Culture Clash | Integrity of the gallery | Gallery attendants

Gallery attendants

The gallery attendants can be of use in helping people engage with the experiences. They can offer insight into the works, and advice on how to approach them. They can also aid the visitor in entering a favourable mindset from which they can view the work. However, the attendant-as-interpreter system has its limitations.

If we consider the amount of people who are within the gallery at any one time, and the amount of attendants available to speak to, most of the time these numbers will be disproportionate. If, in an ideal situation, every visitor who was having trouble engaging wanted to utilize an attendant (and this is the situation that the system of attendant-as-interpreter hopes for) we would surely find that there wouldn’t be enough attendants to go around, and not only that, the performance of the attendants may suffer from the constant repetition of similar information.

A lot of the time, visitors may view attendants as the aforementioned salesman, attempting to sell shoes as hats. Because they are representatives of the gallery (and, presumably, on the payroll) they could be viewed as expecting to tow the company line; that is, they are presumably pre-disposed towards the experiences that the gallery offers. They work in the gallery, and for the gallery. So, a visitor who is resistant to the gallery’s idea of art, will, in many cases, not be best helped by a representative of the gallery, who, by extension, the visitor is also likely to be resistant to. If the work has caused conflict within the visitor, then the attendant may be a part of this conflict. It appears that this is an implicit and unavoidable problem of this system.

There may be ways around this however, ways of turning the connection between attendant and gallery into something more positive. If the attendants intrinsically represent the gallery, then it follows that if they manage to find some sort of middle ground with the visitor – any middle ground – then, by extension, the visitor will be more disposed to considering the gallery in a more favourable way. It is possible that this middle ground need have nothing to do with the gallery itself, or with art at all. For example, if an attendant were to involve a resistant visitor in an exchange on a subject that they both enjoyed – a shared recreation for instance – then any bond or good feeling felt toward the attendant would now, implicitly at least, be felt toward the gallery. At the very least, such an exchange could potentially shorten the distance a visitor may have felt between themselves and the gallery.

The theory of attendant-as-interpreter assumes, to a certain degree, that the visitor will ask for help. Whilst many visitors have no trouble asking an attendant for help when needed, there are as many others who would not be as comfortable doing this. The attendant can of course approach a visitor and ask if they need help, but this is dependent on an attentive attendant, and a receptive visitor; two factors that may not necessarily be commonplace.

The role of the attendant-as-interpreter is complicated by the role of attendant-as-security guard. It requires tremendous tact to successfully act as both, and even if this is achieved some visitors may find it hard to separate the two roles in their mind. Whilst they can co-exist without severe detriment to the gallery, their combination can also potentially cause conflict with the visitors. On the one hand you have someone who wants you to engage with the experiences on offer, yet on the other you have the same person potentially delimiting your experience. It is a tricky balancing act, and one that may not be fully appreciated or understood by the visitor.

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Culture Clash | Integrity of the gallery | Additional information