Art Foundation Week 22

Photos from my visit to Madrid:

CaixaForum Madrid

Museo Reina Sofia

Matadero Madrid

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Reflection from this trip:

How to experience the art gallery without focusing on the art

The Chair

'The chair of the invigilator is a furniture of infinite power. The average gallery-goer must not sit on it, for that challenges the hierarchies within the gallery space and is hence gravely frowned upon. Just like a surveillance camera (that may not even be on), its mere presence suggests that an authoritative figure is watching over your every move. Would you really be able to genuinely experience and interact with an artwork whilst in such an overbearing and condemning environment?'

The Invigilator

'The average gallery-goer is usually quite intimidated by the invigilator. In order to ensure that the security of artworks is not compromised, the invigilator is given the authority to essentially give imperative commands: 'do not touch the work', 'do not step beyond the line', 'do not take photographs' etc. No wonder that the average invigilator then adopts a haughty air and belittling look in their eyes as they reprove their hundredth simple visitor.'

The Label

'The most characteristic feature of an art exhibition is perhaps the labels placed next to work. Without them, it is almost impossible to distinguish ordinary objects, kid's doodles and accidents from artwork. It has become almost an automatic reaction to look for a credible name on a label when viewing work in a gallery space, hoping to get a glimpse on the artist's background and a little insight on the meaning of the piece. A piece of work without a label - or a title (even if it is untitled), is like a plate of food without a name - while the viewers/food-lovers may recognize key ingredients, it may be difficult to see the bigger picture/dish. '

The Artist's name

'With the same reasoning for why a nameless designer bag counterfeit is less valued than a 'real' designer bag, a piece of work with an artist's signature( or next to a label bearing the artist's name) is regarded as bona fide and hence more valuable. The association with the artist's name is a stamp of authenticity, whether the labelled work is considered Art or not.'

The Frame

'It doesn't matter if it's a piece of gum, or a child's drawing, or a burnt piece of toast - the moment it is put behind a glass frame, the object becomes worthy of attention and preservation.

Popular artists = doesn't mean they are credible

I've been thinking how it would be quite nice to offer 'solid pieces of evidence' from my performance - things to do with art gallery viewing - e.g. tour plan, gallery etiquettes, short introduction on the gallery and the work...

Gallery viewing etiquette


You will need

  • A sense of decorum

  • And common courtesy

Step 1 Silence your cell phone Before entering the building, turn off your cell phone or set it to vibrate.

Step 2 Keep kids close If you have children along, remind them not to touch anything and keep them close to you.

Step 3 Don’t be loud Do not be loud inside or call to a friend across the room.

Step 4 Don’t clog traffic Upon entering a gallery, scan the space as you move through the door, considering how you want to approach the artwork while not clogging up traffic.

Step 5 Stand aside When not directly viewing a work, step aside and let others see it.

Quick Tip:

Look where you’re going—avoid knocking over any priceless pieces!

Step 6 Tip on complimentary food or drinks If there are complimentary food and beverages available, feel free to partake, but tip if you’re able.

Step 7 Don’t gawk Don’t get caught gawking too much at other gallery-goers, no matter how pretty, handsome, or outlandish they may be.

Step 8 Keep criticism to yourself If there’s a remote possibility the artist is present, refrain from making any critical comments.

Step 9 Don’t say you could do that Never say, ‘I could do that.’ Chance are you can’t.

Step 10 Ask questions Should you have any questions, feel free to direct them to the artist or gallery owner. If you get a chance to meet them, thank them for having the show.


Behavioral blunders for artists:

* Without asking anyone for permission, pass out your business cards, brochures, artist book or announcements to your upcoming shows to as many people as possible, especially the artist and the gallery owner... and then leave. Do this repeatedly at every gallery opening and art event you attend.

* When no one is looking, discreetly leave your business cards, brochures, show announcements or artist book at various locations around the gallery.

* If you know the artist or gallery owner, monopolize as much of their time as possible with conversations that the two of you can have anywhere and at anytime. Ignore the fact that the purpose of the opening is for the artist and gallery owner to do business and sell art.

* Ask the artist if they can get you a show at the gallery. Do this regardless of whether you have any idea if your art is a fit with what the gallery shows.

