How to be a gallery technician

 30 April 2012

Gallery technicians work behind the scenes to move artworks and ensure exhibitions are installed according to the artist or curator's brief. Find out the skills needed to pursue this career.

Ross Chalmers has works at Hannah Barry Gallery, a gallery located in Peckham’s Copeland Cultural Quarter
Ross Chalmers has works at Hannah Barry Gallery, a gallery located in Peckham’s Copeland Cultural Quarter

The job of a gallery technician varies depending on the gallery: whether it is public or private, its size, and the type of exhibitions and artwork on show.

In addition to working behind the scenes, some technicians might also have responsibility for the general maintenance of a gallery space, or for the day-to-day operations of an organisation. Some technicians are freelance, so have the opportunity to work in a range of different spaces, with a variety of people.

Ross Chalmers from Hannah Barry Gallery and Mark Wayman from ADi group describe what their work involves, and the skills, knowledge and experience required to be a successful gallery technician.

Working for a small private gallery

Ross Chalmers works at Hannah Barry Gallery, a gallery located in Peckham’s Copeland Cultural Quarter. The gallery is located in an open-plan warehouse space, which consists of a couple of separate exhibition areas, an office pod created by Kingston BA Architecture students last year and two storage rooms.

From its inception, Ross has been involved in all aspects of the gallery. From devising the use of these areas to painting the walls.

“It’s sometimes fustrating undertaking all the jobs that the space requires, for example, changing the lights. However, working in a small organisation also has many positives.

"I get to work on a range of activities, including external projects related to the gallery, such as Bold Tendencies, the sculpture project on top of the nearby Multistory car park."

"To become a technician you must be willing to immerse yourself in the art world."

Projects such as Bold Tendencies present practical challenges for technicians, offering the opportunity to try new technical solutions to exhibiting, and to working on a large scale.

Ross particularly enjoys putting together large, challenging installations that feature a variety of components such as light, sound and sculpture to create an immersive environment.

“When install artwork I enjoy thinking about how an artwork relates to the space in which it sits as well as its relationship to other artworks”.

The Hannah Barry Gallery is a private gallery selling art works. Its exhibitions have a very different feel to the external projects and the regular exhibitions programme at the gallery presents different challenges. For example, Ross has to ensure that the professional technical solutions are within budget.

Getting experience for gallery work

Ross helped set up Hannah Barry Gallery with the Directors, volunteering in the evenings until the gallery became well -established and able to pay him a wage.

During the day, Ross worked as a freelance technician at the South London Gallery, Bloomberg Space and Ben Brown Fine Arts.

“I found friends that I wanted to work with, and we managed to create a gallery together. I worked on projects for free to develop my skills and experience.

"To become a technician you must be willing to immerse yourself in the art world, to be creative and create your own opportunities.”

Qualifications for a gallery technician

Ross took a degree in illustration at Camberwell Art School, where he was encouraged to exhibit his work.

He found that he enjoyed the collaboration, problem solving and technical skills involved in setting up a show more than working on his own designs at home. On completing his degree Ross decided to take an internship at Zoo Art Fair, a London-based non-profit art fair held annually in October.

"If you love art, enjoy working as a team, and solving technical problems, the job can be extremely rewarding."

“From 2004 to 2008, Zoo was pretty cutting-edge. Platforming emerging commercial and non-commercial art organisations including galleries, project spaces, artist collectives, curatorial groups and publications.

"This gave me the chance to learn technical skills on the job, and develop important relationships with artists and galleries.”

Ross obtained an internship at the Contemporary Art Society to further develop his skills. These internships enabled him to go freelance.

“Being a technician is hard work and not particularly well-paid in the early stages. However if you love art, enjoy working as part of a team, and find solving technical problems satisfying it can be extremely rewarding. Networking skills are vital as are problem solving and practical approach to the artworks.”

Being a freelance gallery technician

Mark Wayman is an audio-visual specialist who is also an artist. Following a BA in Fine Art at Cardiff Art College, Mark worked in a variety of jobs, including carpentry, building maintenance and specialist decorating.

Although not trained in any of these disciplines before starting, he learned on the job and picked up a range of skills which he still finds extremely useful as a gallery technician.

Following an MA in Fine Art, Mark freelanced, installing exhibitions in art galleries. It was during this time that he began to specialise in audio-visual works.

Building a career as a gallery technician

Mark advises those who want to become a technician to, “do any kind of relevant work that comes your way, it doesn’t have to be for the arts sector.

“Always go the extra mile to ensure the installation looks as good as possible."

"Jobs generally come by word-of-mouth, so talk to people, offer your services, even for little financial reward at first, so you can gain experience.”

Mark recommends that technicians develop an understanding of building structures and practice their fabrication skills.

“A visual sensibility is important. Always go the extra mile to ensure the installation looks as good as it can and the client will be happy. Develop strong organisational and communication skills.”

For several years Mark worked as a freelancer for Frith Street gallery, Camden Arts Centre and the Tate. He most enjoyed working on unusual installations and with exotic materials, such as Daphne Wright’s exhibition of silver foil mountains at Frith Street gallery.

In 2001 Mark set up ADi Audiovisual, (part of ADi group) which is now the UK’s leading installer of audiovisual artworks. This enabled him to employ a team of technicians, and he has had to become adept at multi-tasking and managing people, budgets and premises. He enjoys the technically challenging, complex installations and the people that he gets to work with.

Developing freelancing skills

The structure of the art world is a few big public galleries with just one or two technician posts, and many small commercial galleries who are unable to afford full-time technicians. Because of this, both Ross and Mark found it important to develop freelancing skills.

Mark advises those wanting to become a technician to, “keep up-to-date with industry knowledge about what and who is being shown where. Develop technical knowledge, such as new display technologies, and new suppliers."

They have both learnt to network, market themselves and manage their accounts, alongside broadening their technical experiences and knowledge. It is this, alongside their commitment to art, that has ensured a successful career.

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