A Real Life Gallery Girl Speaks

These are the girls that make up Gallery Girls.

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 when I wake up one fine morning and have breakfast at Gagosian

“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 .

Once you’re through the door, it’s up to you, your experience, your eye and your bravado to make something of yourself.

Some Call it Art. Some Call it Just Another Day at the Office. I call it Training for the Amazing Race.

Without fail, every season on the Amazing Race, there’s a challenge in which teams have to carry heavy, awkward things over long distances. I’ve always wanted to be on the Amazing Race and so I watch each episode with half a mind focused on how to prepare for when it’s my turn. But carrying heavy awkward thing over long distances is not the kind of thing you can easily train for.

Living as an art handler is like training to be an elite athlete.

Unless of course you’re an art handler.

Standing in the storage area of my gallery Tuesday morning were two 6-foot canvases. They were awaiting transport to an off-site location where my team was installing an affiliated exhibition. Given that I have a compact SUV with moving blankets in the back, I was the designated transport.

“Are you going to bring your car around?” my assistant asked.

My car was parked half a mile away. Down a hill.

“No. I’ll just carry them to the car.”

I ignored her doubtful/cautionary expression as she handed me the white gloves.

Curating and art handling develop good forearms. Thanks in large part to a power drill.

I had only walked five feet from the gallery when a gust of wind and a traffic light made me realize that this might have been one of those lapse of judgement moments. The canvas under each arm had transformed me into an urban sailboat, with only forearms for rudders. My floaty skirt that was keen to pull a Marilyn Monroe over the subway at any moment had to be ignored.

The old man who sits with his walker on the street corner and calls me “Cupcake” was, thankfully, enjoying the early bird special at the Legion.

With each block the canvases grew heavier. The wind, wilder. And all I could think is: Why, oh why did I insist on the extra set of bicep curls!?! The half mile to my car was the longest half mile of my life.

waiting for my life line.

People paused to gawk. Others dove out of my way. A few got bashed with the frames of the canvases’ stretcher. A beautiful man in a Mercedes convertible pulled over to ask if I needed a ride. He was wearing a Rolex… and a wedding band. I artfully (haha!) declined.

When I finally arrived at my car, I folded the seats down. Laid out the moving blankets. And proceed to attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Neither canvas fit.

I sat down on the parking lot asphalt. My arms were shaking — there was no way I was carrying these back to the gallery.

Eventually, thanks to a “phone a friend” lifeline, I found a solution. The paintings did not have to be abandoned in the parking lot — a threat I had thrown at them as they leaned against the side of my car, mocking me.

When I arrived at the satellite site, I expected to find a world map welcome mat and Phil Keoghan waiting for me. Instead, it was just a series of white walls and another Road Block — a very large picture puzzle.

I expected to find Phil and the map waiting for me at the off-site location. Instead, it was just another Road Block.

Odds that the Next Guy I date Will…

Have a tattooed sleeve: 1 in 2

David, did you borrow my lace top again? Oh wait, those are your tats!

From the chef with the butcher’s map of a pig tattooed from this wrist to elbow to the Frye Boots specialist with the Man Ray photograph etched into his left forearm, it seems every man I share a drink or afternoon with is a painted gentleman.

According to a survey published by the Pew Research Center in 2008, 4 in 10 Millennials (the young adults of the early 2000’s) sport tattoos. Within this group, more men have tattoos than women.

Sometimes, I find the tattooed sleeve disarming — what’s he doing wearing my Zara lace top? But on the whole, I don’t mind it. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve always found a lil ink to be very sexy.

Live with his mother: 1 in 4

The most recent census revealed that nearly 6 million Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 lived at their parents’ homes last year. I was one of them. But on the whole, young men are nearly twice as likely as women to live with their parents. Of the last 5 guys I’ve met in this age group, 3 have lived with their parents.

These days, if he lives with his mother, it's not a strike against... it all depends on when he decides to tell you

Statistics and personal experience show, if I’m dating in my age group, a romantic night in, cooking dinner for him at his place, might entail cooking dinner for his mother (and father? and sister?).

So, in 2011, is it a strike against if a guy lives with his parents? I guess it all depends on a number of factors. But in this day and age, if all other signs of adulthood are neatly intact, it’s hard to call him anything but sensible.

