SLICE OF LIFE
Amanda Jirón-Murphy, Gallery Director, Hamiltonian
I’m super flattered that you want to know what a day is like in the life of a schmancy Gallery Director, ooooh. Truth be told, I was going to do a tongue-in-cheek, shouts and murmurs style satire on the glam life and times of yours truly (two small gallery dogs! Fresh pressed juices brought to me promptly at 10 am on a silver tray! Expensive outfits!) but after reading the searingly honest interview with former British Vogue Fashion editor Lucinda Chambers, I realized that the last thing I want to do is perpetuate a bunch of myths about what it’s like to be a woman working as a Gallery Director in the 21st century. Only a handful of us have the dogs and the juice and the clothes. The rest of us slog it out – and yes, it is a lot of work – and then pretend we’re the ladies with the dogs and the juice and the clothes at exhibition opening receptions and art fairs, because this is a rarified field that caters to the rich, and we are pressured to play the part, even if we ourselves are not. So imma give it to you straight.
I live in a 700 square foot English Basement on H Street NE. My husband, artist Matthew Mann and I rent, and we’ve been in our apartment for nine years. It’s a long time to have spent in the same place, but we found it when the neighborhood was not hip (or hipper, depending on how you feel about it), and I’d just gotten my first full-time job, and we could finally afford to move out of the rent-controlled apartment we’d been in prior. We joke that we found the unicorn apartment, but we really did: our lovely landlord (who lives upstairs) hasn’t raised the rent on us in all that time — no, I refuse to tell you for how much — but that’s because we’re good tenants and we care for his place. As a bonus, karma/gentrification recently gave us a Whole Foods across the street. We have a love/hate relationship with this Whole Foods, but I will be the first to say that it’s mighty nice to be able to get an açai bowl first thing in the morning. On payday. Maybe. Sometimes.
Once upon a time when I was a triathlete, I would wake up at 6 am to go train, but with the rest of the demands of the Gallery Director job (which truly is 24/7), it became exhausting to maintain such a dogmatic exercise regimen. That said, I love an early morning workout. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a morning person, and an endorphin junkie – more on that later. As of late, though, I have been getting up at about 7.
The first thing I’ve been doing is going outside to water my highly temperamental Thai chili plant, which is nestled in with the other herbs and flowers that I grow on my landlord’s deck. I have never raised veg before, and the plant is demanding as hell – water every day, no exceptions – but I tell myself it’s worth it for the chilis that it will yield later this summer. I dream of the day in the near future that it will burst forth with those precious spicy gems, which I will put in everything, and this is what I think about as I water it and contemplate those little flowers that it taunts me with. (When will you be a chili, flower?!?)
Then it’s time for the French Press. This is my ritual with Matt. I make the French press, we listen to the headlines on NPR, we talk about what we’re doing that day, and he’s out the door. I will usually eat a little something (I love Keffir with fruit and granola, and a slice of toast!). Then it’s shower for me, and…wait, this is where it gets silly. I have no car. I haven’t had a car for over a decade. I bike! Check out my sick whip!
Isn’t it the best? My friend lent it to me a few years ago when my other commuter bike got stolen, and then she let me keep it. I am grateful for this gesture of kindness. I bike a six mile round trip to work every day, except when the weather is too crap (read: rain, or snow, or temps above 95 degrees) to bother, in which case I take the bus or Metro in. Taking the Metro in is great because I get to read the New Yorker, or look at the headlines on my phone, or listen to podcasts. It is, however, much, much slower than biking, and considerably more expensive.
I usually arrive at the gallery at 10 am. And then…this is even sillier…I have to basically take another shower. Yup. Before I go out the door I have packed essential oil wipes and clothes and, often, my lunch in my bike messenger bag. I *magically* transform into my Gallery Director incarnation after some effort. Fortunately I only really need to do this in the summer when it’s hot and nasty and biking in my work clothes is totally out of the question.
Then the day begins.
You know how you walk into a gallery and you wonder what the heck those people are doing all day in (what seems like) a totally empty space? I’ll tell you what they’re doing! They’re corresponding with clients. They’re sending all those 300 dpi hi-res jpegs that galleries nag artists for prospective collectors, and press, and creating exhibition checklists, and making price lists, and drafting press releases and artists bios. They’re updating social media. And, in my case, they’re corresponding directly with the artist to figure out how to get a life-sized zoetrope in the back door of the gallery through the alleyway.
