Every exhibition needs invigilators. You know, those poor unfortunates perchings on punitive chairs, ignored at shows, looking glum, alone with their dreams, or just really, really bored.
Seldom are they visibly happy. Rarely are they even paid: mostly they are volunteers hoping to raise their own personal profile and meet the owners, curators or artists based at the gallery they are guarding.
That’s why they are there: to inform and protect. Nobody can be present all the time, not even when part of a performance or installation at their own show, as would be easily distracted. No matter how prestigious the gallery, work is always vulnerable (think of the poor soul who fell downstairs landing on a priceless Ming vase). Or vandalised: recently at GOMA, a photo of Douglas Gordon was slashed by an enraged visitor.
I’ve also encountered invigilators who are dismissive, offhand, and another who sneered when I posed a reasonable question. Informed, knowledgeable and friendly (not too friendly) invigilators can enhance a show, answering questions, handing out information and generally being helpful.
When organising a recent group show, we had had mixed feelings about invigilating.
wasn’t sure we needed to stick around after the grand opening, but when work was stolen from another gallery featuring her work, she changed her mind. Basically, if exhibits can’t be nailed down and even when they are, guard everything heroically. My sewn texts take so long to make, I could never run off another print, like a photo. Shelton
And so I spent several hours, sitting in a gallery listening to music, greeting the occasional visitor, and staring at work, including a film which I grew immune to, but never bored with (Eija’s work is amazing, even on a constant loop.)
I recently encountered a volunteer invigilator. Having sat down for ages, my bum was hurting, so her arrival was a blessed relief. Then I got a phone call from Young who described our new friend delicately as ‘a bit odd.’ She had found our new acquaintance curled in a tight ball, gurning while apparently ‘interrogating’ the pieces. Officially, I would describe her as spacey. We didn’t know what to do, and fearing that at any moment, art editors and notable curators might walk in we asked her, politely, to leave.
Phew, we thought. But then she came back the next day. We explained that there was some kind of mistake. She protested that she was only listening in to our conversations as she was ‘interested in us as artists.’ Again we said thanks, but that her services, generous as may be, were superfluous to requirements.
The following day, she was found trying to open the show and start up the film. Once more, we asked her to go. Again, she sat on a wooden chair and gurned at the work, albeit appreciatively.
I’m not sure what the lesson is here. Perhaps it’s meet and get to know your invigilators before leaving them alone with your work. Nurture them. Feed them. And if you can afford to, pay them.