Have traveled outside the US: 1 in 3

For the 2008/9 academic year, 260,327 students studied abroad, according to the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. With NYU as the leading sending school in the US, this means odds are pretty good that a Manhattanite has traveled and even spent a significant time outside his homeland.

Only 30% of Americans have a passport, but odds that my next date will have traveled abroad are still pretty good.

But what about non-NYC educated folks? Or what about the possibility of meeting someone who’s seen the world without the help of academic programs? The numbers suggest my next date will have at least a willingness to journey in a foreign land.

Of the 308 million-plus citizens in the United States, 30% have passports. Owning a passport, of course, doesn’t guarantee that it’s been put to use. CNN posted some interesting stats: There were 61.5 million trips outside the United States in 2009 and about 50% of those trips were to either Mexico or Canada.

And yes, Canada is a foreign country, eh.

Have a graduate degree: 1 in 9

On eharmony, you can limit your dating pool according to education. If it’s a priority that your mate have at least as many degrees as you, then check a box, and the logarithm will take care of the rest.

As of 2003, approximately 25% of all Americans could boast a bachelor’s degree or higher. In a region like the North East, odds of landing a date who’s graduated from college is probably closer to 1 in 2. But a graduate degree? Well that gets tougher.

Only 9% of Americans have a masters degree, but New York is not America.

Only 9% of Americans can say they have an MA or MS or MBA. But again, New York isn’t America. New York City has the most post-graduate life sciences degrees awarded annually in the United States while Columbia University alone currently has approximately 17,833 students enrolled in various graduate programs.

Looking at these regional statistics, along with the contemporary reality that an increasing number of people are turning to graduate school as an alternative to a sucky job market, it seems the odds of finding a guy with “at least my level of education” would be in my favor… eventually.

There's nothing classy about a Red Sox fan.

Be a Red Sox Fan: 0

The Red Sox nation has a surprisingly strong representation in New York. It’s uncomfortable, and I won’t deny, I have a terrible habit of falling for fans of my team’s arch-nemesis.

But the chances I’ll actually allow myself to date one? Not a shot in hell.

Who am I and How did I Get Here?

It was my father’s proudest moment — the morning I called to say I needed to take the tool belt and hammer to work.

The hammer and nails I've learned a gallerist can never leave home without

Forget my two university graduations. Forget that NCAAs when I made All-American. Forget the afternoon I got the phone call offering me the job at the gallery. Forget the day when I tell him I’m engaged. No, my father is proudest when I’m fixing things.

When I was 5, my favorite toys were wooden blocks (read: cut-up wood scraps from my father’s basement tool shop), a small black hammer, and nails. There was not a Barbie to be found. Instead, I built things. Tables. Chairs. Houses. They were rudimentary, but they kept me occupied and were sturdy enough to survive Armageddon.

Eventually, I went on to junior high school and wood shop where I put my hammering skills to use making spice racks and stylized end tables and rocket-powered race cars. I was teacher’s pet — when the local newspaper came to highlight our school’s “technology” program, I was the chosen spokesperson. The front page of the paper was filled with a photograph of me in a Calvin Klein sweatshirt holding up a 3D room model I designed and constructed from foamboard.

Then I discovered Bergdorf Goodman. I retired my hammer in exchange for Marc Jacobs blouses and Stuart Weitzman shoes.

It's just like the Talking Heads said, "you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"

Every once in a while, I find myself having an almost outer-body experience in which I’m staring down evaluating the person before me. I don’t recognize myself, and before I can ask, who is that, a flood of years past accumulate in front of my eyes — a rapid-fire timeline of  moments that lead me to that current instance and answer the question dangling in the air. Recently, it’s been happening often. I guess that’s the byproduct of finding myself in a new life phase.

This week’s exhibition installation — one where my childhood aptitude for driving nails into plywood proved particularly useful — inspired one of those outer-body experiences, an unexpected fit of nostalgia. Sometimes, I look at myself and say, gee, look how far I’ve come! Today, as I stood on the step ladder, employing the same hammer that was my favorite play thing as a kid, I was relieved that some things haven’t changed.

I guess I was also grateful my father thought it prudent to teach a 5-year old girl basic carpentry skills.