* Ask the artist to introduce you to the gallery owner.

* Ask the artist to talk to the gallery owner about you and your art.

* Introduce yourself to the gallery owner on your own, say you're a friend of the artist, and then say that since they like the artist's art, they should probably take a look at yours too.

* Corner the gallery owner and tell them you really need a show at their gallery.

* Ask the artist or someone who works at the gallery if they can give you any inside tips or advice on how to approach the gallery owner and get a show at the gallery.

* Ask a staff person seated at a desk to pull up your website on their computer so you can show them your art.

* If you hear either the artist, the gallery owner or gallery personnel talking about anything that even remotely resembles an opportunity to promote yourself or your art, immediately interrupt the conversation and start talking about you.

* No matter who you're talking to, talk only about yourself and your art.

* If someone points out a collector, go over, introduce yourself and start talking about your art.

* Badmouth the art in the show, and then tell whoever you're talking to how you would have handled it better.

* Tell people that your art should be showing at the gallery instead of the artist's.

* Whip out your cell phone and start showing people images of your latest art, especially if you're talking to the gallery owner or the artist.

* Pull a piece of your art out of your backpack and start showing it to people, especially to the gallery owner or the artist.

* Post links to your website, social networking pages or images of your art on any social networking posts or pages where you find invitations, announcements, coverage or discussions of other artist's shows.

Behavioral blunders for everyone:

* Act like you're at a party and completely ignore anything having to do with the artist, the art or the business of running a gallery.

* Introduce yourself to the artist and then talk to them for as long as possible even though you have no intention of buying any art.

* Introduce yourself to the gallery owner and then talk to them for as long as possible even though you have no intention of buying any art.

* If you represent or sell a product or service for artists, talk to the artist like you really care about their art and then when they least expect it, try to sell them that product or service. Do the same with the gallery owner.

* If you already know the artist or gallery owner, talk with them for as long as possible about things you can discuss anytime and anywhere.

* If you see the artist or gallery owner is already involved in a conversation and you want to talk with them, barge in, interrupt them, start talking and ignore whoever they're talking to. Or you can hug them, act like you haven't seen them in 10 years, tell them you're about to leave and then start a long conversation, etc.

* No matter how few price lists are available at the front desk, take one and carry it around the gallery with you the entire time you're there, whether you're looking at it or not. When you're ready to leave, fold it up, put it in your pocket and take it home.

* Tell gallery owner you really like a particular piece of art, ask them to put it on hold for you, and then wait a week or two before telling them you've decided you're not really interested.

* Tell the gallery owner you don't really like anything in the show and that you want to visit the artist at their studio to see whether they have anything there you might like more.

* Tell people the artist's art you bought three years ago is better than anything at the show and only cost half as much.

* Tell people the artist used to be better.

* If the artist is well-known or famous, tell people he's a sellout, has gone commercial and is no longer a "true artist."

* For whatever reason, use the occasion to deliberately snub or ignore the artist or gallery owner.

* Stand in front of a single piece of art with your friends and talk for half an hour straight without ever moving or even thinking about occasionally checking to see whether you're blocking anyone's view.

* Stand near or preferably in an entranceway, doorway, hallway or narrow passageway with your friends and talk for half an hour straight without ever moving or thinking that you might possibly be blocking access or impeding the flow of traffic.

* Wander into the gallery's back room or storage area and start sifting through their art.

* Even though the catalogue for the gallery show is clearly priced and for sale at the front desk or counter, act like you have no idea and just take one.

* Wear a backpack that extends at least 12 inches out from your back.

* Bring your pet(s).

* Pull chairs up to the gallery director's desk and feed your children Cheerios and juice drinks (yes, this actually happened).

* Play games with your children that involve running around the gallery.

* Let your children run loose until someone asks either you or them to stop.

* Go around telling people there's a better opening at another gallery.

* If someone is trying to get by you or around you, completely ignore them, stay right where you are and keep talking to your friends.

* The instant you arrive, head straight to the food and drink area and stand there eating and talking. Don't worry about blocking other people's access.

* Ask all kinds of questions to the person tending the bar and spend as much time as possible trying to figure out what to drink while everyone else waits.

* Never stray more than five feet from the food or drink area.

