bath contemporary placement

November/December 2016

This year, for the months of November and December I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of three work experience students that the gallery Bath Contemporary take on each year. The opportunity was brought to us through university as the gallery have really strong educational links. The application process was reasonably vigorous and treated incredibly professionally, with a covering letter, CV and then a formal interview. I was unsure how much of a role I would be taking on in the gallery with only doing one day a week, however very quickly I became heavily involved in a lot of the different processes that exist within a commercial, contemporary gallery. Fortunately, my timing was great, during my two-month placement I had the opportunity to work two private views and a book launch. 

The balance between commercial and creative is something I have always been baffled by in galleries and the Bath Contemporary team were incredibly sympathetic when hanging shows to make sure there are relationships and links between works creatively as well as placing works that sell well at the front. The team were really upfront and clear about how they approach a hang and I learnt a great deal about how to logistically go about hanging both a solo show as well as a multi-artist and multi-disciplinary show. As a gallery in an expensive area of Bath city, Bridget is incredibly logical about what we show in the front gallery such as prints and works that will attract an audience into the gallery. After this, it is their incredibly welcoming approach and pure professionalism that encourages clients to purchase or seek more information. Seeing this happen first hand and being involved in some large sales was really exciting. 

The hangs were my most notable point of learning as I was given every opportunity to put my input in or take control of a part of the hang, I was treated equally and my opinion was valued genuinely by the team. Creatively, this experience has taught me a lot about suspending judgement. In my feedback meeting with Bridget, one aspect on which I could improve was my speed of decisions; I am often quite quick to judge or make creative decisions and by slowing this process down I might be able to make more considered decisions. This piece of advice I found not only transcending into how I view art in galleries but also how I approach my studio practice; slowing things down and taking my time with the marks I make in my paintings and considering techniques and processes in more detail before rushing into something. The hangs were often incredibly long and frustrating, hitting dead ends and always having that one piece of work that doesn't want to sit anywhere happily. However, Bridget and Ollie's determination was incomparable, obviously they are used to this exercise however my stamina lacked in comparison. Their ability to sit with things and try different combinations and compositions was boundless and I learnt so much from just watching their thought processes be acted out. As we would hang, they both would talk through their reasoning and decision making, choosing works which both sit well with each other but also works which buffer up against each other.  


In terms of technology; learning how to use the ledger and the programming of the website and the database of clients was another aspect of galleries that I had no previous experience with and therefore it was incredibly interesting learning how to master the ledger etc. The sustainable links that the gallery team create and sustain with their clients is crucial to the running of the gallery, not only do we record the purchases for inventory purposes but we always make a note of what the client is buying both currently and previously in order to best know how to cater to their needs and acknowledge their interests with new emerging artists the gallery takes on. The gallery has a database in which names and contact details are stored alongside this additional information about their interests, the navigation of this database was difficult to get to grips with but the consecutive process of selling a work, notifying the ledger of the purchase, adding the client to the database and filling in a purchase receipt; it all became second nature to me. 

Practically, this placement was also invaluable as it taught me the 'dos and don'ts' of hanging a show and the easiest way of displaying work in a way which was both cost and time effective as well as creatively sympathetic. The entire gallery is run of this system of ties that are moveable on runners around the gallery ceiling; this allows for not only quick hanging but easy changes if when hanging you need to try out various different compositions. This system needs all work to have D-rings attached to the back of the work, this was also an incredibly efficient way of displaying work and is something that has already helped me in my own exhibitions since the placement. Lighting the work correctly has been a learning curve, knowing what saturation a certain piece needs depending on its content, colour and material- knowing how best to stage a work so that the artist intentions and creative integrity is kept intact. Photographing ceramics was also something I did frequently within the placement, the website was having an update which meant a lot of the work needed to be re-photographed and uploaded accordingly. As a painter, learning how to professionally photography ceramic work was really interesting, understanding where the focus needs to be and to ensure that you show off techniques, materials and the three-dimensionality of the object. 



I also loved being part of the private views and talking or interacting with artists and clients both selling and talking about the work. The research that was needed in order to easily converse at a private view was gathered both by hanging the work swell as reading and talking to the artists themselves. The relationship or tension between what the artists makes and their incentive and then the reasoning behind clients purchasing was really interesting. Inevitably, these private view evenings do include a lot of small talk however I have gained so much confidence in existing in these events and being able to competently converse.  

During my time at the gallery, historian and the gallery's social media consultant Catherine Pitt interview me about my time at the gallery and who I am as an artist and who or what take influence from. This was also a really incredible experience to undergo, how to behave in an interview, what information is relevant and getting to the crux of what inspires me was a really fascinating process. Talking to Catherine in an informal way was also a really valuable experience as she is a writer for several Bath magazines. We discussed how writing about culture is received in this modern age and this brought about the possibility of me writing as future career choice. This was also really encouraged by Bridget and Ollie as various write ups about their artists on the website were configured by me.


Working in the gallery for two months has definitely had a lasting effect on me, it has opened up a new career choice possibility. Most importantly it has allowed to gain a better understanding and a more cohesive and expanded perception of how the art world is navigated. I keep in close contact with both Bridget and Ollie and they are both kind enough to have offered me references for a job I am currently applying for in a gallery in Cornwall. 

© 2019 Holly Nicholls