The True Confessions of a Young Gallerist

The front page of this weekend’s NY Time’s Sunday Styles featured an article called “The Young Gallerists.” The piece by Laura M. Holson highlighted a handful of young, ambitious go-getters who are making waves in the contemporary art world as they run their own galleries and curate shows of marked significance.

Clearly, I was out of town when she called.

Behind every gallery opening is a mess a young gallery director needs to clean up

Ms. Holson’s article points to the economic uncertainty of ventures in the art world, but focuses on the glamor of exhibition openings. Behind the glamor is a gritty story of a gallery director, a drill, and a large bottle of advil.

“ADAM! HELP!” I screamed as the 8 foot ladder under my feet began to tip.

Before my assistant could swoop to my rescue, I made a Lara Croft style dive for the lighting track, letting the freed can and blub crash to the ground.

I was in the midst of installing my gallery’s fall exhibition – a show of large-scale contemporary sculptures – and my near death experience while adjusting the gallery lights was just another almost catastrophe in a week ripe with artwork-induced calamities.

Before my assistant could rescue me, I made a Lara Croft-style dive for the lighting track. I sense a new cult video game: The Young Gallerists

In the wee hours of the previous night, I offered to serve as the human vice for an artist while she sawed the head off a bolt. The saw only slipped twice, and unfazed, I watched the corner of my recently manicured index-fingernail shoot off. Luckily, the artist stopped before we had a chance to see if my new health insurance covered partial amputations.

“How thick is the plywood behind the plaster?” another artist asked as we tapped on one of the gallery walls, trying to decide if there was enough internal support for his work.

I shrugged and hoped for the best.

I inherited the gallery walls... I found out some of them were concrete the hard way.

After all, I inherited my gallery walls, I didn’t build them. I have no idea what they’re made of. As far as I was concerned, there was only one to find out: Drill, baby, drill.

When the anchor for his florescent resin tree branch began to tear a stripe through the plaster, we figured the plywood wasn’t the ¾” thick we had hoped for.

I pulled out the patching putty and we resumed tapping.

“Do you have a stud-finder?”

“I assume you don’t mean my Friday-night wingwoman?”

Apparently, a stud-finder is a small contraption that you run over a wall to find an upright post in the framework of a wall.

The exhibition will open. The wine will pour. The charm will ooze. And then... the gallerist collapses.

I count the number of causalities amassed during the installation – my fingernail, my olive-toned crepe silk pants, half an artwork, one intern – and consider what still needs to be done. Wall labels need to be mounted. Price-lists need to be finalized. Exhibition brochures need to be picked up from the printer. Wine needs to be purchased.

There are only 2 days left till the opening. The clock is ticking.

On opening night, I’ll be made-up and bedazzled in vintage couture. The wine will pour. The charm will ooze. And then, like I’ve done every day since the loan agreements came in, I’ll collapse into bed, hoping my eyeliner will still look fresh when I go back into work the next morning to start all over again.

You Know You’ve Entered a New Life Phase When…

All you want for Christmas is a biodegradable, made from post-consumer materials yoga mat.

The manager at Home Depot offers you a job because you know more about their hardwood-flooring stock than their hardwood-flooring specialist.

You no longer have to put stickers over your predecessor's old biz cards

You have interns reporting to you.

Receiving your box of new business cards is the best thing that’s happened to you all week.

You can say to a teenager “when I was your age…” in a non-ironic way.

You no longer consider flip-flops to be appropriate outdoor footwear.

You realize it’s not necessary to take 1,000 photos of you and your friends every time you go out for drinks.

At 7:00, you’re still at work, with no foreseeable exit time. You send a text message home that says: “Have. Gin. Ready.”

The suburbs suddenly seem appealing.

Your afterwork martini is the only thing that gets you from Monday to Friday

You buy yourself flowers.

There’s at least one photo out there that can prevent you from having a viable career in politics… but may help launch your career as a page-6 socialite…

People start asking you if you have children.

People start giving you things to take home for the children you don’t have.

Small children start mistaking you for their mothers.

Instead of asking you “when was your last period” and “do you have a rich boyfriend yet,” your doctor slips a handful of condoms into your purse.