Protecting the art in our care is no small matter, and entails much more than one might imagine. Milli Apelgren, Gallery Assistant Supervisor at the Blanton, gives us insight into what it takes to safeguard the art in our collection and exhibitions, and shares a few favorite anecdotes from other gallery assistants at the Blanton:
You may expect me to talk about art, but I know of another, easily and often overlooked treasure that the Blanton holds — our gallery assistant staff!
The gallery assistant (GA) role at the Blanton is truly a unique position. Born out of the desire to provide an extraordinary experience for our visitors, the GA staff was hired to answer questions about the collection, provide direction, all the while protecting the art that we treasure most. Spending long hours on our feet, we ask everyone to keep a safe distance from the artwork, and a variety of other precautions. Protecting the Blanton’s collection and the art on loan to us is of the highest priority but we also can provide valuable information about … well, pretty much anything you’d want to know! Always ready to help, you’ll spot us in the blue shirts.
Once you enter the Blanton, you’ll have in your midst some of the most talented people I’ve had the pleasure to know, quietly protecting the treasures on the walls. As one might expect, many of the GAs are accomplished artists themselves, showing their artwork in Austin and nationwide (take a look at images of art by Blanton GA staff below). And several have been recipients of various accolades including an Austin Critic’s Table award for Outstanding Work of Art. We also have a fascinating array of talented individuals on staff ranging from UT audiology majors to classic archeologists. The GAs spend hours contemplating and studying the Blanton’s collection and can provide an amazing amount of knowledge to share with the visitors.
Upon your first steps in the museum, you will encounter our friendly, welcoming faces. We’ll guide you to the lockers, help you find that painting you are looking for, and hand you a pencil. We care very deeply about the art that the Blanton has to share and we are a fortunate few who get to live with the art daily. With that comes many responsibilities and our care and concern adds to the ultimate lifespan of the artworks. We are here for many of the same reasons you have come to the museum — to learn new view points and experience the reflective and contemplative nature of art. It’s an exciting place to be to say the least!
In addition to protecting the art, GAs are in the unique position of being able to observe our visitors’ interaction with works on view. Here is a collection of stories GAs have shared about their encounters with the Blanton’s visitors:
“One of the best experiences I have at the Blanton is when I walk through the Battle Cast collection and I hear a child say how cool it would be if the museum was like the one in ‘Night at the Museum’ and how fun it would be to see the casts come to life and interact with one another. I like to tell them the history behind which ever casts caught their interest. I try to get them thinking about the past and how it relates to them now. It always makes my day, and I feel like I really inspire them.”
“Once we had a young man, about 8-10 years old, leading his family of 10 on a tour. They stopped at works by Keifer, Long, Anatsui, and Meireles. At each stop he discussed the piece and answered any questions his family had. I talked to his parents and suggested that we rent him out for tours. They said that previously he had a school tour and ever since he couldn’t wait to show his family what he learned.”
“A favorite experience of mine was when a guest was staring quizzically at the sculpture called 2244 Módulos [2244 Modules] by Isabel Del Rio. The rest of this person’s group had disregarded the sculpture and walked past staring at it strangely. The guest asked me a question and I excitedly gave an explanation, as it is one of my favorites in our collection. The guest was fascinated went on to fetch another person from the group. The second person ended up loving it too and went back for yet another person to pass on the explanation. Soon enough, they had their entire group back at the sculpture discussing what they thought about it at length. I loved the experience because sharing my knowledge with one person ended up opening the perspectives of an entire group of people.”
Check out this great sampling of work from our very talented gallery assistants!