This eulogy, for want of a better word, attempts to trace around the form of one of those most fleeting of art beings that are often processed by and lost in the system: the intern.
Intern: a word which in a busy studio or gallery can be used in lieu of a name. As in, ‘I’ll send the intern out’, or, ‘the intern could pick them up on the way in.’ Or, as on that fateful day three months ago when my heart shrank between beats, ‘the intern has fallen down the lift shaft!’ I will be guilty of this myself in this short tribute, for I have decided to refer to the deceased as ‘My Intern’.
The nature of the art business – and let us not forget that, however we may dress it up, it is a business – is one of constant process. It re-evaluates and re-positions itself, testing even the most hardened among us. A constantly shifting, slippery log-jam. I could better describe it as a giant complicated mill, but that’s not right either because it would need to be a mill where the mechanism was constantly being re-configured, even re-invented. And of course there could be no one miller in charge.
This intern – My Intern – walked into my gallery, which carries my name, almost 18 months ago as an elegantly poised sphinx. Her shoes, scuffed during another chapter of life, seemed to speak of a person with direction. Khaki jodhpurs and the humblest of knitted tank-tops gave her the appearance of a land girl lost.
I should explain that the place she walked into was not the old Art Deco building that the gallery used to be located in, but a much bigger airier space we had newly decamped to in the 14th arrondissement. We were just finding our feet, with everything still in boxes. A new gallery meant change for us all. My Intern equipped herself fantastically with a sunny disposition and stylish deportment, which we all agreed made the transition to the new space all the more bearable.
She hit the ground running, arriving with a box of cream horns from a patisserie around the corner. I remember the motif on the box being a snooty-looking croissant wearing a monocle. She joked that it looked a little like me. I remember blushing; something I hadn’t done for 20 years or more.
The first exhibition, which came soon after her arrival, was by a Central American printmaker. Indispensable is a word bandied around too readily. My Intern’s knowledge of the work certainly seemed to be excellent, but I expected that. Rather, it was the way in which she aligned our collectors with the work in such a way that I was almost jealous. The evening ended in a karaoke bar, where her firefighting skills came into play. One of the collectors had set his jacket alight to prove some point or other, and she adroitly scooped it up off the floor and deposited it into the nearest champagne bucket.
I could go on here – about how she cut our hulking mailing list down to size, how she drove across Europe with a stinking maquette in her lap, about her uncanny knack of remembering how every one of our clients liked their coffee, how she once found a gob of mercury which had escaped from a sculpture all over her hands and knees, not to mention cleaning congealed blood and glitter from the gallery’s shadow gap after some performance or other.
I’d had interns before. Many of their number were proficient in their roles, but they faded from memory with the coming of this intern amongst interns. I remember a particularly turbulent flight to Venice. With the mighty Dolomites below us, I thought that if the plane were to fall and the mountains dash our aircraft to pieces, I would at least have the most delightful of death companions. She squeezed my thumb and piloted us both through the choppy 15 minutes that followed.
The circumstances of her death will trouble me for the rest of my days and I do not wish to discuss them here, only to say that I shall never step into a lift again. Taking the stairs seems like a worthy penance. And though I have developed the legs of a grasshopper there is no bounce or spring to my step.
As if to compound the sadness we have all felt at the gallery we have been unable to contact her family. She had mentioned on occasion a sister in Hampshire but after making countless enquires we arrived at the desperately sad task of arranging a funeral without any family. And so it was quite natural that we, her gallery family, assumed familial roles.
The funeral was one of the saddest days of my life. The gallery technicians – who loved her like a sister – shared her last moments. They spoke of a violet aroma which came with her last breath. And then the faintest trace of the falafel she had shared with them earlier that day.
We, the gallery, have lost a friend – My Intern.
First published in Issue 145