UCLA Information Studies: Fields of Endeavor || Featuring Benjamin Lee Ritchie Handler (Gagosian Gallery)

Ben Lee in the workplaceSAA @ UCLA presents “UCLA Information Studies: Fields of Endeavor.” The Fields of Endeavor series introduces UCLA Library and Information Studies program graduates and current interns who are out in the field taking knowledge learned in the program and putting it to use! This edition, we feature the hilarious “art geek,” Ben Lee Ritchie Handler.

Name: Benjamin Lee Ritchie Handler
Graduation Year: 2009
MLIS Focus: Archives and Cataloging
Title and Site: Archivist/Librarian – Gagosian Gallery| Beverly Hills

What do you do all day? 
About eighty percent of my day is spent dealing with images of artworks. There are twelve Gagosian Galleries worldwide, and each gallery has its own respective exhibition schedule. When an artwork from an exhibition or our inventory is available for sale at any one of the galleries, all gallery salespeople must have access to photos of the piece. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for a client in Los Angeles to view a photograph of (and hopefully purchase) a Picasso located in Geneva, for example.

Furthermore, every Gagosian show must be documented for future reference. I coordinate professional photography of all Beverly Hills exhibitions with our salespeople and the studios and/or estates of featured artists. Once all of these parties are happy with the captured imagery, it is disseminated throughout the Gagosian universe. I also deal with press requests for images of artworks for most of the Southern California-based artists represented by the gallery.

Finally, I’m in charge of the small, but growing gallery library in Beverly Hills. Current UCLA MLIS candidate Andrew Pogany is helping me to organize and catalog all of our titles.

Most interesting item, record, document, etc. you have come across:
Check out the list of artists represented by Gagosian: http://www.gagosian.com/artists
For an art geek like myself, it’s difficult to label something I work with as the ‘most interesting,’ as I’m inundated with books and images from a slew of contemporary art heroes on a daily basis. We just closed a show of William Eggleston photographs! A giant Jeff Koons sculpture will be on display in the gallery next week! I spent last month helping to organize images of Ed Ruscha artworks for an exhibition in New York!  I’m very lucky in this respect.

First personal item that you put on your desk:
A portrait of Gregory Leazer inscribed with the quote “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ — that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” from John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” that he gifted me upon graduating from the program. Just kidding — I’m lucky Dr. Leazer even signed off on my portfolio presentation.

Actually, the first thing I put on my desk was a copy of the AACR2 2nd Edition, 2002 revision. It sat on my shelf unopened and neglected until a couple months ago when I was preparing to interview potential MLIS interns from UCLA. Of course, now that everyone has moved onto RDA I should probably update my rule book, but I’m not quite ready. It’s difficult to let go. What did Michael Jackson say? “You never know how long you have with a set of cataloging standards, so say ‘I love you’ while you can.”  (Intern Andrew and I are hoping to implement a MARC 21 and RDA-friendly cataloging system at the gallery.)

Most frequent response when you tell people what you do:
“I’ve been meaning to head out there forever! Is the gallery open to the public?”
The gallery is indeed open to the public! Unless we’re closed for installation, one can visit Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm, and Beverly Hills isn’t so difficult a drive in the middle of the day. Check out what we’re showing online (gagosian.com) and plan a field trip! The Richard Meier architecture alone is worth the journey.

Recommendation(s) for students who’d like your job:
There are openings just about every week at the contemporary art galleries throughout the city, try to attend as many as possible. Familiarize yourself with the work shown at each to the point that you’re comfortable discussing it, and introduce yourself to the staff at those galleries whose programming you enjoy. Don’t be shy! Most people staffing the local galleries have backgrounds in art history. An MLIS candidate who can speak about relevant art movements will immediately stand out for possible internships or job openings. (It also helps to dress well and have an interesting haircut.)

Additionally, the city’s many awesome museums are always looking for interns. Don’t fret if you’re unable to land one of these internships, however, just try volunteering. A year-long volunteer-ship at a major art museum is probably a bigger gold star on a resume than a quarter-long internship, anyway. Galleries want people who are passionate about art.

Favorite/Most memorable course from UCLA IS Department:
Jonathan Furner’s Museum Informatics!

Course you wish you had taken/was offered at UCLA IS Department:
I wish I had taken more statistics classes! If The Graduate was filmed in 2012 instead of 1967, the one word Mr. McGuire told Benjamin would have been “statistics.” The people and institutions and countries that can interpret large data sets with intelligent and unbiased statistical models are quickly emerging with a greater understanding of the future than the rest of the world, and are therefore better equipped to adapt. (On that note, the government should probably hire Secret Service protection for Nate Silver. It’s only a matter of time before North Korea tries to kidnap him.)

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Lee Ritchie Handler


Author: Society of American Archivists at UCLA

Welcome to the Society of American Archivists student chapter at the University of California, Los Angeles! The Chapter is open to all students interested in any aspect of archival management and preservation ranging from traditional materials such as manuscripts, personal papers, and business records to electronic and digital media in all formats.

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