After having worked at a museum for two years, I know the feeling of struggling to maintain your cool while talking to museum goers about art you might not really enjoy. You become desensitized quickly, surrounded by artwork whose meanings dissipate within a week or two. I also know that within these institutions there are amazing artists who go unnoticed by the curators and organizers. So with that, I’ve decided to get the inside scoop from some emerging artists that have devoted years of their lives to the museum, artists that hide within museum walls, giving artwork context and life for those who choose to enter.
Elizabeth Zito, Visitor Services at MoMa PS1
“I don't think museums are accessible, even one as hip and cool as PS1. But if they wanna give me a show one day, I'll totally say yes… that's the burn.”
Elizabeth Zito is a video artist and recent grad of The School of Visual Arts. Having received her job through a school program, she began to work at MoMa PS1 as a visitor services associate. “When I first started, it was during the Mike Kelley show, which actually greatly impacted me as an artist,” she says. Splitting her time between being a full-time student and working at PS1, she’s faced several challenges in her dual role as museum employee and artist. “This one time I was stationed in a gallery and was harassed by two visitors that were aggressively asking me about the work and insulting me on my knowledge and calling me out for being part of this corporate institution. Instead of being like ‘I dunno if I can defend this, I'm an artist too,’ I just called for a bathroom break and had a panic attack.”
She’s used these trying situations to strengthen her work. “I started making a few pieces that were institutional critiques,” she says. “ I came up with a persona called ‘The Failed Artist.’ I also made a video in PS1 with my friend Michael where we were Board Room Directors or whatever. It is almost too easy to parody, I feel like these people are parodies of themselves.”
Laura Murray, Visitor Services at The New Museum “Most of the stories circulating around contemporary artists seem to start right when the artist is gaining attention. I think it would be so much more encouraging to hear that so-and-so worked at a Starbucks when he/she was 26 to pay for his/her studio rent.”
Laura Murray is a sculptor and painter from Oklahoma. After moving to New York to pursue art, she balanced school with painting portraits in Central Park, working at galleries, and then at The New Museum for three years. For Murray, working at a museum proved to be a positive experience. “I learned about artists and movements that I probably would not have learned about otherwise. And it resulted in a lot of networking opportunities, like being able to work with Massimiliano Gioni and Maurizio Cattelan at their Family Business Gallery. I was even able to curate a show with Peter Hoffmeister, an artist who was working as a guard at the Met while maintaining his own studio practice.”
While her naturalistic work has not been influenced by her museum surroundings, her network has surely grown, allowing her to meet various curators and artists that were open to getting to know her work. “I wouldn't say that working in a museum has seeped into my work in a direct way, but it has made me more aware of the art community in New York City. Even though NYC is one of the major art capitals of the world, the arts community is so tiny.”
To learn more about Laura Murray's work, click here.