Ga-lle-ri-na (noun) – as defined by Urban Dictionary (my favorite),
“The waif-like girls in opaque tights who rule the art galleries in Chelsea and other art districts. Like ballerinas, they are generally delicate-looking, coiffed, and can come off as cold. “
Art Gallery + Ballerina = Gallerina
Although the term is as feminine as can be, gallerina applies to girls and boys alike, and we’ve all been gallerinas at one point or another (normally in your first job in a gallery). If you’ve been working in the art gallery circuit for over 5 years and you’re still a gallerina – run for the hills, my friend because something’s not right.
This delectable term and stereotype came to my attention in 2008 when I was a sophomore in university, thanks to this must-read NY Times piece. I was majoring in Art History and interning at Marlborough Gallery in New York, and this article was my epiphany.
The universe asked, What do you want to be when you ‘grow up’?
19 year-old me: A Gallerina!
WHAT DO THESE GATEKEEPERS TO THE ART WORLD ACTUALLY DO, YOU ASK?
- Gallerinas are the backstage, master jugglers of everything that makes a gallery survive: sales, Baby, sales.
- They’re the go-to researchers for big secondary market sales (aka. when a big client wants to sell their 1955 Picasso and the boss needs to make an appraisal and study auction results, amongst other things before offering it to anyone).
- They could be the registrars as well (adding new artworks to it, maintaining client details up to date).
- They follow the Christie’s and Sotheby’s day auctions live online to write down the hammer price (I had to do this soooo many times, it was so tedious because there can be over 200 lots in a day sale).
- They man the front desk of the gallery and answer all kinds of questions like, “Are you the artist?”, “May I use your bathroom?”, “Where is the zoo from here?”, ” How can that piece of paper cost $60,000 USD? My son could have drawn that!” – and the list goes on and on. Sometimes they just have to listen to stories of “back in 1975 I had the chance to buy a Basquiat for $10,000 USD and I didn’t, I can’t believe I missed my chance, blah blah blah”. Well sucks to be you!
- They have to smile a lot, be very welcoming and helpful at their exhibition openings.
- They are by default the ones who work on Saturdays.
If you’re interested in becoming a mighty, powerful art dealer, a gallery owner, or an artist liaison – I’d say becoming a gallerina(o) is a very good, general way to enter the mysterious world of art business. Here’s a few tips as to how to go about it:
- Network your little heart out. The best gallerina jobs in the galleries where you want to be aren’t usually posted online, they come from knowing someone, who knows someone that you met god knows where.
- I wish I didn’t have to say this but, how you dress matters so incredibly much depending on the gallery you’re interviewing with. Is the gallery established and family-run? (Conservative/Stepford wife). Is the gallery all about young artists and weird spaces? (Bring out the austere Emo in you). If it’s Gagosian, the term ‘Gagosienne’ has actually been coined and immortalized in Vogue and The Observer – just be ultra stylish.
- Expand your image bank (best tip I ever got). Go to exhibitions, study auction catalogues and go to the previews if possible to get artworks really tattooed into your memory). I can’t tell you how helpful it will be to remember works and where you’ve seen them throughout your career.
- This is not a job for little cupboard mice and introverts – being extroverted and generally a people person, amongst other things, is what will help evolve into sales which, let’s be honest, it’s the only way to make money in the art industry.
- Always have your art history handy – retelling modern art stories and connecting the dots between artists make for great, great, beyond great sales pitches (especially when you’re sitting at the front desk on a Saturday and you’re trying to lure in a possible client OR working the booth at an art fair).
So, future Gallerinas, was this helpful?