Please check out an update to this post on my new blog, Girl With A Gallery.
Just as with any job, the interview for a job at a gallery is perhaps one of the most nerve-wrecking experiences an art-world hopeful can go through. As someone who has interviewed my fair share of prospective employees and interns, I can offer a bit of insight to prepare for your first step. Now, most of my recommendations and tips below apply to working at a for-profit contemporary art gallery showing international emerging artists.
What to Wear: Galleries are creative, professional environments. Most city, for-profit galleries are also extremely status-driven, so expect to impress with what you wear. Something slightly off-the-cuff is acceptable, as long as it’s executed well. And remember: you are going to sell high-end art, not car insurance. A stuffy two-piece suit from JC Penney is only acceptable if you wear it in a modern way, with amazing accessories. Also: spring for a $10 manicure and $20 blowout (or just take extra time on your hair that morning). We are a detail-oriented business and notice things such as dirty, chipped nails or split ends. Go here for a few outfit suggestions.
What to Bring: It should go without saying, but always, always, ALWAYS bring a copy of your resume, list of references, a notebook and pen, pre-prepared questions, and your daily planner. Bring a water bottle, too, just in case you rescind my offer of water at the beginning and get sudden dry-mouth during the interview.
What to Expect: Most of my interviews begin with a quick introduction to our gallery and what we do, what the position will entail, then a review of the interviewee’s credentials. Expect basic questions like “do you know Adobe Creative Suite?” “Do you have experience hanging or packing artwork?” or “Can you tell me more about your experience at State University Art Gallery?” However, one of our biggest questions (that so many potential hires seem so ill-prepared for) is: “where do you see yourself in five years?” This is such a rote interview question, but 90% of people seem to stumble on it. So have a genuine, succinct, and creative answer so that you don’t fall flat. I am also going to ask you what contemporary artists you’re currently into (bonus points if your answer is not Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, Tracy Emin, Ai Wei Wei or Jeff Koons– that just proves to me you Googled “famous contemporary artist” on you way to the interview) and be prepared to explain why in two to three sentences.
Key Skills: While there are a variety of skills you can acquire to be a competitive candidate for a gallery position, there are several key areas that truly make interviewees stand out from the crowd:
- Adobe Creative Suite (esp. Photoshop)
- Video editing
- Experience with HTML or website development
- Experience with managing and organizing inventory
- Extensive knowledge of Excel
Please, please, PLEASE don’t tell me you know how to use the Internet and Microsoft Word. Unless you’re from Lancaster County, PA, I know you know how to Google.
What You Should Already Know: Basically, you should know the ins and outs of the gallery’s about page on their website. This includes: year founded, owner, mission statement, and gallery hours. You should also have a working knowledge of at least a handful of the artists they represent and understand what “type” of art they work with (post-modern, sculpture, glass, contemporary). If the gallery’s site is ambiguous, then feel free to jot a few questions down!
What to Ask: This is the important part. There’s nothing more lackluster than conducting an interview with someone who, when I turn the tables on them and see what questions they have for me, has nothing to offer up. This signals to me that you not only did zero research on the gallery, but you are also incapable of being pro-active on the job. So read up! Have questions prepared both about the position (ask them to define certain tasks) or about the history of the gallery. To help those of you out there preparing for your first interview, here are a few questions that most likely won’t be covered by the interviewer, but are sure to impress them:
1. How does your gallery interact with its artists: do you showcase the work, or are you actively involved in their career development? (Very generally speaking, there are two types of for-profit galleries: 1) Showcase galleries where they work with a variety of artists, show their work at openings, sell a few pieces, then pack the art up, cut the artist a check and send them on their way. Then, there are galleries like our gallery, where we represent artists under contract and are actively involved in developing their careers from studio to sale. Both models of galleries have their own merits, but if you want to be involved in the business side of art, the second type of gallery is really where you want to be. You’ll learn everything from the ins and outs of contract negotiation, to how ideas pass back and forth between gallerist and artist, to the PR involved in building the reputation of an artist, to that final moment in the life of a piece when a sale is made. I’m biased because I prefer to work with the artists to develop their careers, not simply event plan.)
2. Does your gallery work with primary market artists, secondary market artists, or both? (Primary market refers to art that has yet to reach auction. Typically, these are also referred to as “emerging artists.” Secondary market, by contrast, refers to artists who have been to auction, and generally achieve a higher price point. They are also considered more established artists who may be “famous.” Note: you can still be considered “emerging” even if your work has been in a museum. Primary and secondary traditionally refer to the financial history surrounding the sale of your work)
3. What is your typical day/work week like? (This can elicit a range of answers, but is a good barometer to see how active the gallery is. If the answer is somewhere along the lines of “work the front desk and answer calls during open hours,” then you know you’re going to have a job that’s a standard 9-5. If the interviewer says, “well, that’s difficult to define as each day can be completely different– though typically we’re here at 9am and leave by 8pm, go on studio visits, hang new work, execute marketing strategies, discuss upcoming viewings, etc…” then you know not only is it an active gallery… but you’ll most likely be working a bit of overtime.)
4. How would you define the management culture here? Who would I be reporting to? (Typically, galleries don’t have a large staff… but they do certainly have a management style. Whether it’s loosey-goosey-let’s-blow-this -joint-get-drinks-and-chill-with-artists or much more corporate, be sure you know what sort of culture you’re becoming a part of. Some individuals excel in an environment with no clear structure– of course, that means you’ll have to pick up a lot of slack. Others, like myself, enjoy professional autonomy, but like having someone who will help make an executive decision on major projects. Others still need a very structured, top-down environment where they are reporting to someone directly on all their tasks. Figure out your working style, and find a gallery that fits.)
What NOT to Ask: There is one HUGE mistake I’ve seen a vast amount of interviewees make when attempting to find a position in the arts. If you are an artist and are interviewing for a job (not representation) at a gallery, do not ask if the interviewer would view your portfolio and do not inquire about the likelihood of that gallery picking you up as an artist as well. I can’t tell you how many potential hires have immediately been blackballed for this. Your interest should be in the job, not what the job can do for you. Besides, we want our artists to be artists, not employees. If that is your main goal (i.e. representation), go wait tables at night while you hustle and work on your art during the day.
I hope some of this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at drunkliterature [at] gmail [dot] com.