what’s a museum attendant?

I guess you could call workers in this position also as Museum Guards or Personnel Attendants. What we do is between these two. We maintain order in exhibition spaces and aid the customers fulfil their needs. The order we keep has two sides: “Things that are not allowed” and “Things that are expected“. Some of the rules are illustrated as symbols on the Museum walls but most of them are unwritten.

Leave you jackets and backpacks to the coat rack.

The only public place where you behave as you do in a Modern Museum is a Protestant Church.. And the architecture of this particular building refers to Greek temples. So it can be argued that the Museum presents itself as a “Temple Serving the Sublime of Art”. Like religious places it does not state the rules straightforwardly nor enforce them in an active manner. Instead it suggests them and attempts to seduce visitors to behave accordingly. The clergy intervenes only after something goes horribly wrong and people are left flâneuring between priceless art works in a tolerably free manner. This way they’ll find their personal approach to modernity. This trust the Museum shows serves the Aura of the Artworks (Aura as Walter Benjamin describes it). When you look at a painting you may fantasise about touching it and with this act you could join the objects unique history. But as you time and time again choose not to do so, the uniqueness of the object is enhanced and your actions validate its significance. The less people touch artworks the better they become..

Don’t talk too loud.

It would be easy to protect the works with bullet-proof glasses and laser beams. But showing the tools of control would make your position in the Museum too apparent. The security of the artworks is protected with rumours of meticulous security systems but in the exhibition space you meet a polite and well groomed Personnel Attendant. Well, how groomed she seems depends on the time she has used to mask the sighs of hang-over. The methods of control are knitted into our backbones through epic-cinema and on high-school field-trips. People pose in front of the artworks like princesses and knights. They attempt to look smart by fitting into to the social position the Attendants gaze places them in. Status Que is preserved by self-control. If you behave unaccordingly you’ll blow your cover and show that you don’t understand the Art. As an Attendant my biggest job is to produce shame in such occasions. The people I mostly caution are students on field trips and children.

Don’t talk on your phone.

As this is a Modern Museum it hopes to nourish the “modern in all men” and truly believes that at the heart of the working-classes there is an aristocrat which Art in the museum-space awakens. As people conform to the unspoken expectations and begin posing, the Museum is left to believe that it has enlightened a soul. As there always are some nonconformist in the mob the Attendants are expected to meet their “special needs” and much like Flight Attendants the Museum Attendants are thought of of as role models for the desired behaviour. The guardians of etiquette maintain it by behaving in a strict Prussian military style. We stand tall and alert, complying to your desires. Our uniforms are united and grey in colour and as a sighs of openness our names are displayed on id-cards. We are humble servants of Art, only replying when spoken to and foreseeing you needs.

Don’t take photos.

The Attendants are groomed to their job by senior Attendants and the tradition they upkeep is passed from the earliest times of the Museum. This tradition conflicts with the Museums current ambitions, as it is attempting to provide a customer service-experience for all audiences. The traditional tasks of Attendants seem more concerned on keeping suspicious characters away from the Museum then showing effort to invite new people to the “Temple..”. I guess that at the grass-root level we work in the conflicts that arise when Russians from different socio-economic classes or non-european audiences meet modern art, are too big to handle and because of this it’s easier to keep others out.

Don’t update your Facebook status with your iphone or n900 or g1. (All sighs of technology are to be hidden. [Even in-house video-projectors running infomercials are referred as magic-laterns!!!])

Years back the Attendants have had more freedom and the tasks these wo/men performed had more variation. We were housekeepers, guards or assistants to curators, possibly building exhibitions. As a remnant of this there are some success stories circulating in the house. A few motivated Attendants have been lifted to higher positions, as Chief Carpenters or to the Museums Information-Centre services. These career builders are typically young men.

Don’t block the passageways.

