Now that I’ve seen the first episode of Bravo’s new reality series, Gallery Girls, I can confirm: You’ve got some excellent hate-watching in store. The first boobs are three minutes in. “I got the job because my dad is a major collector” gets uttered six minutes later, along with “I don’t want to ruin my outfit.” It’s only two ad breaks to the first blackout drunk trust-fund kid. Gallery Girls isn’t going to be the forgivably kooky characters and good-hearted middlebrow creativity of Work of Art: this is pure reality TV at its finest.
You’ll be familiar with the characters. There’s the gregarious alcoholic, the uber-bitch, the attention whore, the slimeball, and the chump, all perfectly cast. Divided up into factions of “Brooklyn” and “Upper East Side,” they spend their days in office politics and their nights in outright girl-war. The show is regularly and viciously offensive to the pantyline-impaired.
As Blake Gopnik pointed out at The Daily Beast, the show isn’t in any real sense about the art world. The galleries involved are marginal, the art is largely offscreen, and the girls spend more time talking about fashion than art. To anyone familiar with the industry, there are little absurdities sprinkled throughout. When the Brooklynites close their struggling fashion-art hybrid space for the night and head out to an opening at Eli Klein’s SoHo white cube, for example, they receive a warm welcome and an invitation to the post-opening dinner. In the real world, they’d have stood around awkwardly and quietly left when the wine ran out.
Of course, any interaction between these characters would need to be manufactured: the art world’s cliques and caste systems are quietly self-enforced, and open conflict is an unseemly rarity. Gallery Girls, then, is something like ancient armies sending out champions to decide a battle in single combat: rather than involve real people with real careers in such a grisly class war, we send out somebody expendable and watch from the sidelines. The ensuing bloodbath is excellent entertainment.
For months during the show’s production, the obvious question was, “What art-worlder in their right mind would take part in this?” Surely no one who properly understood the art world would think this could be good publicity, and reality TV is no way to build your reputation for good taste. That’s what makes a bit of background picked up by Dan Duray, of GalleristNY, so fascinating: despite their current positions at essentially anonymous galleries, a few of the cast members have held blue-chip internships. The sloppy drunk, Amy Poliakoff, has done tours at David Zwirner and Paul Kasmin, while the stressed Brooklynite gallery co-owner, Claudia Martinez-Reardon, worked at Gagosian and Matthew Marks. Official chump Maggie Schaffer, according to her online bio, worked for a time at Christie’s.
That adds an interesting angle to the show. The bile may be real, but one suspects some of the obliviousness isn’t. In one scene, Maggie Schaffer wanders through a gallery with her boyfriend, angrily telling him that Eli Klein insisted he was the only dealer in New York showing Asian art; she points to a collage on the wall as proof of his deception. It’s impossible, though, that anyone could work in the New York art world for any amount of time and believe such an obvious lie (Schaffer has interned with Klein for three years straight, a fact which he is crushingly oblivious to).
Then again, people can be pretty dumb, and they can be petty, and self-centered, and pretentious, too. If Schaffer’s (unlikely) problem is inexperience, it’s more than balanced by the sheer arrogance of fellow Gallery Girl Liz Margulies, or the already-tiring exhibitionism of model-turned-photographer Angela Pham. And in the end, this isn’t really a show about art, and it’s certainly not a show about the lives of gallery interns. It’s a show about deeply flawed people tearing each other apart for no good reason, and it’s great TV.