What's involved in your position as director of Carrie Secrist Gallery?
I think the term "gallery director" carries a substantial semiotic weight and in order to understand what I do, it's important to understand what gallery work entails more generally. Because, for the most part, art galleries are small businesses, the work of each gallery's staff will differ slightly. For example, while the director of Gallery A might coordinate the shipping of objects, at Gallery B this work may be part of the registrar's position. Although we often learn the opposite in school, galleries are not institutionalized and therefore the work of each employee in each space varies.
At the core, being a gallerist is being a secretary with a really precise eye. One must answer the phone politely and greet everyone encountered in the space. One doesn't chew gum. Each staff member should be able to negotiate with the phone company about the monthly bill and reinstall the software of the backup hard drive that just died (again?) and book last-minute flights and make dinner reservations. Proficiency in database software (e.g. Artsystems or Filemaker) is crucial because this software allows you to quickly cull titles and dates and prices as well as names and contact information. Proficiency in Photoshop is key. Never close Photoshop. Resizing and color correcting images of objects and providing them to clients and agents of the press is a constant task. The neo-luddite in all of us appreciates the slower task of scanning slides from the 1970s and creating a digital archive. However short the career, the gallerist will create endless numbers of postcards, presentation pages, web images, inventory lists, client letters, correspondence files, e-mail blasts, copyright and consignment agreements, shipping estimates, art fair booth layouts, and letters ending with the phrase "do not hesitate to ask if I may provide further assistance." Finally, it is important to see as many exhibitions/installations/performances as possible and to read articles and books about the field in which you work. What distinguishes the position from say, real estate or accounting, is the act of conversing about art.
General administrative tasks aside, the duties of the gallery director are quite broad. Foremost, the gallery director (alongside the gallery owner) is the artist's agent and as such, is responsible for representing the artist and his or her work with respect and dignity. LIkewise, art galleries sell artwork, and however gross it is to discuss money alongside aesthetic worth, the gallery director should conduct business ethically and with class.
At Carrie Secrist Gallery, specifically, I work alongside Carrie to build client relations and to place our artists' work in collections. We conduct this business both in the gallery space and at art fairs. Carrie and I decide collaboratively on our yearly schedule, which allows us to do studio visits and to view a lot of imagery. We spend a fair amount of time planning for art fairs, either filling out applications or dutifully preparing for upcoming events. In addition, I manage the gallery's daily operations; promote our current and upcoming exhibitions; coordinate the shipping of artworks; plan opening receptions; and work with our preparator, Carmen Price, on inventory control, installation plans, etc.
Truly, no two days of work as a gallery director are the same. Some days we're so busy I can barely keep my head straight, while others are quiet and I resign myself to computer work. To perform the job well—as I've learned from people like Emily Letourneau (Donald Young Gallery), Kat Parker and Charlotte Marra (Rhona Hoffman Gallery), and Tiffany Tummala (Gagosian)—is to go about your work with patience, grace, an incredible wardrobe, and a sandwich.
What aspect of your job do you find particularly challenging? What's one of the most rewarding features?
Working at a gallery is dynamic and I am constantly learning new things, which I enjoy. Specifically, it's a gift to meet artists (both the emerging sort and those that make me starstruck) and to hear their ideas. At Carrie Secrist Gallery, we've amended our programming to emphasize new talent. As a result, we are showing younger (career, not age) artists that I absolutely adore, including Todd Mattei, Derek Chan, and Anne Lindberg. It's cool to advocate for makers whose work deserves to be shown publicly; likewise, I appreciate these artists' trust in the gallery's vision and their contributions to our aesthetic and critical growth.
Overall, working in the arts is an ongoing aesthetic and existential challenge. We constantly judge objects, ideas, and theories, and the art world is highly charged in terms of criticality and competition. When I'm in an analytical state, it's easy to be lured into self-deprecating thought as well. I never feel smart or capable enough to be in the field, so I have to remind myself to stay confident and stick to my individual concept of success.
What advice would you give to an aspiring curator?
Until I quit smoking, I'll refrain from advising anyone to do anything.
Stevie Greco is the director at Carrie Secrist Gallery. She worked previously with the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, as well as Donald Young Gallery, The Green Lantern, and 40000 in Chicago.
Interviewed in Fall 2011.