Polishing Up: Gallery Matters and Manners

After viewing the OPA’s 28th National Juried Exhibition, albeit, via the internet, I was impressed by the volume and level of talent this organization hosts. Bravo! I am a relatively new member and I imagine many of you have a litany of solo shows on your resume’ and have attended art events that could fill Alladin’s wish list. Whether you have attended a museum exhibit, exhibited in a nationally recognized show such as the OPA, or a local small-town venue, you will notice that each show has its inherent culture and theme.  

Every art opening deserves a thoughtful respect to the presented art and those who represent it. To make an event run magically I am going to offer a couple of observations on what to do, and what not to do at an art event. While I’m sure a few of us may have unintentionally committed a social blunder or two, as I sure know I have, we could all use a little polishing up on our art manners.  So here are a few pointers to make a show shine:

Late is a FOUR Letter Word.  When hosting an art opening, it is best to arrive at an agreed time prior to the opening so that the gallery director can address any final concerns.  This helps build trust and eases the flow of the evening.  Being late also means keeping close to closing time. Don’t linger too long after the show is over. Gallerists have a life too, and may want to retire after a hard day’s work. After all, it is possible the gallery dealers may have been on their feet for nearly twelve hours. 

Wear appropriate attire that is a notch above the occasion.

Dress to impress.  An opening is like a job interview. so wear appropriate attire that matches the occasion. With art being displayed in all types of venues from country craft fairs to big city galleries, take a mental inventory of the venue and dress a notch up so you take the honor over the venue and customer. Don’t wear a painting smock and stocking cap, nor a ballroom gown and crown, unless it’s a dress themed show. If you are arriving straight from the studio or field, take consideration and pack a change of clothing. Some of us are not fashionistas or GQ models, so when in doubt ask a buddy for an honest opinion.

Decibel Discussions.  Speak at a lower volume than the crowd. A show opening is a joyous event and is a celebration of the art. Yes, I admit that I have had loud outbursts of laughter during a show and have had to tone it down, but be conscious of the room’s volume and allow others to have uninterrupted intellectual conversations. That is not to say that others don’t wish to hear what we have to say about the work, but be conscious of your volume.

Negative Notes.  Don’t openly criticize the show unless you are a professional art critic. While attending an event, it is advised to keep any negative opinions to ourselves. As we all know, art is subjective, yet we may react in unforeseen and unexpected ways. That’s great! The art has spoken through the senses, but let’s play nice. Be aware that the artist’s intent put forth took immense effort, so wait to discuss potentially harming and disappointing opinions…in privacy on the way home in the car. Just remember that public criticism is itself a display of competition. Or is it individuality?

Allow room for everyone to enjoy the work.

The Consumer:  You’ve seen it before, a guest who consumes a large portion of you or the presenting Artist’s attention and time. Let us all be aware that the show is up and there are several curious collectors at the opening who may want to ask exhibiting artist a question or two.  As an art attendee or supporter, we may also unknowingly stand directly in front of a piece while catching up with long-lost friends. Keep in mind that blocking others from taking in the work consumes the guest’s space and time. Move on to view the show and take it in. Also, how many times have you witnessed a close friend or enthusiast cornering the Artist with personal subjects outside of the show at hand? This behavior puts the Artist in an uncomfortable position. If you witness this, please help the Artist by redirecting the guest to allow the Artist to meet other attendees at hand.

Misplaced receptacles draw attention away from the art.

Indulge Yourself…in the art and the collectors, but not in the treats. This includes alcohol. The host often supplies and expenses a spread of morsels and wine to share with the guests. There have been times when a full meal is provided and this is very generous of the host, yet be mindful and step away from the silver trays. Perhaps eat a small snack prior to an event, or wait to go out after the event with your new-found art admirers. When it comes to the wine, monitor your intake. I know it is easy to take in a little more than needed, but be careful. Sadly, I have witnessed a gallery owner get drunk and it embarrassed me to no end. Sadly that gallerist did not last long in the business and this is true for us artists as well. Also, when finished with your wine cup or small snack plate, place them in the trash receptacle or table and NOT on art pedestals. This gives the 3D art the respect it deserves and keeps the presentation of the room at it’s best.

No Solicitors Allowed.  Do not promote yourself while attending another artist’s show!  I had once attended a beautiful show and while there, I saw business cards from another artist placed precariously around the gallery. OUCH! This is not a good way to get attention for our art and will tarnish a hard-earned reputation. Neither is it a good time to solicit a portfolio or whip out a cell phone to share some recent work to the gallerist or director. If asked to share, then take the opportunity to set an appointment for another time.

Ask for permission to take photos of art.

Permission Please.  If you wish to take photos of the art, always ask the artist for permission. A flash may affect the work, and the artist owns the copyright on their creations. Many times I have witnessed admirers snapping close-ups and have imagined that they might print it out for their enjoyment, or even copy the idea. Here is a great moment to address the admirer that not every artist wants their work photographed. Then again, they may have a potential buyer on the other end. Don’t be afraid to ask what their intention is, and perhaps offer up the gallery directors business card to follow through with the image.


There is always more we can do to improve our industry, so I’m hoping that I have cast some light upon a subject that is not often discussed. Whether a small town exhibit or a national solo show, it is my wish that every one of us can adjust and elevate the sense and value of our work by being mindful of our show manners. We are our best representatives and genies of our work.

Upcoming OPA Events

OPA Fall 2019 Online Showcase OPA Fall 2019 Online Showcase
The Fall 2019 Online Showcase is from October 1 - December 15, 2019 and will be open to both Associate and Signature members. Learn More!
OPA 2019 Western Regional Exhibition OPA 2019 Western Regional Exhibition
OPA's 2019 Western Regional Exhibition is being hosted by Sorrel Sky Gallery, located in picturesque Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 1 through November 30, 2019. Learn More!