Saturday, December 7, 2019
It’s 7am on a Saturday and I’m scrambling to get myself ready for a gruelling day ahead. I hurriedly gulped down a can of milk coffee and stuffed my usual chicken pau breakfast down my throat. The reason for the rush? I’ve taken up a gallery sitting role for the Singapore Biennale 2019 (an international contemporary art exhibition), and I have to be there on time!
I’m an introvert...there are too many people in this picture….
As an introvert, working at an art gallery sounded like the dream. Imagine spending countless hours housed in with good art, silently pondering all the art I could make. Of course, a gallery sitter does so much more than admire good art IRL. I realised this after I was unwittingly volunteered into my temporary role, no thanks to my two cheerful colleagues.
So let me share my experience of being a gallery sitter with the Singapore Art Museum for a day!
Experiencing first day jitters from a one-day job
I met up with my BGC team mates who were there to shadow me for the day. One of my colleagues, Jue Ping, kept checking to see if I felt nervous at all. “No, I feel fine!” I smiled. Of course the butterflies didn’t start to flutter in my stomach until I held the uniform in my hands. The last time I took on an events-based job? Probably 10 years back.
Describing an artwork to a curious visitor
Despite my initial work anxiety about working in front of the camera, I was stationed with a colleague who’d been working as a gallery sitter for several weeks. He was nice enough to run me through all the daily activities we needed to do at the gallery.
Thankfully, Singapore Art Museum makes it mandatory for potential gallery-sitters to attend training classes to help prepare us for what to expect. It was comprehensive, with a lot of facts on the artworks presented at each gallery. I reckon that potential gallery sitters who are easily distracted with classroom learning will rejoice in the fact that the Singapore Art Museum also does walking tours on a regular basis to orientate new gallery sitters.
During the walkthrough, you’ll have hands-on opportunities to learn vital details in the day-to day running of an exhibition, such as: the right light settings to adjust to, the computers to turn on and programmes to launch. It can get complicated as each artwork comes with specific instructions from the artists who picture them to be presented in a certain way.
Learning how to set up an art piece
Some of my general duties as a gallery sitter included minding the galleries and educating visitors on the artworks on display. The latter was a concern since a not-very-dedicated-me had forgotten to absorb the information factsheet given to me on my training day. Since I majored in arts, I was confident of winging my way through the different artworks. I mean, art is meant to be up for interpretation, right?
My most important (and absolute favourite) takeaway from my training was that if I decide to share my opinion with visitors, I must begin my sentence with the magical words, “In my opinion…” or “what do you interpret it as?” This was something in my tools list that I had planned to employ a lot on the day. Well... I wouldn’t want to pass off my own opinion as that of the artist’s and skew the visitor’s personal experience. Also, a pre-work chat with my gallery sitting buddy had been a most helpful way for me to quickly grasp the meaning behind most of the artworks. It was a valuable experience to have helpful buddies on your team. One learns most through sharing.
Researching more about art pieces
As a lot of the artworks showcased piqued my interest, I found myself researching for fun facts to share with visitors... This was done during the lull periods when no one was wandering about – this job required me to be as attentive as possible when visitors are in the space.
On the job perks: meeting like-minded lovers of art
One thing that drew me to the role of a gallery sitter was the idea of being able to engage with fellow art appreciators. Everyone I met in the gallery was into art. Some fascinating people I met include staff and students from LASALLE, who shared with me about some of their hidden artistic talents, such as woodworking and novel writing. I found it surprising that all it took was working in a gallery for one day to meet and talk to a bunch of awesome people.
Don’t worry though! If you’re not so much an art connoisseur, this job can still be engaging to you if you enjoy talking to people from all walks of life! There really is a lot more to the job than just describing art pieces though. We had the opportunity to personally handle some valuable artworks, and get them ready for visitors to appreciate.
Gallery sitting, a job for those looking to learn
Towards the end, I came upon a realisation. The role of a gallery sitter required an agile and engaged mind. This role might sound easy, until you realise that there are lull periods which tempt you to let your guard down.
No funny moves there. I'm watching.
My main responsibilities were to keep a watchful eye, care for artworks, and ensure visitors’ safety. Situational awareness isn’t really something that you can study or prepare yourself for. Thankfully, the SAM team understood this, and gave us a heads up on spotting tell-tale signs that may result in costly mistakes.
The training sessions from the SAM team were perhaps the most helpful part of my gallery sitting experience. You learn a lot from their experience from being a gallery sitter – it may look like a small role but it is an integral role in creating the visitor’s experience from start to end. The artists are actually entrusting their art pieces to you to deliver the full blown experience. Knowledge-sharing about things that tend to be overlooked during the day-to-day running of exhibitions at the Singapore Art Museum. And despite my one-day intrusion as a scatterbrain representing BGC Group, it was still a fun day out with the other BGC gallery sitters I was with, who were really chatty and cordial. There was a feeling of camaraderie amongst one another.
Helping and meeting like-minded art lovers
Overall, I found myself at ease on the job. I knew that my SAM colleagues had my back. I also found my past customer service experience in retail quite handy. Manning a gallery was no different from working in retail. In fact, the whole gallery sitting experience made me realise that anyone who’s dedicated can be a gallery sitter. All thanks to the helpful training sessions by SAM.
So, cast away all the stereotypes you have (if any) about gallery sitting. If you’re a team player with retail or customer service experience who would like to be involved in the art scene, this job would be a valuable experience to put on your resume.
The Singapore Biennale 2019 is organised by the Singapore Art Museum. Visit www.singaporebiennale.org/ for more information on the exhibition!
Read More: Why Introverts Should Apply for Extroverted Jobs
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