Studio Check In With Gina Guddemi
Gina, Tell us about your position at the Studio Museum.
My role as registrar boils down to inventory, including both the artworks that are owned by the Museum, our amazing permanent collection, or works that are in the possession of the Museum, those that are borrowed and/or on loan. My key responsibility is to protect and preserve the artwork, mitigating all risks associated with its exhibition and the safety of those that are viewing it.
I think it’s a bit cheesy, but a colleague once told me that as registrars, we are the voice for the artworks. If something is too tight or needs adjustment, I am the one to speak up and "voice" those concerns. I work very closely with Bruce Gluck, Studio Museum's incredible Senior Art Preparator, the Curatorial department, and our art handling crew—it’s truly a team effort to safely install, store, and move artwork.
You have the privilege of working closely with the art objects that help define the institution. Is there a piece that you feel especially drawn to or is there a work in our collection that has a special backstory that you might want to share with our readers?
This is an extremely difficult question, how could I ever choose?! As for backstories, I am struck by the amount of work that has been gifted to us by other artists. I think it is such a beautiful thing, of support, of community, of embracing each other. I think that’s incredible.
I have gotten to know our traveling exhibition, Black Refractions, really well. I have packed and sent off this exhibition six times now and the artworks are like best friends. I know them so well, I put them into the crate where they rest and back up when they are ready to shine. All of the works in Black Refractions stand out in my eyes right now.
As someone directly responsible for the physical collection, what is something particularly interesting or challenging that you’ve had to face since the COVID-19 pandemic happened?
My job is to ensure that generations upon generations have access to view, study, and learn from our collection. It's been frustratingly hard for any logistics to happen in this moment: shipping, packing, any type of movement of objects is extremely limited.
All registrars have emergency and action plans, if something should occur—from natural disasters to transit strikes. However, none of us had a plan for a situation like this, where you aren’t allowed to physically come into work the next day. I am, however, really lucky and grateful to live in Harlem. I can walk to and from our office spaces, our public space, and our storage. If we need something, I am on the ground and can do it.
You’ve been at the institution for a little over four years. What is an emblematic memory that you have of working at the Museum that you hold close to your heart?
Ilk, I have so many I don’t know where to begin, but I have a personal one that I’d like to share. I was a freshman at NYU on September 11, 2001. It was an extremely difficult time. On the anniversary of September 11 in 2018, before the Museum building on 125th closed for construction, I was handling and processing some prints with Bruce Gluck. Underneath one of the folders, I saw a photo of Michael Richards (1963–2001) as an artist in residence. I saw it and paused. That moment really stuck with me, his work, and what tragically happened on that day. After a quiet moment of pause, Bruce and I packed the photograph and placed it into the flat-file for safekeeping. It was as if Michael was talking to us.
Gina, you are such a positive person. There are a few people at the institution that go around and say hi to everyone when stopping through the office—you are definitely one of them. What keeps you so positive and hopeful?
My general philosophy is, life is too short. I feel so lucky to be here and to be present—to be a part of this institution, city, and world. I have no time for dwelling on the negativity. And, I genuinely like to get to know people and think people work better when they say hello and get to know each other. My curatorial colleagues will tell you I am the one to stay on the Zoom call until the end, chatting and catching up.
My mom and dad are both very positive people and always encouraged me, so it had a huge impact on me. I also have my bad days, but I always tend to air on the side of being positive because the negativity sucks it out of you. I’d always rather focus on the positive!