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Adeola Ajediti, a Tate gallery assistant
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you’re a gallery assistant

Written by
James FitzGerald

…according to Adeola Ajediti, 55.

Picasso doesn’t come up in the job interview

‘I knew nothing about art when I started at Tate Modern. Back then, I was willing to do anything to get off benefits. But in 18 years I have learned so much, and now I have the confidence to tell a visitor, “We don’t have anything by Rachel Whiteread just now, but can I show you a Barbara Hepworth instead?”’

Kids behave better than some adults – but teenagers are the worst

‘Small children are often the Tate’s best-behaved visitors. They just seem to love learning as much as they can in here. On the other hand, big groups of foreign students are much more troublesome. You’ll see them playing on the escalators or running around. Often their teachers just aren’t controlling them, and there’s not a lot I can do about that.’

Security guards play a bigger role in art galleries these days

‘We need more security staff in London galleries than we did before, but it means that my job has got more interesting. Before, I was stuck in just one room, stopping people from doing this or that. Now I spend my day roaming free in the building and showing visitors all the things they can do.’

Diplomacy is as important as art history

‘What we call “patrolling” involves a lot of mind-reading. You learn the tell-tale gestures and body language of a person who’s just about to try and touch an artwork. If a visitor does get upset at being called out, you just have to step away and avoid making them angrier – especially if they suddenly have something priceless in their hands.’

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