The Top 5 Myths About Visiting Art Galleries And Openings

Think you have to pay an entry fee, get on a guest list, wear something black and expensive or have something brilliant to say about the art?

1. You have to pay an entry fee, call ahead to make an appointment, or be invited and added to an exclusive guest list.

While museums often charge admissions fees, art galleries are always free. Business hours are clearly posted on their websites and social media and in weekly events magazines like Time Out. Unless it is stated as By Appointment Only, you don’t need to call ahead to schedule an appointment. You can just rock up the way you would to your favorite store or café and children are also welcome. What better way is there for the entire family to get a cultural fix for free?

At first glance the art world’s intimidation factor can be off the charts

At first glance the art world’s intimidation factor can be off the charts

Whenever I visit a new city I “like” galleries’ Facebook pages right away. This means that I automatically get notified of their upcoming openings and events. Groups of galleries often decide to host openings on the same night to increase traffic. Even though these events appear exclusive, unless specified they are open to the public. You need not fear meeting a 6-foot tall blonde hostess at the door, clipboard in hand, who will demand your VIP reservation number and send you away humiliated. There is no guest list. Exhibitions are generally on display for 2 weeks to 1 month (and tend to be longer in the Summer), so even if you miss an opening you can view the same work at your convenience later on.

Studio 54’s legendary Guest List, 1977. Art openings don’t have VIP sections

Studio 54’s legendary Guest List, 1977. Art openings don’t have VIP sections

2. You should only visit a gallery if you are serious about purchasing a piece for your collection.

Put your wallet back in your handbag and relax! You aren’t expected to purchase a piece of art unless it moves you emotionally and you know you can’t live without it. Gallery directors understand that most people who view a show are simply coming to learn about the artist. They won’t follow you around like used car salesmen, trying to push a sale. In fact, the prices are generally not even on display. If you are interested in purchasing, you can tactfully request “more information” and a price sheet will be offered in hard copy or emailed to your attention later.

Sylvester Stallone, Susan Anton, and Andy Warhol at Andy Warhol's Art Opening, 1979

Sylvester Stallone, Susan Anton, and Andy Warhol at Andy Warhol’s Art Opening, 1979

3. You have to be able to speak articulately about the art or else everyone will know you are an imposter who doesn’t know enough to belong.

If you visit a gallery or attend an opening you will rarely be put on the spot and asked to share your interpretation or opinion. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion about art and a related academic degree isn’t prerequisite. It’s okay to say you don’t like or understand something. It’s also okay to rave when a work moves your soul to sing, shout, or laugh. If I don’t have something quasi-intellectual to say about a piece, I typically react by asking the artist or gallery director a question about the inspiration or technique behind it. This takes the focus off me and puts it back where it belongs—on the art.

Museum of Modern Art opens up to the public in New York City, 1929

Museum of Modern Art opens up to the public in New York City, 1929

4. You had better be dressed to impress in urban couture. If you can’t afford something fabulous to wear you shouldn’t make an appearance.

Artists are known for their eccentric personal style (think Yoko Ono in goofy spectacles or Salvador Dali’s waxed handlebar mustache). Many of them show up in paint-speckled jeans and a t-shirt. Making a living as a full-time artist is hard work and very few can afford a fabulous Gucci frock and those Isabel Marant boots. It’s true that most galleries are filled with people dressed in all black, many of them chic and well-turned out, and some of them taking selfies in front of their favorite pieces (see my previous post for more on this).

It’s also true that no one will be looking at you for long. They will actually be concentrating on the art. I personally love to stand out from the crowd in bright colors and often show up to openings in vintage dresses I’ve collected from various New York City thrift shops. It gives me a secret thrill to be complimented by another woman on my style, knowing that my entire outfit cost less than the price of a good cappuccino.

Salvador Dali With Ultra Violet at the Huntington Hartford Museum for the opening of the Dali exhibition there, 1969. (Photo Vladimir Sladon)

Salvador Dali With Ultra Violet at the Huntington Hartford Museum for the opening of the Dali exhibition there, 1969. (Photo Vladimir Sladon)

5. You have to be part of the young, hip culturati or else everyone there will ignore you and make you feel like you don’t belong.

School days are long over and it’s no longer about running with the popular crowd. The art world is all about individuality. Being a wallflower is quite all right if that’s your thing. If you don’t know anyone at an opening, simply accept a drink or canapé from an attentive waiter and take in the exhibition. Or if you are feeling bold, ask the person next to you or even the artist herself to speak with you about the work at hand. Or you could try my trick—if you can’t bring along a friend, just carry a notebook and pen and look reflective. Before long, someone interesting will come speak to you.

See you at the galleries!