Confessions of a gallery attendant

by Madeline Killen | 1/31/16 7:00pm

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Madeline Killen talks about what it's like to be a gallery attendant.
Source: Courtesy of Madeline Killen

You wonder about us every time you head to Hinman to pick up the basic life necessities you ordered off of Amazon because CVS is basically in a different country. You make uncomfortable eye contact with us while you’re fast-walking towards the tender queso wrap that you’ve been dreaming about since breakfast. You’re dying to know what our job actually consists of, who we are and whether or not we just saw you checking out your reflection in the glass. So today, in an unprecedented step, I will bridge the gap between the mysterious elite glass box-sitters and the general Dartmouth public: I am a Hopkins Center for the Arts gallery attendant and these are my confessions.

Firstly, I will tackle the question of who we are, the answer to which I have admittedly already spoiled in the interest of my dramatic introductory paragraph. We’re gallery attendants, and to address your other questions, our jobs consist of making sure you do not touch the art and yes, we did see you checking yourself out. You look great. Everyone at Dartmouth looks great. Trust me, you garner some insights like this when you spend five hours a week sitting in a glass box adjacent to a high-traffic area. Now that we’ve really established that, you can stop looking at yourselves all the time and start looking at me, because the low-key, high-key facetime of the gallery attendant career track is what I’m actually in it for. That and the $10 an hour.

What did you say? Love of art? Oh, sure, if you’re into that, I guess it could be a perk. There is a bit of a misconception that gallery attendants get our jobs because we are somehow involved in the arts at Dartmouth; I wish I were that cool, but we essentially all got our jobs by knowing the student manager or by knowing someone who knows the student manager. So Hop gallery attendants hail from any and all majors and interests; artists, we are not. But Dartmouth students, we are, so a huge draw to our job is that we are forced to sit in one spot and do our homework for five hours. Also, again, there’s that facetime element: we don’t want the whole school to see that we’re just watching “The Bachelor” (2002) on Hulu in there. That’s embarrassing. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones and people in glass boxes shouldn’t watch bad television. I think Benjamin Franklin said that. So anytime someone tells you the stacks or fourth floor Berry is the best study spot on campus, tell them they’re wrong: it’s Jaffe-Friede and Strauss Galleries. There’s nothing like public pressure to really get you to be productive.

However, I will say that a drawback to our seriously cushy job is that we are not allowed to charge our laptops at work because it ruins the aesthetic of the gallery. Similarly, the fact that journalism frowns upon putting asterisks in between all of the letters of the word “aesthetic” is ruining the aesthetic of this article. But next time you want to say the job of a gallery attendant isn’t difficult, just remember: I have to charge my laptop before work and keep you hooligans from touching the art.

So on that note: back to art. If I’m being frank, I do not understand much of what is under my care and keeping for five hours a week. Have you seen the concrete slabs in Jaffe-Friede Gallery this term? When I walked in for my first shift this winter, I turned on the lights, looked around, thought, “Oh, they haven’t put up any art yet,” and almost walked right back out again. Then I realized that I was looking at the art, and that it was just short and about the same color as the ground. Later that shift, someone who is not an uncultured swine like myself came into the gallery and explained that the idea behind the slabs is that they look soft but are very hard and heavy, which I suppose I will take at face value. According to the sheet of paper on my desk, the artist who made them is named Mia Westerlund Roosen and I trust that she is infinitely more creative than I am. My job is just to make sure no one steals her art, and if they’re as heavy as the mysterious art stranger claimed, it hypothetically makes my life easier. So to all of you thinking of stealing the displays out of Jaffe-Friede: they’re too heavy for you, and a gallery attendant will inevitably notice and fight you.

And gallery attendants are all trained in mixed martial arts. So don’t touch the art.