White glove shot (ctd.)

October 22 2015

Image of White glove shot (ctd.)

Picture: BBC

Ok, this is getting ridiculous now. Above is a press shot accompanying the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art's acquisition of a 1913 Picasso. It's wrong on so many levels.

So I think that if museum press offices are going to insist on these daft 'holding' photos, then it's time to introduce some rules:

1 - if you must wear gloves, let them be white and cotton. If you're going to perpetuate the myth that people in museums really wear white gloves, then have actual white gloves to hand. Rubber ones of the type worn by vets at the back end of a cow are Not Good.

2 - if you must pretend to hold the painting, at least try and make it look like you're really holding it. This means the picture must not be: (a) screwed to the wall with the screw visible; (b) obviously fifteen times heavier than the person holding it with one arm; or (c) hung so high above the 'holder' that they cannot reach it.

3 - Or better yet, actually just hold it, maybe with two people, before you actually attach it to the wall.

4 - And maybe, just every now and then, can we let the 'holder' be a bloke? Just for a change?

Update - THanks for all your emails on this. A reader asks:

Why is she on her knees?

Another writes:

Do you think "white glove shots" are more to allow us to appreciate the dimensions

of a particular painting or piece of art?  And The use of the pretty lady "holding" the painting reminds me of how female scantily clad models were once used to sell cars!


Lord Chesterfield springs to mind, the expense enormous and the posture ridiculous.

And another:

[...] the running stream of ludicrous pictures of women pretending to hold up paintings, has me in stitches. Others love it too.  

 As a woman, I appreciate someone pointing out the way women are still used as bits of décor. I pass no comment on what it says about rubber/white gloves.

Could there be a campaign to wean these galleries and dealers off by suggesting an alternative, like switching to electronic cigarettes as a first step to avoid severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms?  I offer……. why not obligatory Xmas lights draped over in a suitably luscious fashion? And as the addiction wanes, another step down to Xmas baubles …

Another reader sends in this specially taken shot - thanks!

And here's the definitive word from an art handler, who writes:

I am an art handler who has worked in several museums and auction houses.

1. All types of gloves are used and would therefore be "realistic," for a staff member to wear in a photo. As an art handler you are not just wandering a well lit gallery polishing the glass on pictures, you are moving and unpacking wooden crates, handling extremely heavy and challenging objects, unpacking boxes, fabricating plinths, and moving gallery furniture. We use builders grip "vet" gloves (as in the Picasso pic,) white gloves and nitrile gloves. Sometimes these are our choices, dependent on what we are working with, other times the glove is stipulated by the department we are working for. White gloves for old master, nitrile for contemporary art, etc. I think it is felt by the auction houses that old master clientele want to see their prospective purchases handled with old school white gloves. It's as much about conveying a message as it is protecting the work.

Staff in museums really wear white gloves. Again there is no blanket policy, it likely comes down to the best intentions of whoever the head of conservation is. In the museums I have worked in I again have worn nitrile and white cotton gloves, and for a variety of (sometimes confusing) reasons. Just to correct an earlier comment you made white cotton gloves these days have rubber dot grips on them and are not slippy.

2. These photo opportunities are always "directed" by the photographer, or sometimes several photographers at once. They are only interested in feeding into the cliched public perception of what goes on in museums and auction houses.

3. I have been photographed in all stages with a work - on the wall, off the wall, hanging the work, tilting it, holding it above my head and most enjoyably running sideways with a £10m painting to achieve the blurry "rushing staff member strides past stationary gallery visitors," cliche.

4. Blokes outnumber women in this business but if there is a female around they will want to use her in the photo. Sometimes if there are no females around they will use a female staff member from another department dressed up as an art handler.

In other words, in the Old Master world it's pretty much all for show. The white cotton gloves sans grippy bits are the ones brought to the photo shoots by the press office. In my experience of moving and hanging thousands of Old Masters, from £500 pictures to £10m ones, gloves (even proper ones) do nothing but get in the way and make life more difficult. You're far better off just using your hands. The archive sector realised this long ago.

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