Careers in Art: Ruth Lovell

Term: 3 Year: 2004

Gallery Curator

Ruth works at Lauraine Diggins Fine Art Gallery in North Caulfield, Victoria.

When you were little what did you want to become?
I don’t really remember having any particular career focus – I just know I wanted to work with beautiful things.

What did you study at school and university?
I was always much more attracted to humanities subjects at school as Maths was never my strong subject, but I didn’t study Art at secondary school! The focus at high school was more practical, and although I loved visiting galleries, I didn’t really have the talent to create. I studied an arts degree with an honours year at Melbourne University and discovered art history, which I really enjoyed learning about. Then I went on to study a post-graduate curatorship course at Melbourne Uni.

What is your role at Lauraine Diggins Fine Art?
My role is as gallery manager. As it is a small business, my role is pretty varied and flexible and fits in with whatever tasks are required – from dealing with clients to writing text for catalogues. Part of my role involves a curatorship aspect, but it is also much broader, involving the daily running of the gallery in all different ways, such as administration, personal assistant to the director, account keeping, etc.

When and how did you become a manager of a fine art gallery?
There are a large number of diverse galleries in Melbourne, from state funded institutions to artist run spaces. Many offer volunteer work, which is a good way to gain some experience and be aware of paying positions as opportunities arise. Another good place to gain experience is the auction houses such as Christies, Sothebys or Deutscher Menzies. After studying and then travelling overseas and seeing lots of art in Europe as a backpacker, I returned to Australia and applied for an advertised position at Lauraine Diggins Fine Art in 2000 and was the successful applicant.

What particular skills do you need to have for this job?
Organisation skills, research skills, and people skills are really important, also a good knowledge of Australian art and of handling art works. It is also becoming more important to have tertiary education and there are a few art curatorship and management courses.

What does you job entail? (eg. describe a day)
A whole range of things – liaising with artists, clients, framers, conservators, freight companies, photographers, printers; preparing valuations for clients and for institutions; organising pricelists; writing catalogue entries; researching details about an art work; accounting duties; updating our website; attending art auctions and gallery openings; organising advertising…. I could go on! Some days are extremely busy and you must work to a tight deadline; and then others, such as the day an exhibition opens, are more about talking with people about the art over a glass of wine with cheese.

What is the best part of your job?
The diversity – being a small business means I get to do a bit of everything, which keeps it really interesting. I have also really enjoyed the opportunity of learning more about indigenous art and have found that having greater knowledge allows a greater appreciation of works by indigenous artists, for example, Emily Kngwarreye and Rover Thomas.

Any career highlights?
I have enjoyed travelling to Sydney a number of times, where Lauraine Diggins Fine Art has participated in art fairs. One other great aspect is to be able to meet with artists and talk about their work and visit their studios. It is also fantastic to be surrounded by high quality art works every day and to have the time to get a good close-up look at paintings by important Australian artists that you would usually find in public collections – works by artists such as Albert Tucker, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Frederick McCubbin.

What are the things you don’t particularly enjoy about it?
There are times when I am the only person at the gallery during opening hours (except for the gallery dogs), which means I can’t leave work for nice lunches! The director has two dogs that come to work and like to greet visitors to the gallery – sometimes a little too noisily!

What’s your favourite piece of art work?
Too tricky a question — but one of my favourites is the Bonnard in the NGV called ‘La Siesta’ – it has a real serenity to it.

What book are you reading right now?
‘Portrait in Sepia’ by Isabel Allende.

What do you do to unwind?
I like to read and I like to get away to the coast and walk on the beach.

What are you going to do after this interview?
Work on a price-list for art works we are exhibiting at the Sydney Aboriginal and Oceanic Art Fair, where there are stands for a number of art galleries and art dealers, and cultural art centres from northern Australia and around the Pacific. My next job is to research about each of the artists we are exhibiting at the Fair and write a short biography and prepare information about each of the paintings as most indigenous works have a story such as depicting a certain area which might be good for finding food, or depicting a body paint design linked to a particular ceremony or dreaming.