Art galleries are ... intimidating.
Most are designed like very fancy boxes, with extra white walls and unforgiving concrete floors. Those brave enough to cross the secret-society-like thresholds must pass by a gatekeeper who is nestled safely behind a large, formidable desk, poised to stare at you no matter which corner of the gallery you occupy. Once past, you must navigate a simple yet often profoundly puzzling array of sculptures or paintings or whatnot. "NEVER touch the art," your superego bellows, as you attempt to flex as few muscles as possible.
The entire gallery setup is built to make you sweat. Inside, you'll doubt your ability to to appear cool, sound smart and, well, belong. But it's all a farce. Art galleries are usually free, staffed by friendly art history majors, and dying for you to come inside to solidify their relevance outside the art market. They want you to ogle their artists. They want you to post that selfie. They. Want. You.
Behold, 11 signs you are trying too hard at an art gallery, and what you can do to maximize your chill.
1. You worry about admission fees or scheduled appointments.
Most art galleries are free. So, no, unlike the Museum of Modern Art, which requires a $25 admission fee for most visitors, galleries are usually the most cost-effective way to see art. Think of it them like you would any other brick-and-mortar commercial establishment. You don't have to pay an admission fee to go shopping at Barney's, no matter how luxurious the brand -- or how unlikely you are to buy something.
Now, some galleries do require that you make an appointment -- but certainly not all. You can solve this mystery by Googling your friendly neighborhood gallery and checking the hours. For example, the very famous Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, New York, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. No appointment necessary. Bonus: on opening nights, the gallery is probably open later and may be serving free wine.
2. You fear the person working at the front desk.
OK, your anxiety may be warranted. Some front desk attendants are not exactly versed in the etiquette of customer service, and their job descriptions may not prioritize chitchat with the no-appointment crowd. But don't let them scare you. These kinds of staffers will inevitably ignore you or forget about you the moment you're out of sight.
But, if you're feeling brave, there's no harm in asking the person at the front desk a question or two. Many gallery assistants, or gallerinas, as they are sometimes called, are art history grads who know a thing or two about the exhibition on view. He or she might be busy -- their jobs often entail a litany of administrative duties -- but really, they won't bite your head off if you need help.
3. You agonize over appropriate attire.
Stop. You could show up to a gallery in sweatpants and sneakers and no one would care. There's no dress code. In fact, on opening nights, there is no typical attire whatsoever. If you're looking for an occasion to wear that one ensemble you never feel up for pulling off, wear it to the gallery. But otherwise, your daily clothing is fine.
4. You're so self-conscious you don't ask for an exhibition description.
See No. 2. There are usually one-sheets available at the front desk, which provide information about the artist and works on view. Grab it.
5. You don't want to seem overly interested in the placards, so you avoid those too.
Galleries don't often include historical information next to their works the way museums like the Met do. But the titles of the artworks are frequently positioned next to the canvases or installations, and no one will tsk-tsk you for staring at it while you get your bearings. You can even snag a peek at the price.
6. You're literally counting the seconds you stand in front of an artwork so you don't move too quickly.
Galleries are usually small and sparsely decorated. It might only take you five minutes to get a lay of the land, and that's okay. According to the Getty museum in Los Angeles, researchers in museums have found that 30 seconds is the average amount of time visitors spend in front of works of art. Feel assuaged by this statistic.
7. You slink quietly around the space to avoid making any remote type of noise.
It's impossible not to make noise in the echo chambers that are art galleries. Buck up and strut it out. You'll look more ridiculous as you sleepwalk, muscles tensed, in a poor attempt to remain invisible. Note: if you wear heels, you will be click-clacking around the cavernous gallery. But also, who cares?
8. You feel obligated to appear as though you are at least mildly interested in purchasing art.
Lol. Sometimes you forget that the art at a gallery is for sale. And other times, you can't help but fixate on the pressure to appear like a worthy collector.
Listen, the art you're looking at could be affordable. Or it could not. If you're not yet a collector and you're just interested in viewing art for what it is -- art -- then no one is expecting you to feign interest in purchasing an artwork. So put your faux-Mid-Atlantic accent on the back burner.
9. You want to flip through the art books at the front, but, again, fear.
Flip through the art books! The bookshelves at the front of galleries are often like mini gift shops, and yes, you peruse them to see more work from the artist on view, or check out the gallery's full roster of represented artists.
10. You're completely unsure of how to exit without drawing too much attention.
Step 1: Look for the door. Step 2: Exit through the door. You're not required to tip your hat at a gallery assistant or declare your departure. You can surely be polite and say goodbye, but it's hardly required.
11. Really, no matter what, you feel like someone is going to kick you out.
But they're not. I mean, don't touch the art. And don't, you know, disturb the peace. But otherwise, exercise common decency and no bouncing will occur.
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