* Have no intention of buying any art or contributing in any way to the opening event, but consume as much food and drink as you can. If possible, act like you haven't eaten in a week.

* Complain about the quality or brand of FREE beer, wine or liquor that's being served.

* If hors d'oeuvres are being served, stand as close as possible to the staging area so you can serve yourself first as soon as any new food comes out.

* If people are serving hors d'oeuvres on trays, follow them around the gallery and repeatedly help yourself.

* Set your empty wine glass down on a pedestal with art on it. Better yet, set it down while it still has wine in it.

* Hit on anyone you find even mildly attractive.

* Drape your coat or jacket over a pedestal that has art on it.

* Touch the art.

* Get drunk. Better yet, arrive drunk.

* Tell people you'll be arriving in time for the start of the event and then show up late.

* Once there, act important, distracted or preoccupied. The key here is to look as unapproachable as possible.

* Speak only with people you already know.

* Disappear for significant periods of time during the event and make sure you tell no one where you're going. Or tell someone where you're going and then go somewhere else.

* When people ask you questions about your art, tell them you don't know or haven't really thought about it. Or answer them, but look really put out by it.

* When people ask about the significance or meaning of your art tell them it means whatever they want it to mean.

* When someone asks the price of a piece of your art, tell them you haven't priced it yet. Or that you don't know or you're not sure. Or that you haven't figured it out yet. Or better yet, ask them how much they think it's worth.

* Talk to one person for a really long time (preferably someone you already know and can speak with anywhere) and ignore anyone else who looks like they want to speak with you. (I actually had an artist tell me once that he'd get to me as soon as he was done talking to his next door neighbor. You guessed it. I waited for more than a reasonable length of time and then left.)

* Act like you can't wait to end a conversation with someone, and then as soon as it's over, start a conversation with someone else and act much more interested in them.

* End a conversation abruptly for no apparent reason, walk away, and start a whole new conversation with someone else.

* Walk up to anyone who has a profile in the art community like critics, collectors or bloggers, introduce yourself and immediately start talking about yourself and your art... whether they're interested or not. Better yet, tell them you'd like to explain your art and don't wait for an answer; just start explaining, piece by piece by piece. The longer you talk and the fewer opportunities you give them to respond, the better.

* Talk about all of your past or recent art world accomplishments with no prompting whatsoever.

* Drop lots of names whether you have any personal involvement or connection to them or not.

* Badmouth other artists, galleries, museum shows, etc.

* Talk about how much better your art is than that of (put name of famous artist here).

* Talk about all the attention you really deserve, but are not currently getting.

* If you're showing at a gallery and someone asks whether you have any flexibility in your prices, suggest that if they buy directly from you and not through the gallery, you'll sell it to them cheaper.

* If you see someone you don't like or who you don't like talking too, even though they may have some standing in the community (like a collector, critic or blogger), rather than bite the bullet and be nice to them for maybe 30 seconds or a minute, evacuate the premises the instant you see them coming... and make sure they see you doing it.

* Deliberately avoid eye contact with, or better yet, look straight through people who you can tell would like to speak with you, but for whatever reason you decide to ignore.

* Ignore someone based on how they look, what they're wearing, or their age.

* If you notice that someone is interested in speaking with you while you're speaking with someone else, don't even acknowledge their presence.

* Surround yourself with several friends at all times so that no one has easy access to you.

* On the opposite end of the continuum, hover around your art and as soon as anyone looks at it, tell them you're the artist and ask if they have any questions, what they think of it, whether they like it, etc. Whatever you do, just keep talking.

* If you're in a group show and see someone looking at another artist's art, walk up, introduce yourself and tell them they might want to look at your art too.

* Launch into long and detailed explanations of your art whether the person you're speaking with asks for them or not.

* Make sure you explain your art in terms hardly anyone can understand. Confuse people by using as many complicated art words as possible.

* If someone can't figure out or understand what you're saying, act like they should know exactly what you're talking about and that not understanding it is their problem, not yours.

* Disagree with people's impressions or responses to your art and correct them as often as possible.

* Act like you're having a hard time believing that someone you're speaking with isn't already familiar with you and your art.

* Drink too much, smoke too much or do whatever else you have to do to make sure you're completely out of it.


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© 2015 by Michelle Z Chin

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