Demystifying Art Shows

When my wife Hope and I first started dating, she came to one of my openings at a group show at an alternative space. One of the other artists got ridiculously drunk on the free wine and started flirting with ALL the females, even the married ones. He made no secret about his intentions, either. So Hope hid behind me, hoping he wouldn’t see her and start asking the same questions.

Some eight years later, we laugh about it now, and every time I happen to run into the guy, I cringe at the memory of his drunken antics.

When you hear stories like this one, you might not want to go to art openings. It’s understandable. They’re not all like that. In fact, this is the only time I’ve seen such bad behavior.

All that being said, art shows may be a mystery to you. A lot of people who haven’t been may not know what to expect. Maybe you have an artist friend who wants you to come to an opening at a gallery or an alternative space. You don’t want to look like a dork and embarrass yourself or your friend. Or you don’t feel like you know enough about art to look at it, much less talk about it.

The next couple of posts will explore the world of art, at least on a beginner’s level. Let’s start with the space itself.

What you can expect at an art opening:

  • White walls or exposed brick – white walls if it is a gallery space, exposed brick if it’s “alternative” or “industrial.”
  • Exposed ceilings with track lighting or cheap clamp lights directed at paintings and sculptures to show them off.
  • Paintings on the walls, sculptures on plain pedestals – sometimes performance artists will be doing something in the middle of the room or in a corner. That’s performance art. Yeah, it’s usually a little weird, but that’s okay. They might invite you to be part of it, or you might just watch.
  • abstract art, nude art, funny art, strange art – It really depends on the artist or the theme of the show if it is a group exhibition. Some art is meant to be shocking. It’s almost never meant to be “pretty.” (More on that in another post.)
  • Wine and cheese – pretty standard at nearly every opening I’ve been to. Sometimes they jazz it up with fruit and nuts and chocolates. If they’re being edgy beer will be available. You can almost always find alternatives like water and soda.
  • Music – usually jazzy or a light techno-pop, but not loud enough to take center stage. Until it gets late and people have had too much to drink to look at the art anymore.
  • One or two really weird-looking people – There’s always at least one person with outlandish hair and a neon-colored feather boa, but usually way less than you’d find at a punk rock concert.
So, that’s a brief overview of what to expect at an opening. It’s pretty much a cocktail party where the focus is on art and art-related conversation.

Next up, I’ll cover how to behave and what to wear at an art opening. Hint: it’s NOT like the guy I mentioned at the beginning of this post.