ready for your close-up. Whether they aim to or not, assistants become the unofficial face and voice of the gallery. They are the first and last person patrons see during a visit, so gallery assistants operate under formal or unofficial dress codes that dictate a professional appearance. Assistants also handle volumes of correspondence, including press releases, gallery mailings and phone calls from visitors inquiring about the hours of operation. As ambassadors of a gallery, assistants provide service to individuals ranging in importance from high-profile artists and big-spending collectors to curious passersby and random salespeople. In smaller galleries, assistants have the opportunity to be more hands-on with creative processes and business practices as they work alongside managers to curate exhibitions.
Museum Gallery Assistants
In large repositories of art, such as museums, assistants may be assigned to more generic tasks, including acting as de facto security guards and helping direct and inform visitors, according to the Museums Association. In a report for “The Guardian,” arts project manager Kenn Taylor quips that gallery assistants in traditional museums are hired to promote security -- and to help patrons find the restrooms. But Taylor also notes that the role is ever-evolving, particularly because exhibitions are becoming more interactive. Now, assistants are often the first staff to field questions from the public and will respond by helping viewers interpret and relate to a piece of art. Assistants also aid with general crowd control during museum exhibitions and events that increase traffic through the galleries.
Foot in the Door
A job opening for a gallery assistant sounds a lot like opportunity knocking to art lovers who want to launch professional careers in galleries or museums. Those who go on to become power players in the gallery world have to start somewhere. Many even come from humble beginnings -- as gallery or even front-desk assistants -- gallery management consultant Sheri Pasquarella told the “New York Times” in a 2008 report on the evolving role of gallery assistants.
- The New York Times: Gatekeepers to the Art World
- Frieze Magazine: Unsung Heroes
- Art Career News: A Day in the Life
- ArtMorpheus: Behind the Scenes: The Multifaceted Job of Being an Art Gallery Manager
- Museums Association: Case Studies
- The Guardian: In Praise of the Gallery Invigilator
- Victoria and Albert Museum: Staff Views of Working at the V&A
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