5 Reasons I Love Working at the National Gallery of Art
I currently work at the National Gallery of Art as the Samuel H. Kress Collection Archivist. My work entails connecting documents from various curatorial, provenance, archival and conservation departments to keep up digital and analog information on the status of each artwork in this collection. This consists of bills of sale, letters of authenticity, inventory numbering systems, photographs of artwork (either just of the work, details of the works, or photographs of works being packaged or hanging in other spaces/homes/exhibitions). The conservation documents are my favorites: they include notes on what techniques conservators used to treat paintings, UV and other types of x-rays with images that reflect areas of decay or damage on these masterpieces. Most of the Kress Collection is 14-16th century art, and mainly paintings, so it’s cool to see the behind the scenes of restoration of El Greco & Piero di Cosimo paintings as they prepare to go on exhibit.
These are five favorite things I love about working at the National Gallery of Art:
The security guards. They have the most interesting stories and have seen it all. From weddings to people trying to attempt to steal artwork, they are (for the most part) kind and interested to engage in conversation. I also feel their job is the hardest: they’re public facing, on their feet all day, and in charge of masterpieces. They also spend the most time living with these masterpieces, which I envy.
Lunch in the sculpture garden. Almost every day when the weather is nice I eat with other museum colleagues in the sculpture garden. I cannot think of many things lovelier than that. In the winter, we ice-skate during our lunch breaks.
The horticulture department. Working here is where I developed a love for flowers, and I’d love to work as a freelance florist one day. At some point, I’ll work that into my répertoire. When there is a special event, the bouquets become more flamboyant and the rotunda is especially romantic during the holidays. The staff enjoys the rotunda floral displays I think even more than the museum guests. It’s always talk of the office: they did the holiday rotunda, did you see it yet? I personally love watching the horticulturalists push their carts around treating plants in the wee-hours of the morning before the museum opens.
When I take time (usually in the afternoon during a bathroom break) to detour through some of the galleries and I observe the visitors. When I was in college completing my Bachelor’s Degree and fell in love with Art History, I’d spend my weekends at the NGA regularly. To me, the museum was a safe space to sit and think and be around all of these magnificent creations. It was also easier for me to learn about the works experiencing them in person rather than through a textbook (a privilege that comes with living in a city filled with incredible museums that I absolutely do not take for granted). Even though working inside the museum can sometimes separate the magic of the museum experience for me personally, it always comes back when I see the awe in people’s eyes who are maybe visiting for the first time. Art truly is magical, and museums do safe-keep in many ways…
By far, my favorite part about my job is the Paintings Conservation Department. Everyone in there is so dedicated to what they do. It’s a science lab and an art studio all in one. I admire conservators because they need to be 1/3 chemist, 1/3 artist and 1/3 art historian. Even though I work with a mainly-Renaissance collection which is my purpose in there, Jay Kruger is cleaning a Rothko right now and I come to life every time I see it.