A couple of schoolgirls laughed in my face at work the other day. I’ve never found pre-Bauhaus architects and the multi-layered narratives in art particularly hilarious, but there you go. Humour, like art, is subjective. Personally I found their drug-mule hair-dos and badly drawn eyebrows pretty funny, but I didn’t laugh at them. I was too polite, and also laughing at the appearance of other women would have made me a bit of a shite feminist. And I was at work. Such is the life of the gallery invigilator.
I love art galleries, always have. Alongside getting accidentally drunk in the afternoon and a doze on a Sunday, they are one of my favourite things. I’ve planned holidays around them, dragged willing and unwilling participants to them, spent a fortune in their shops, drank exceedingly overpriced wine in them, had free wine in them. How could you not love a place with pretty stuff in it and they hand out free booze?
Galleries have enriched my life. Like the first time I saw the Rothko room at the Tate, before it become the wee Tate no one can really be arsed to go to because it’s miles away from the tube, and everyone knows it’s the poor relation to the showy-off one with the turbine hall. It was a spiritual experience. Fair enough, in books they did look like a paint sample where someone was trying out a couple of tones of burnt sienna for the den, but in real life they hovered and glowed. Like my first time in MOMA. Or the first time I walked up the ramp in the Guggenheim. That experience was sadly marred by the company, and even then it was still awesome. There was a Lichtenstein retrospective on with a huge shuttlecock hanging down the atrium. I was blown away. Unfortunately I was visiting with a massive cock of my own who just didn’t get it and said ‘if I pull my pants down and shit right here is it art?’. Like I say, he was a cock. The same man wasted a day of the holiday to traipse down to Staten Island to get fake gold caps for his teeth by the guy that did the Wu Tang Clans’. Touch of class.
I’ve seen all the big hitting stadium acts, your Picasso, Matisse, Rodin. I’ve seen the art equivalent to Mumford and Sons in the Musée d’Orsay (sorry, the Impressionists). I’ve been bored by Warhol, surprised by Mondrian, disappointed by Man Ray, moved by Freud and I deliberately blew cigarette smoke over a massive Jeff Koons for the sole reason that he is a despicable twat. The security guards tried to chastise me, but hey, it was in Vegas. Everyone blows smoke on a Koons in Vegas. I’ve had tea with Gilbert and George (a load of other people were there too, but it still counts). I was a kid at Christmas at the Hirst retrospective, regardless of the fact that everyone else I know thinks he’s a prick. See, galleries rock.
Even the bad ones rock. Regardless of my ever sunny disposition and positive spin, even I could not explain to the ever-patient husband why The High Museum of Art in Atlanta had an entire floor of very, very boring, heavy mahogany furniture. We did get a nice brownie in the cafe though, so not a total bust.
In all the hundreds of galleries I’ve visited I never spoke to the invigilators, apart from a quick ‘can you take photos, no, ok, I’ll wait til you you’re out of view then’. Now I am one, and I talk all day. People obviously aren’t as shy as me and are very happy to talk to a random stranger about art, good or bad. How cool is that?
The people you meet are extraordinary. The Scottish couple who looked like they’d wandered in off the highlands by mistake, who ended up chatting for an hour about their daughter, who had been nominated for the Turner Prize a couple of years ago, how proud they were of her and her work, even though it had recently taken a strange turn and now she favoured carrier bags as a medium rather than paint. The woman who looked like she might cry and shook my hand in thanks for explaining the exhibition to her, as she now felt ‘less of a numpty’. The little girl who camped on the floor of the gallery to draw as her parents dandered round, very proudly showing me her drawing of a ‘VAMPR’ (her spelling) who had a cloak and fangs and flowers, as vampires love flowers. She had 5 pages left and hoped to have them all filled before her folks were done. She nearly made me cry in fairness.
There was the retired writer who told me that women never really wanted to work, that they still don’t, that they were too lazy to fight in WW2 and that maternity leave was one big holiday of entitlement for women. Wait, that wasn’t a lovely moment, that was a misogynistic twat who tried my levels of charm to my very last nerve. All part of life’s great tapestry, eh?
So, back to the laughing girls.
They can laugh all they want. They still have the years and expense of university, the heartbreak, the self-loathing and disappointments of youth and the years working in admin despite what they studied all ahead of them. I’m in the best job I’ve ever had. Who’s laughing now ladies?
If you do happen to find yourself in a gallery, do say hi to the staff. Granted some of them in the big leagues might have a face like a slapped arse and are only there to pay the bills and stop you stealing anything, but 100% of the ones I know are fascinating and engaging and have a passion for something. It might not be pre-Bauhaus architecture, but sure, you can’t have everything.