11:51 am Aug. 14, 2012
"Gallery Girls," the new reality TV show on Bravo that premiered last night, has come under fire for not accurately portraying the New York City art world.
As Blake Gopnik of The Daily Beast wrote: “I’ve spent years living on planet art-world, and I couldn’t see any trace of it in a program that’s supposed to be set there.” Dan Duray of the Observer noted: “What the show understands best is hate, which gushes in all directions.”
After the first episode, it’s easy to see what they mean. The show stars seven twentysomething girls, most of whom work (or intern) at Manhattan galleries. None of these galleries is in Chelsea, the first indication that something’s awry. Amy, a red-wine-guzzling blonde, says things like: “You don’t understand, I’m blackout drunk right now.” Angela, an aspiring photographer and erotic model, wears pasties to cocktail parties and purrs at the camera: “I’m obsessed with men.” Maggie, whose parents support her, has been interning at the Eli Klein Gallery on West Broadway for three years, she says, and she will not take it anymore. Or she will, depending on whether Eli Klein, who may also be her ex-lover, lets her continue interning. Actual art—with its frustrating reluctance to get wasted and talk shit about people behind their back—is rarely seen or discussed. The show plays like an overt attempt to splice "The Real Housewives" with "Girls."
And it turns out that's a pretty entertaining combination. Judging from the crowd reactions at the Tribeca Grand’s screening room last night, "Gallery Girls" will probably succeed. It’s ridiculous but funny. The characters are divided into Brooklyn girls and Upper East Side girls, and they refuse to understand one another. At a party in a vague loft somewhere in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn gallery girls take “slap shots,” in which you take a shot and someone slaps you in the face. Perplexed, one of the Manhattan girls asks: “What is the appeal of slapping someone in the face after you take a shot?” She answers herself wryly: “It’s because they’re from Brooklyn.” The audience at the Tribeca Grand all laughed at this.
The show has been gathering steam for a few weeks now. During this time, an anonymous online presence started a Tumblr called Gallery Talk: Musings on the Real World of a "Gallery Girl." The blog features a conspicuous, status-confirming quote from polka-dot visionary Yayoi Kasuma (“I never thought if art made me happy or not, but I don’t have anything else. Art is everything to me.”) Her Twitter bio describes her as an “#Art Professional working at a NYC contemporary art gallery,” and she refers to the blog as partly an attempt to set the record straight about real gallery girls.
The sudden emergence of the blog caused Art Fag City to wonder whether Bravo hadn’t created it as a marketing ploy. But its proprietor quickly assured them that this was not the case. She is, she explained: "Just a "real" #gallerygirl blogging in response to the show + anonymously about my experience ;)"
To learn more, I reached out to the creator of Gallery Talk. Requests for a phone interview were politely rebuffed, so the following, slightly edited exchange took place over email.
Why did you start this blog?
As a former gallery intern/gallery assistant, I wanted to start a blog that would reflect my experience, one which I believe is very different than the one presented in "Gallery Girls" (at least from what I observed watching the first episode). I am currently employed by a prominent gallery in New York and in the last three years I've worked my way up from gallery intern to a great position that I enjoy very much, but I did so through a lot of hard work. I hope to be able to contribute my experiences navigating the art world as a twenty-something and provide a real experience for those interested in pursuing careers in the art world.
Do you find "Gallery Girls" an accurate depiction of the New York art world?
In the first episode, the only accurate part is the shot of Maggie stuffing envelopes and getting coffee. Gallery interns would never be invited to an artist dinner following an opening—not even the children of collectors. I didn't start developing close relationships with artists until late into my first year at the gallery when I gained everyone's trust. The first few years of a "gallery girl's" career are a lot of hard work. As a gallery assistant, I worked 60+ hours a week juggling a variety of tasks. I'm curious to see if they show these girls actually working.
What do you think of the negative press the show has gotten?
I loved the Daily Beast piece. I think its one of the best responses to the show so far. Blake Gopnik got it so right likening the experience of watching the show to a martian coming out of an alien invasion movie. The negative responses seem to be coming primarily from art publications, which makes sense and just further proves that the show is a misrepresentation of the art world. It’s very difficult to get a job in an art gallery, even an entry-level position. I can tell you that a job posting for a gallery assistant position typically yields about 500 applications. Gallery girls (or boys) starting out are over-qualified and often already hold graduate degrees (I worked as a gallery assistant for a year while writing my master's thesis). The show seems to be placing these women in very glamorous situations. I think in an episode to come they'll be at Art Basel. No intern or gallery assistant would go to Art Basel while starting out. I've never been to Art Basel!
Slate wrote that "gallery girls” typically have "less diminutive job descriptions” like “front-desk assistant or maybe even archivist"? Is that true?
I read the Slate piece and I definitely don't agree with Alison Gregory's description of "real gallery girls." The "front-desk person" or "gallery assistant" is an entry-level position, which carries a great deal of responsibility. I can't speak for all who have held the position but I can tell you that for the year that I was a gallery assistant, I was the first one in and the last one out. Answering phones, greeting visitors, sending mail, booking travel, etc. was just a part of the job. Gallery assistants often have the opportunity to assist in all areas of the gallery's operations, I would definitely not call their position "ornamental and occasionally degrading." Its certainly not a glamorous position but like any other entry level position, it's a foot in the door and like most industries, if you prove yourself to be a hard working employee, you'll be given more responsibility. I can't speak for all archivists either, but the ones I know are the reason that press requests get filled, artist catalogs get published, and sales people are able to share images with clients.
You write on your blog that you no longer dream of having your own gallery. Why not?
In college, when I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the art world, I dreamt of having my own commercial art gallery. After three years, I feel I have a better understanding of what actually goes into sustaining a successful art gallery (in addition to a huge financial commitment) and I'm more comfortable with the idea of becoming a gallery director and eventually a partner. I feel incredibly lucky to be employed by a gallery with artists that I believe in and a program that keeps me excited so I hope to continue growing where I am.
What did you think about Art Fag City's suggestion that you were a Bravo plant?
Ha! Actually, I was excited that they came across my blog and flattered that they thought I could be associated with the network! As "yucky" as it may be.
If you could make your own reality show about the art world, what would it look like?
It would revolve around one of the following: 1) Artists competing to get public-art works realized (never enough public art). 2) A day in the life type show profiling dealers, curators, museum directors, etc. (there might already be something like this out there). 3) A "save the arts organization" type show that helps non-profits (this would not only help raise money for organizations but bring attention to them)
Does your gallery know that you're blogging about the show?
No, the gallery doesn't know, the colleagues I'm closest to don't know. I don't think they would feel comfortable. I think I'll be able to write honestly about my experience so long as I'm anonymous.
What sort of advice would you give to someone who wants to break into the gallery world?
Intern as soon as you can. I can't stress enough how important this is. I was given my job while Interning. I know others who have also been given their first job while interning. Also: Read whatever you can get your hands on that pertains to the art world. If you can talk about auctions, the contemporary art market, and name museum directors, people who could be your future employers will take note. Lastly, appreciate every experience you're given and carry out every task with the utmost commitment and attention to detail, you will gain the trust of whoever you're working for and that means a lot.
More by this author:
- John Holmstrom talks about founding and editing 'Punk,' the chronicle of late-'70s New York
- Ups and downs of the Great New York City Chicken Frenzy