Okay, so I confess that I have yet to tune into Bravo’s latest reality TV confection and second foray into the contemporary art world known as “Gallery Girls.”
“Why do I need to watch a reality show about the New York art world? I lived it! I still live it every day! I eat girls like that for breakfast!”
Unpaid internships. Trying to woo notable collectors in the hopes they’d make my name. Throwing about the word “post-modern” like I actually know what it means. Dipping my feet into the “to-be-seen” crowd at openings. Contemplating ripping a page from a book a fellow grad student needed for their thesis. Crying the night before an opening.
When it comes to the “ugly” of a girl trying to make her way in a cutthroat job market, where the supply of the over-privileged with an “in” and bitchy, inadequate backstabbers outweighs the demand for jobs, I’ve done it all.
Luckily, I survived that stage of unpaid internships, underpaid assistant gigs, and digging for threadbare connections unscathed and with my dignity intact.
“I want to still be me one fine morning when I wake up and have breakfast at Gagosian.”
Okay, so that’s not exactly the way Holly Golightly said it, but you get my drift.
I decided I wanted a career in the art world when I was a sophomore in college.
By the time I finished my masters, I had already been an unpaid museum intern, an unpaid gallery intern, a curatorial assistant at a marquee institution, and a paid gallery researcher.
While I was getting that degree, the bottom fell out of the economy. The bustling, booming art market screeched to halt. And the academic world lost interest in the unsung stories of women artists.
I took at unpaid internship at MoMA — an amazing opportunity that I never would have gotten without a graduate degree. Go figure.
What I learned en route to becoming a Gallery Director was that, just like any industry, getting a foot in the proverbial door is as much about chance as it is about skill set, bravado, and connections.
The job I wanted opened at MoMA four months after my internship ended. I sent in my resume to HR but followed up with an email to the curator I had worked for. I would learn months later that the email went into her SPAM folder.
“If I had known you were applying, I would have stepped in with HR,” she told me when we crossed paths at the museum.
Sometimes your resume goes missing.
Sometimes, you piss-off the wrong professor and get black-balled from admissions to the grad-school program of your dreams (what happened to me).
Sometimes the collector that family friends puts you in touch with gets you an interview at a great gallery (not what happened to me).
Sometimes that collector wants you to hand out napkins at their dinner party — but at least they’ll pay you $15/hour (what happened to me.)
Sometimes you land a paid internship that turns into a full-time job (not what happened to me).
Sometimes you land a paid internship — a $10/day lunch stipend in a neighborhood where the average lunch price is $15 and there is no public transport node near the gallery because it’s practically on the West Side Highway (what happened to me).
Sometimes you read an article about a person in a magazine and think, hey I want to work for her. And then you become an unpaid intern in her company, but never meet her until 3 years later when she’s interviewing you for a job. She lets you in. (what happened to me.)
The door’s open. All that’s left is you and your experience, your eye, and your bravado to make something of yourself .