Reality Bites

Gallery Girls, 2012–, still from a TV show on Bravo. Eli Klein and Maggie Schaffer.

OH MY GOD, I’m having a quarter-life crisis. Should I quit my job to join the rank of interns at SoHo’s infamous Eli Klein Fine Art? Sigh.

It might be a recession, but a girl can dream and drain her trust fund.

Who doesn’t have a plan? A business plan? A life plan? A night plan? Or, God forbid, a day plan? The only decisive statement in the first two episodes of Gallery Girls comes from Chantal, co-owner of End of Century, a boutique/gallery on the Lower East Side. She knows that she’ll go to yoga in the morning, and then maybe show up to her “job” two hours late. Live free or die trying.

Welcome to the fantasy world cooked up by Bravo TV, a behind-the-scenes look at one of New York’s most specialized and last unregulated markets: the art world. Step into the lives of seven would-be art doyennes as they navigate the subtleties of one very insider-y industry. Watch each girl bad-mouth the other as they vie for something, although we (and they) can’t quite locate what that something actually is, because, as much as any producer disguises it, the end goal is for the series to be over so that these girls can do something—anything—else.

Each character projects a different socioeconomic status. Amy (Upper East Side), Liz (Gramercy), and Maggie (Murray Hill) are pitted against their poorer, but business-minded, do-it-yourself Brooklynites: Angela, Chantal, and Claudia. We don’t yet know which neighborhoods the latter are from. Williamsburg, perhaps? Now that Lena Dunham and Lana Del Rey have put Greenpoint on the map, will Bravo jump to catch up? We only know that this contingent dresses in black and that red lipstick permanently clings to their teeth. Consistently smiling Kerri (West Village via Long Island) slides easily among the castes. Just in case you can’t determine these demographics in gridded New York, the producers flash a map between each scene.

Sporting various zip codes, heels, and hemlines, each girl harbors (largely unarticulated) dreams that are not dissimilar from the next. The only consistent thread running through the greater allegory is the incessant hum of a solipsist’s narcissistic chatter. “Do you see how my face lights up when we talk about me?” Angela asks from behind the retina screen. Surprise! Not one fleshed-out thought falls from the lipsticked mouths of these caricature ladies. Though there are some fun tautologies: “How’s work?” asks Angela, pulling up with the girls at yet another steampunk watering hole. “Good!” says Chantal. “It’s just a lot of work.”

“Work” for these girls consists of folding dog-poop bags for lecherous dealers (Maggie), losing a top for “fashion photographers” (Angela), downing one too many at an opening dinner (Amy), ferrying Murray’s bagels to private jets at Teterboro (Kerri), or asking their boss to run for a caramel macchiatto (Liz). As a preamble to a small-beans day sale at Phillips de Pury, Amy (Upper East Side) spews: “Auctions have so much energy and they’re so fun. Everyone’s coming to see and be seen. And we’re all dying to see what goes for what price. It’s the biggest thing, and there’s always cute boys there!” Maybe Amy and I frequent different houses?

Gallery Girls offers up a devastating model for future generations: the Stepford gallerist. These young, nakedly ambitious women get marinated, grilled, and served up to the hungry public. Their “struggle” to find a fledgling voice is broadcast to the masses. But these aren’t the Paula Coopers, Barbara Gladstones, or Florence Bonnefous of the art world—women whose acumen and sensibilities built institutions. These are the reality girls, whose career aims boil down to not doing this. Again.

In the “real” world there’s a real archetype for gallerinas: Thinking girl served with a side of style and helping of brains, their workplaces offer a commons, albeit trendy, to propel dialogue before museums do. In Bravo’s version, the “girls” are siteless players unequivocally aware of sexuality as capital, cognizant of whom they’re servicing but unsure as how to monetize their faux-business relationships (except for that fee they’re paid for being picked up by the show to do nothing, really, except be who they are). One of them puts it best: “You work for free, until someone, someday, says that they’ll give you a shot.” Bravo is not accepting applications. Don’t call them, they’ll e-mail you.