I’m so happy that we, as a culture, have finally evolved to a point where people are treated fairly in all careers; we are beyond the point where people are abused within their professions by doing absurd tasks for little pay. We have discovered that a happy employee is a good employee – it’s common knowledge that a manager should treat his staff as he wishes to be treated. Isn’t it nice that unions defend our right to be paid? That slavery no longer exists? That I can confidently walk into a job and feel safe that there won’t be an abuse of power? Oh how I love the beautiful democratic nature of employment!
Well, unfortunately for those with the dreaded title of “intern,” indentured servitude is a reality and bosses still treat them like characters in an Upton Sinclair novel. In the gallery world, the internship is prevalent and wildly abused by most tyrannical bosses. As you will learn in this passage, a gallery girl isn’t just the assistant behind the desk – it’s also the 22-year-old beauty slaving away behind closed doors!
The Curious Case Of One Gallery Girl
I was lucky. After graduating, I managed to walk right into a gallery job, bypassing the dreaded internship that is a right of passage for many art school graduates. For the majority of gallerinas and gallerinos, however, it’s a bitter reality that cannot be avoided. Most galleries have a small staff and not enough money to actually support gainful employment – so instead of overworking the few lucky who enjoy a salary, the devious directors will acquire helpless interns to do the dirty work. By dirty work, I mean scrubbing floors, hanging artwork, washing windows, and sitting during boring gallery hours.
I feel ya, girl. Artwork by Amalia Pica – read about it here. Photo: C. Phillips
During openings, we are forbidden to mingle and are marooned at the desk handing out beers. We aren’t taken to celebratory dinners or exciting art fairs. The intern is the servant behind closed doors who is teased by the promise of future employment. For an unlucky friend of mine, her internship continued despite the promise that it would one day award her a job.
Like most superiors, directors like to “test” their employees before they give them a raise. For the police, it’s solving a difficult crime before getting upgraded to detective. In restaurants, you aren’t head chef until you make the most difficult meal. In the art world, you don’t become a paid employee until you show you’re dedicated to the gallery. One of my friends – let’s call her Sarah – had interned at a prominent Berlin-based gallery for almost a year without any pay. Under the evil guise of the “internship,” she was worked to death in hopes that one day she would finally get paid. Finally, on a cold winter's day back in February, her boss called her into the office.
“Sarah, I have a question for you…” the gallery’s director asked as she sipped on her warm, Australian-crafted latte, “Can you drive a stick-shift?” Sarah, who was born and raised in southern England, was well-skilled in the trade of manual automobiles and was more than happy to confirm she could. “Super – well, I’m not sure how familiar you are with the German country, but would save a fortune if you borrowed my car, drove to Bavaria and dropped off a work at an artists’ studio. Do you think you could manage?” Not one to turn down a challenge, Sarah agreed.
I feel ya, girl. Artwork by Olivia Carye-Hallstein – read about it here. Photo: Chris Phillips
Early the next morning, as Berlin was still cloaked in the harsh darkness of the Siberian cold, Sarah stopped by the gallery to pick up the keys and artwork before hopping into the car. While she could work her way around a stick shift better than a race car driver, there was one problem: as an Englishwoman, she was accustomed to the manipulating the steering wheel from the right – not the left. Though this may seem like an easy transition, it would prove to be the first challenge on her long journey (today she feels that she may have done more harm to that car in trying to get it out of Berlin than in its ten year existence under the director’s ownership).
Finally on the autobahn, our tragic heroine Sarah was enjoying the freedom afforded by no speed limits and the car’s premiere sound system, blaring out the latest A$AP Rocky album. After a few hours, she noticed that the fuel light was on and pulled to the nearest gas station. Far from fluent in German, she patiently filled up the car herself before returning to the road. Half an hour later, she smelled a terrifying stench bellowing from the dash, and moments later a heavy cloud of smoke rushed from the car’s engine. Panicked, she pulled to the side of the road and called for help. Perhaps Sarah should have taken the time to master her German before going on her little road trip: she had filled the car with the same gasoline that is reserved for semi-trucks and had inadvertently melted away part of the gas tank.
Oops. Smells like someone's getting fired (and sued). Photo of Yujin Lee by C. Phillips.
Terrified she would be eliminated from the gallery’s roster, she caught a train from the nearby village and managed to complete her mission – despite having lost the car and spent a considerable amount of money on transportation. Finally, as she rode the train back to Berlin, she emailed her boss telling her the sad fate of the vehicle and the triumphant return of the painting.
As she entered the city the next morning, she raced towards the gallery in Schöneberg, nervously fearing that her boss would sue her for destroying the car. Out of breath and sweating profusely through her cortex jacket, she entered the gallery’s doors only to be greeted by the director. Before anything could be said, Sarah spilled her guts out: apologizing for the car, detailing the train ride, explaining her difficult adjustment with the stick-shift and more. The director only smiled and said:
“It’s no worries—it just shows you still have some things to learn before I can bring you up in the ranks.”
Sarah remains at the gallery to this day as the same unpaid intern she was back before her great adventure. She feels lost and sad; completely unaware of what her future may hold. She suspects that she wasn’t going to get a raise anyway – but she will never be certain. Despite the fact that there is no end in sight, she stays as an intern with the belief that any day now she will once again be beckoned into the director’s office for one more mission…
Article by Anonymous Gallery Girl
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Artparasites in July, 2013. D you or someone you know work in a gallery and have a confession to make (the funnier the better)? Let us know and we might publish your story!