gallery interns – postscript

22 September 2010 § Leave a comment

A couple of weeks back (2 Sept 10) I wrote about the shameless exploitation of graduates (and others) as unpaid gallery interns. I was pleased to note that the leading letter to the editor of The Times today was on the same subject – although referring to interns in all types of business and not just art. It was from Alex Try and Rosy Rickett representing Interns Anonymous and reads as follows:

Sir, It is high time that the UK’s hundreds of thousands of interns get paid for the work that they do and are recognised for the contributions they make to the British economy.In the past, there was a clear distinction between volunteering, work experience and low-paid work. Today, with millions of young people desperate for jobs, these boundaries have been dangerously blurred, meaning that many young adults are being taken advantage of.

Those starting their journey into work already have it hard enough with the need for a raft of qualifications, the rising price of higher education, high housing costs and poor entry-level pay. Unpaid internships are the final straw. What is worse is that everyone from political parties and the media, to multinational businesses, are at it.

Unpaid internships exploit those who do them and exclude those who cannot afford to do them. This situation is set to create a time-bomb of class division and wasted talent, preventing hundreds of thousands of skilled, ambitious young people from contributing to our culture and economy.

We call upon the Government and Revenue & Customs to end this hidden economy and enforce existing minimum wage legislation. We also call on business to adhere to employment law. Where it is taking place, this illegal activity must stop. Interns must be paid.

Interns Anonymous can be contacted via their blog. You can sign up, comment and post your own experiences. Here is what they say:

Interns Anonymous has been set up by two graduates currently working as unpaid interns. We want this website to be a forum for interns to share their experiences and discuss the ethics of unpaid employment. Most importantly, we want this site to be a place where YOU can tell us your story.

I encourage everyone to sign up, wish them the very best of luck and congratulate them on their resourcefulness. They deserve our support!

gallery assistants – are they exploited?

2 September 2010 § 2 Comments

Andy Freeberg - Pace Wildenstein

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Courtesy of the Leg of Lamb blog my attention was drawn to an interesting set of pictures by American photographer Andy Freeberg. Entitled Sentry: Gallery desks in Chelsea they illustrate a series of attendants desks in New York Galleries. Hilariously just the very tops of the actual assistants heads are visible behind these oversize monstrosities. 

Almost identical in size, form and colour (white of course!) the images beautifully point out the total lack of creative imagination shown by the modern white cube galleries. Are these the very institutions that purport to demonstrate their artistic and creative credentials with the latest in cutting edge contemporary art; our arbiters of artistic taste; the places that select the best so that we don’t  have to? 


Any Freeberg - Sonnabend

In reality these are – largely – highly cautious and conservative institutions that take no risks and present art that other galleries have developed and established. Taste established and market created the ‘big business’ of these highly commercial spaces decides where the money lies and ‘scoops up’ the best. Sanitised, polished and beautifully presented it is packaged up for the wealthy to admire, and hopefully purchase at a nicely inflated price. 

All exaggerated of course, but largely true. If there is any lesson for a collector here it would be to try to avoid the larger galleries for investment purchases. Prices here are as high as they ever get. Search the smaller galleries to try and catch the best before they move onward and upward, buy from the artists direct or use a consultant (like us!). 

Andy Freeberg - Mitchell Innes & Nash

I digress. Back to the gallery assistant. We joke about what they do – paint their nails, check the i-phone and plan their evenings. They of course actually do these things – quite a lot – but also do a lot more, mostly menial and dull tasks. For the details I will simply point you towards a nice Frieze article from a couple of years back, but what is less well known is that they are, in most cases, not being paid. I don’t mean that they are just being paid a relatively small amount. I mean nothing. Not a penny. 

In a system of ‘internships’ the galleries take advantage of the excess of art-oriented courses in London and New York and offer three to six month placements where, ostensibly, these students/graduates are placed to ‘learn the trade’. In reality they usually spend tedious and long hours compiling databases, checking lists and stuffing envelopes. I call it shameless exploitation. The wealthy galleries should be ashamed. Can they not together create a system whereby there is a widely agreed minimum daily rate – not a lot, perhaps just £30-40 a day? No, of course they will not. Another reason to avoid the big galleries perhaps?

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