Gatekeepers to the Art World (or The public is almost irrelevant)


Art, General Culture

Ed Winkleman (himself a gallerist) pointed me to this article about gallery staff and the amount of friendliness they usually have on display (exceptions, of course, merely confirm the rule). Needless to say, I do understand some of the issues raised there: If you come into an art gallery just to take a literal or “just” a verbal piss and then get ignored or treated “rudely”, should that surprise you?

But, you know, when the author, right at the beginning, starts out with “It’s not about you.” (as the visitor, getting ignored if you dare to ask a question), then you know that your intelligence as a reader is going to get insulted (and it’s really your own fault if you keep reading).

Maybe it’s because I am so immensely old-fashioned that I expect anyone who I ask a simple and polite question to give me at least an equally simple and polite answer. It’s what is called basic manners or common courtesy. And for me, courtesy does not depend on who one is talking to. Imagine someone asks you for directions on the street: Would you base your decision on whether to give directions or not on what the person looked like? Clearly not (hopefully, that is). So yes, you might be busy “e-mailing jpegs of artwork to collectors, writing news releases, updating a gallery’s inventory or simply ordering lunch for the staff” or doing whatever it is you’re doing, but still that doesn’t mean that you’re somehow absolved from the rules of courtesy, which, after all, provide the basic glue that makes living in large groups possible.

And what really got me about that article was the headline “Gatekeepers to the Art World”. Is this some sort of real-life Dungeons and Dragons, where, upon entering the doorways that open to the mystical art world, where the dragons, unicorns and princesses live, you have to get past the gatekeeper? Need I bring my sword or magic wand next time I go to Chelsea?

Oh, and this part really got me: “Assistants hold the public at arm’s length because, frankly, that’s not where the gallery’s clients come from. Top dealers, who must manage an artist’s career and cachet, are exquisitely selective about buyers. The public is almost irrelevant: encouraged to look and buzz loudly, but that’s about it.” First of all, the journalist doesn’t even bother any longer to convey the information as if there was a disinterested party involved (I am so old-fashioned!). And second, if you, as a gallerist, don’t care about the public because they don’t buy anything why not close down the gallery completely? Wouldn’t that be the logical choice to make? It would clearly be much easier and cheaper to have a private show room for the clients. And you wouldn’t need to hire any of the “gallerinas”, either.