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Gallery girls on the small screen – a brief history

16 October 2020

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

The dark evenings are creeping in and lockdown restrictions are returning… so it looks like we’re all going to be spending a lot of time with our tellies over the next few months. One new show that has grabbed Rakewell’s attention is Love Life, first shown on HBO Max earlier this year and now streaming in the UK on BBC iPlayer. The series follows protagonist Darby Carter (played by Anna Kendrick) through a succession of romantic entanglements – and different jobs in the New York art world, from an early-career gig as a museum tour guide to the eventual opening of her own gallery.

A particular highlight is an episode in which Darby is caught out in a lie to a suitor about being a ‘curator at the Whitney’; she’s actually working front-of-house handing out audio guides to visitors. This moment of realism regarding the glamorousness (or lack thereof) of most art-world jobs is refreshing. Still, in other ways, Darby’s chosen career path could not be more stereotypical – this is far from the first time that a TV show about young single women living in Manhattan has given one of its central characters a position at a contemporary art gallery.

Still from ‘Love Life’.

Still from Love Life. Photo: BBC/Lions Gate Television Inc

A classic example: for the first four seasons of Sex and the City, Charlotte York – who majored in art history and minored in finance – manages the gallery Louis K. Meisel Gallery. She gives up her career after getting married – but not before she and her friends make the most of the romantic possibilities of her art-world connections. From Charlotte’s secret affair with Shmuel, a ‘Hasidic folk artist from Brooklyn’, to Samantha’s relationship with the abstract painter Maria Diega Reyes, it seems that a gallery’s roster of artists is better than any dating app.

The trope of the ‘gallerina’ (see also: Marnie Michaels of Girls) is so established that in 2012 it even gave rise to a short-lived reality TV show, Gallery Girls, which followed seven women ‘tackling the cutthroat art world in New York while vying for their dream jobs’. One for the winter watch list?