Here’s the beauty of being a Gallery Director: I get to dictate my schedule and the work. Here’s the terrible thing about being a Gallery Director: it’s all up to me. I am basically my own boss. This was a massive shift for me after working jobs where I had to report to work at a specific time and had a boss who would impose deadlines and projects upon me. Now it’s all me. This can be a benefit, or a detriment. Some people cave when they are handed that much freedom, but I’ve found after five years that this works for me, and I like it.
I structure my day like this: I know I’m better in the morning, so I try to schedule any meetings (with artists, or with staff, or anyone, really) after I have fairy god-mothered myself from sweaty Amanda into Gallery Director Amanda. Some days I have the luxury of breezing through my email and reading up on all the art world ins and outs before anything. I subscribe to Artnet News, Blouin ArtInfo, Bmore Art and Hyperallergic. I also look at Art F City, and between that and the local papers (City Paper, Washington Post) and my subscription to the New Yorker, New York Times, Artforum and Art in America, I hope that I am able to stay current, even if all I can afford is a passing glance at the stories!!
One of the most important parts of my day is checking in with my boo, Michael Schiffer. Michael is the Gallery Manager, and my right hand man. Someone jokingly referred to him as “Art Angel Michael” the other day. They were right. Hamiltonian Gallery would not be what it is without his kindness, attention to detail, dedication, hard work and joyous spirit. I make talking to Michael in the morning a priority: about what we’re going to do that week, what projects we have on the horizon, and what are the front-burner needs for the day. We do this daily. We almost always have a laugh. Communication is key.
Here is a picture I took of Michael after having triumphantly climbed atop a sculpted elephant in the parking lot of South of the Border on our way back from Satellite Art Fair, Miami last December. We drove a Dodge Cargo Van there and back. Despite being a lot of work, it was a blast, as the photo is testament.
In the morning, I write lists, and look at my calendar, and prioritize. I write lists like a fiend. I write what I need to do that day. I write long-term projects. I keep a notebook. I like checking things off, but then I write more. Currently I’m working on organizing a camping trip to the Wassaic Artist Residency, putting together a PDF for one of our artists to send to collectors, corresponding with another gallery about pitching two of our artists to a client, and trying to organize a program for the current exhibition with a teen youth group…and organizing another program during our next exhibition with the Smithsonian Institution…and finalizing an application to an art fair…and shipping artwork out to an artist. There are always at least seven plates spinning at any given time at the Gallery. This is why making sure me and Michael are on the same page is SO important.
I’ll work from about 11 until 2 pm, and I’ll try to give myself a break for lunch. There is a lot to do on any given day, and we’re running the show as a team of two, so we sometimes have to remind one another to eat. I try to bring my lunch as frequently as possible. Matt is my sandwich maker, and if I am so inclined, I know where I can find a trusty ham and cheese. If I’m really feeling frisky, I’ll go out for lunch. Thriftiness sends me to Trader Joe’s. Fabulousness dictates a poke bowl or sushi, or a very expensive salad from SweetGreen. Who am I kidding? When the shit hits the fan, Michael and I treat ourselves to a chocolate shake from McDonald’s. We all have our things.
I hate this habit of mine, and I am trying to change it: I eat my lunch and work at the same time. This is a recipe for fatness, they will tell you. They are probably right. This probably keeps me eating more than I realize. I am working on changing it. It’s nicer to focus on what you are eating and have a conversation. Michael and I have been doing that recently.
I hit the doldrums in the late afternoon, so I will give myself the excuse to go for a walk in Meridian Hill Park, or go for a coffee at the Wydown. I always order an espresso macchiato, the afternoon habit of Italians that I adopted (and abide by) for a late afternoon coffee that will give you the right dose of caffeine and flavor to propel you through the rest of your day. Sometimes in the afternoon I will play music to keep myself going: I am a big fan of the Los Angeles NPR station KCRW’s program “Eclectic 24” and “Morning Becomes Eclectic”, which I will stream. I also love Austin-based music blog “Gorilla Vs. Bear” – they have the best monthly mixes!! I might finish the day out with a meeting or two more, or working on the projects that I still have going.
