How to Not Be a D-Bag at an Art Opening

Rule No. 1: Put down the selfie stick and slowly back away.

September 3, 2015 9:00 am

Let’s imagine the following scenario:

You’re standing in front of a painting, wine in hand. You lean back, arrange your face into a look of bemused deliberation, and exhale.

What the f*** do I do now?

Congratulations, you’ve been invited to an art gallery opening. Shame no one told you what to do or how to behave when you get there.

Allow us to help.

We spoke with a veteran gallery director/current art publicist about the dos and don’ts of the gallery opening. Follow these rules, and you’re golden. You may even leave with a new appreciation for the arts … or a piece of the exhibit.

Or a date.

Let’s get this out of the way: you can hit on people at a gallery opening. With caveats. “It’s completely acceptable to strike up a conversation over a piece you find interesting,” says our gallerist friend. “But I would avoid crass jokes or punchy one-liners about the art. For all you know, you’re talking to the artist, the gallery owner or a reporter.”

So be cool, sip — don’t gulp — and follow our gallery behavior checklist.

Don’t: Take artwork selfies. It’s an easy way to interfere with the viewing experience of others and just generally makes you look like an a**hole.

Take a photo of your favorite work in the show, and if you post it on social media, support the gallery and the artist by tagging them.

Do: Grab a press release on your way into the gallery. Give it a quick read before you start walking around, aiming to at least figure out whether it is a solo or group show, the name of the artist or artists and a few key details about their work.

Don’t: Show up in a huge group. Small galleries can’t handle a crowd and large galleries are usually packed on opening night. Take a few friends or a date, and choose people who are genuinely interested in being there.

Do: Talk about what you see. Try and articulate what you like about it, what it reminds you of or how it makes you feel.
Keep negative comments to a minimum until you are safely outside the gallery to avoid insulting the artist or gallery staff.

Don’t: Leave plastic cups or empty beer cans by the door on your way out, even if other people are doing it. If you don’t see a trash can, ask a gallery assistant where one is.

Do: Stay for at least 10 minutes. Recognize that what you are looking at may represent years of the artist’s life. Pay it the respect it deserves.

Don’t: Treat an opening like a party and get drunk on free wine. You will ruin the experience for everyone else and basically equate yourself to a freeloading college student.

Do: Sign the guestbook before you leave. Leave your name and email if you want to get show invites from the gallery next time, or write a short note (one sentence max) if the show made a positive impression on you.

Don’t: Use the guestbook to insult the work or come up with an ingenious fake name, and definitely don’t use it as your own personal sketchpad. Leave a note you’re proud of, even if you didn’t understand a single thing you saw.

For all they know, you do this all the time.

The illustrations in this piece were inspired by the work of Wayne White, Kiki Smith and Lynda Benglis.