The Art of Conversation

Leading Museum visitors through a Gallery Conversation

Part of the 12-month internship program is the opportunity to facilitate a Gallery Conversation, a one-hour guided tour of the galleries for the public. As a 12-month intern, I was given the opportunity to pick any topic or works I loved and research diligently—but what I have learned is that when I speak to the public, the research is less important than the conversation.


“So we’re standing in front of two portraits: Portrait of S. and Portrait of K. Can anybody tell me, what’s a portrait?” This question is often met with laughter or smiles. It’s my favorite part of my gallery talk: we are standing in front of Henrik Olesen‘s Portrait of Scott, a deconstructed 13-inch Macbook, and Portrait of Kirsten, a deconstructed Canon PIXMA iP4200 Photo Printer. I start with this question and give what I think of as a point of entry, one sentence explaining how Olesen is interested in bodies as productive, reproductive, and self-productive entities. This is no more information than what is offered in the wall label, but standing in front of the work with a crowd, we are able to bounce around ideas about what this work portrays and what it means to us. A woman starts reflecting on the sweet man at her office back home who never throws anything away, and knows exactly how to carefully pull apart a machine, replace a broken part, and neatly put it back together. Another visitor pulls in Heidegger, thinking about the relationship between man and tool. Someone else adds the potential comparison of Scott and Kirsten to Adam and Eve, thinking about creation and spirituality. Synthesizing all these ideas, we have created multiple points of entry and turn back to the work, together, as a hive of energy, encouraged by one another to think deeper, look longer, and connect beyond our initial reactions.

What the visitors bring to the work is so far beyond what I could ever read or learn about Henrik Olesen. And even if I tried to make all of those points, about connections to mechanics or Heidegger or Adam and Eve, I would fail, because each group is different and brings something new. Drawing out those responses reveals the individuality of the group members and allows me, as the facilitator, to build a social experience and create deeper connections around a work of art. It’s such an incredible feeling, and I am so grateful that the 12-month internship program incorporates this opportunity to lead a Gallery Conversation. It has dramatically changed the way I think about a museum professional’s opportunities—and responsibility—to engage the public.