I took this picture to show you that at the gallery, Michael and I do everything, and I mean everything. Including cleaning the toilets before an opening. You ever notice how clean the bathrooms are at Hamiltonian? That’s because we clean them almost every time before you come to visit. We take pride in every aspect of our work – I stand by the belief that if you want to have a strong gallery, ya gotta start by sweeping the floor. By this I mean that integrity in all things matter to me, from the bottom to the top. We stand by this, and we try to look good doing it. (Now we just have to fix that wacky TP roll!)
Evenings get interesting. In the fall and winter, I am almost guaranteed to have an event of some kind five nights out of the week: an artist talk, a lecture at a museum, some kind of opening reception. If I have one of those evenings on the docket, my workout will occur at 6 am. If not, then I’m free to go out, or to work out.
Once I gave myself a rule that I would do no more than three art-related events in a week, but it failed. As it is currently summer, there are fewer events, so I am taking advantage to make time to meet up with friends for outdoor happy hours (ah, the patio/rooftop cocktail! ‘Tis a thing of beauty!) or for workouts. Being that I am married to an artist and working as a gallerist, I really almost never go to art events as anything but the Gallery Director of Hamiltonian, so I relish the times that I can go somewhere and just be regular old me.
One of the places I can just be me is when I go boxing with Dave. I bike to Dave’s. Dave’s boxing studio, Downtown Boxing Club, is just up the street from my house. He gives a failsafe, butt-kicking boxing workout for 1 hour. It’s no frills. You wrap your hands, you shadowbox, you hit the bags, you spar, you jump rope, you do 100 pushups and 500 sit ups and call it a day. I love it! I especially love that Dave loves art. I knew there was no turning back when, the first time I met him, he started to wax poetic about a recent George Bazille show at the National Gallery. When I saw how he lit up talking about the artist, I realized that he was just as dedicated to his craft (boxing, which he has been teaching in warehouses since 1999) as artists are to theirs. You do it daily, you make no compromises, it’s a discipline. I knew I’d like him and the class. I’ve been going now twice a week for two weeks, and it’s great, even if he does occasionally bop me on the nose in the ring if my feet aren’t quick enough.
I’ll roll home (literally, on my bike) at about this hour. It’s important to note that Matt gets home at about the same time as me, because he goes to his studio every day for about 2 – 3 hours. Since Matt recently lost his studio to gentrification, the studio is now (temporarily) at home in our mudroom.
Dinner-wise, we almost always have something we have pre-planned, since our schedules run so late. Sometimes Matt will cook, and if he makes dinner, I do dishes, and vice versa. On this evening I made quesadillas (quick) and then a bunch of veg. Dinner is probably my favorite part of the day, aside from going to bed!! We use cloth napkins, which I fold in the way I used to do when I waited tables. We play music – Matt has stellar musical taste, which I love. We listen to Freddie Redd, or the Calder Quartet, or Mitsuko Uchida playing Mozart’s piano concertos, or Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. We talk about our day. I love to cook, so this is a nice way for us both to wind down. I adore dinner. Cleaning up is a pain, but so it goes!!
By the time we’ve cooked, and talked, and all is done, it’s about this hour, and I am beat. Sometimes we’ll watch something, but as of late we’ve been reading. Remember all those magazines and papers I told you about? This is as good a time as any to make a dent in them. I especially love reading the New Yorker. I sink into it and then find it’s hard to get out.
Right before I got to sleep, I will sometimes rub my feet with some coconut oil and lavender essential oil. Did you know that rubbing your feet can help you get a better night’s sleep? ‘Tis true. I cherish my sleep. Shoot, if I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t bike six miles a day and run a gallery and box with Dave. If I’ve gone boxing with Dave, I’ll fall asleep like a baby. Then it’s rinse and repeat again the next day!
P.S. I HAVE MY FIRST CHILI!
P.P.S. Because I love music so much, and I also love sharing what I love, I made a playlist on Spotify that charts my day through music. These are the songs that illustrate my story, from waking up and having a French Press (Brigitte Bardot’s “Moi, Je Joue”), to my bike ride (The Sonic’s “Have Love, Will Travel”), to the afternoon doldrums (“Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies), to those sweet songs that Matt plays at dinner…it’s all there. I hope you enjoy.
Check out Amanda’s Spotify playlist here