This is my first proper work placement so far for this work based learning unit, i decided to apply to Milton Keynes Gallery to get some experience in a gallery setting and learn more about curating artwork. To do this i emailed the gallery and in a series of emails i set up a meeting with Scott who was the front of house worker for the gallery. At this meeting we discussed what the role of gallery invigilator would be (which would be my title) and what times i could volunteer.
My role would be: To offer brochures about the exhibition to the public, engage them in conversation about the art work and inform them about existing and up coming exhibitions. To ensure the artwork is not touched unless it is meant to be an interactive piece, to greet the public as they enter the gallery and to sometimes ask if they will do surveys on the exhibitions.
I decided after this meeting and filling in a formal application that i would volunteer thursdays from 12-3 in the afternoon, this is because i wanted to see what a gallery is like on the weekdays and because i’d get to interact with other volunteers too.
my volunteer badge:The first instance i volunteered on was the opening night of a brand new exhibition, Peter Dreher’s first solo exhibition in the UK. Peter is a german artist who painted most famously 5000 images of a water glass, all identical at first but subtly different depending on the time of day they were painted. This exhibition also included some of his other works which were quite stunning also, but i was mostly taken aback and in awe of the 150/5000 paintings of the water glass that the gallery had been given to show.
The opening night was the 20th September and i volunteered from 5-8pm, this was an interesting experience because i had never been to an open night, i was inducted into the gallery formally the week before so i knew where the fire exits were and how to interact with the public. I was a little nervous at first because the opening night got very busy and there were lots of people asking everyones opinions on the work. This experience allowed me to develop my artistic language and i found myself using words to describe the work i hadnt realised i knew! I met lots of interesting people from the art world and the general public that night and the other volunteers were very friendly. This was the volunteering experience i most enjoyed about my placement at milton keynes gallery. I also got to speak to the curator of the exhibition who shared her thoughts with me and also what she would have liked to have done differently with the exhibition, e.g. having at least 1000 of the glass paintings to give it more impact. This showed me the importance of being able to be critical of your own work which will benefit me when i come to curate my own exhibition.
I went on to volunteer for the next 4 weeks at the gallery, on the weekdays it was much quieter and there was less to do during these days. I have come to realise that although i like visiting exhibitions , i don’t really enjoy working at them if there isnt a buzzing atmosphere. This has been a good experience for me because i got to meet some like minded artists, learn more about curating and networking. But it has also showed me a career i do not wish to explore further which is important when narrowing down my options after university, i have always preferred to make the art rather than explain it to the public every day.
now i know to look for work experience that is more hands on, like back stage at a theatre production or working in a studio with an artist.
I went on to volunteer on Thursday’s for the next four weeks, on the first time I volunteered during the day I was surprised by how few people came to the gallery. I volunteered from 12-3pm in the afternoon, but on 3 of the occasions I was not needed until 3pm and went around 2pm. I spent that time stood by the entrance of the gallery welcoming visitors and offering to explain the exhibition, many people just wanted to look around alone so I gave them the exhibition brochure and left them to it. I also noticed a lot of young people coming to research for school art projects, these mostly took a few pictures and left relatively quickly. I came to realise that working at a smaller gallery during the weekdays can be quite a lonely task, I didn’t have many visitors to engage with or to instruct them not to touch the work. During my time volunteering I got to study the Peter Dreher exhibition closely, and I think I know it well enough now that I could use it for my contextual essay which is good because it has given me a chance to study something in detail whereas when you usually visit an exhibition you only see it once for a few hours or less.
Being a Gallery invigilator involves speaking with visitors, discussing the art with them and showing them around, whilst ensuring the art work is safe and protected. Whilst volunteering at the Gallery I did improve my artistic language, by speaking with other volunteers I met who were from a variety of backgrounds be that artistic or academic, most of them were students like myself, and some were older who volunteered because they liked being in an artistic environment. I personally enjoyed speaking with other volunteers, but invigilating itself I found to be a little on the dull side because there was a lot of standing around with very little to do. The preview night was very enjoyable because there were lots of visitors to speak to about the work and it was a good chance to network new professional connections. I think though that because of the nature of the work, involving a lot of potential time stood alone waiting for visitors that it’s not a career I would choose to go into. I can see that at a larger gallery like Saatchi that this would not be the case, because it has a high rate of visitors, but from these weeks I have learnt that although I like visiting exhibitions I am not keen on working at them because you can become too familiar with the work and it becomes less exciting.