Shopping for Art (or "The Tale of the Gallerina")
Well, decide for yourself:
“Art is another form of shopping,” Ms. Needleman said by phone July 25. “It’s not like buying a toaster oven, but it’s not that different, either.”Now I know there are people who will get pissed off by this, but if you don't see a big difference between a painting in my gallery and a toaster oven, I'm not about to sell you that painting. Seriously, you can buy one from somewhere else. Toasters are interchangeable. The work I'm selling is not.
Ms. Needleman said that her magazine’s monthly arts coverage will aim to “demystify” art in the same way the magazine makes home decorating simple.
“I feel like the art world tries to maintain this mystique,” she said. “It’s particularly apparent when you go into a Chelsea gallery and there’s this big lie they’re propagating, like they’re pretending they’re not selling stuff. They make you feel bad for just looking. Those gallerinas are there, but I don’t know what they’re there for.”
It's not about mystique. I'll spend hours explaining an artwork to an interested collector (regardless of whether they're just starting out or have a major collection), but I'll expect that person to put in some effort to understand. If they're not interested in "getting" it, I don't want them to have the work. That's a service to them and my artist.
I don't have gallerinas (love that term, actually), but I understand why some of them are hard as nails. If a gallery goer knows what they're looking for, or is genuinely interested in learning about the work, they'll get past the gallerina and on to the director or someone who can help them, with no problem. If all they want to do is vent about how much they hate contemporary art (and it's stunning how many people interested in that will punish themselves by going to galleries), the gallerinas develop the necessary skills to respond accordingly.
I know how snobbish that sounds, but think about this for a moment. Artwork is an incredibly personal expression. The artist is risking a tremendous, very public rejection by putting up an exhibition of work they've often literally put their heart and soul into. The gallery is similarly invested in the work, feeling very strongly about it (one day, I'll do the math for you, and show just how much faith a gallery must have in an artist to justify the overhead for an exhibition). With all that vunerability, freaks who stroll in and sniff around as if choosing a toater oven are threatening. Seriously. It's one thing to stand there and see the work rejected by a viewer because they don't like it (the artist and gallery are fully prepared for that), but because it's all very personal, it's something else altogether to be rejected by someone who thinks they're in Macy's. After that happens enough times, even the most generously hearted gallerina develops a jaded shell (and perhaps fangs).
One more note: this is a photo of Ms. Needleman. I provide this image as a service so that should she stop by your gallery, you can help her find the toaster department (or perhaps take a few moments to explain why she might rethink her position). And with that, I'm off to get some much needed caffiene.
UPDATE: Full up on caffiene now. In re-reading this, I realize this line is a bit of a tease: "If a gallery goer knows what they're looking for, or is genuinely interested in learning about the work, they'll get past the gallerina and on to the director or someone who can help them, with no problem." Galleries are intimidating, mostly because the work costs so much, and the assumption is you have to be able to afford something to deserve the gallery staff's time. Although it's not a good idea to make up questions about the art just to feel like you're getting special attention, there's no gallery in the world where you can't ask for assistance/information. Believe me, I've asked in spaces it would take me 60 years' salary to afford something.
Someone will almost always be at the desk or in the office. Feel free to approach them and/or poke your head in and ask "Hello, can I ask you a few questions about this painting[/photo/video, etc.]?" Ignore any sense you may get that they're sizing you up and judging you by how you're dressed. Some of the biggest collectors in the world run around looking like hobos (don't ask for names).
You may catch them at a point when they are genuinely in the middle of something they can't stop doing (like anywhere), but don't let that put you off. Ask when might be a better time. Suggest you're gonna go to another nearby gallery (this will peak their interest), and that you'll be back. When they finally turn their attention to you, ask your questions. If you're not in the buying mood, tell them thank you and move on. It's really that simple.