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.
Do: 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.