I was told by a lady who has worked in the same position for 30 years that between ’70-’90 they where enjoying CATS DAYS as the Museum had barely 400 visitors per week. The current average of guests per day is 1700 and season peeks rise it up to 4000. Because of this international security companies have taken standardised control over ALL security issues. Our position security wise is a mere facade. The only tools we have to protect the artworks with are our walkie-takies and eyes. This is why our the etiquette guarding part of your work is enhanced.

Beverages not allowed inside exhibition halls.

Other then enforcing the unwritten rules I guide people to the locations they want to visit inside the museum and I am to smile when doing so. Occasionally I share some trivia on the artworks.. Mostly the birth and death dates of artists. The Overseer of Customer Service would like to think that overseers are front-end of the “Museum experience“.

Don’t walk too fast.

The Museum experience is a framework including both pedagogical- and customer service aims. The Museum hopes to provide a smooth, conflict free service experience for the paying customers and at the same time to educate the public on key points on our culture. The Attendants presence creates a feeling that your needs as the public and wishes as a customer are met. We give a human face to the Museum and work as the forefront of the institution. Its ideology is enacted through our durational performance. Because of this Museum Attendants are slammed hard with critique. The critique isn’t specific to this Museum. It’s aimed toward all evil institutions people have to deal with in our quasi-democracy. We represent a in-house big-brother that can be blamed for everything which has gone wrong. From the customers point of view we are the reason for their discomfort. Assaults occur daily and take many forms.. In most wicked cases this critique is manifested as non-verbal offensives against an Attendants person. Sometimes ago (only 60 years or so) guests could meet the Curators of the Museum and speak to them in person. Currently this institutions does not provide a channel to communicate and only a email address is given for the public to send their comments to.

If the fire alarm goes on: Follow me!

All of this seems like a lot of work. The baffling part of this performance is that everything is done passively. If you see a Attendant talking excitedly or gazing an artwork intensively you are seeing a bad worker. The only thing an Attendant is to do is stand in the exhibition rooms and look for sighs of trouble or situation S\he could “be of assistance” in. The all embracing passivity is the hardest part of the job as it is against the nature of work. Most of the time is used to control oneself.

In practise I open the rooms in the morning, check that the video installations are running and at the end of the evening I close the doors. In between I stand in the exhibition halls next to paintings and sculptures and prohibit people from touching them. I am really provoked by this job.. It is against most of my believes as an Artist.

Writing this down takes a load of my back,
Alexandra

—-

Here is some additional reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_attendant

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Typical responsibilities include:

  • Conducting the front of house operation of museum
  • Provides information about regulations, facilities, and exhibits to visitors
  • Opening museum during opening hours
  • Greeting visitors on arrival
  • Inviting visitors to sign the visitor book
  • Monitoring visitors while viewing exhibits
  • Cautioning people (often children) for not complying with museum regulations
  • Handing out promotional materials
  • Answering questions concerning exhibits, regulations, facilities, etc.
  • Arranging tours for schools or other groups
  • Organizing volunteers or other staff members to conduct tours
  • Examining exhibits and objects periodically
  • Notifying museum personnel when repair or replacement is required
  • The exact nature of the responsibilities required will depend on the size and type of museum, and the exact role designated to the museum attendant.

4 responses to “what’s a museum attendant?

  1. Maybe museum attendants should organize something similar than the office olympics?

    Running through the Louvre

    • I have a great idea… How about we announce the next “International Museum Day”, held annually since 1977 (Each Year around the 18th May) as the “Run Trough Museum Day”. Their theme for this year is “Museums for social harmony” so the run could be done in some way that celebrates social harmony or something… Here is a link to the International Museum Day site:

      http://icom.museum/imd.html

  2. Quite interesting. Personally I love art (good art, not crappy modern art) but I hate art museums. Mostly because they have too much crappy modern art, like a string on the wall held by a thumb tack. I actually got in trouble for touching it because I commented to my wife how some jackass had stuck a string to the wall. I was unaware it was “Art.” I’m not an artist, but a novelist. But the avant-garde in any form annoy me.

    Nice blog, thanks for visiting mine.

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