How to Behave In a Gallery Space

Words: Fiona Christensen
Images: Sourced

So along with covering festival for Archetype, Dan and I have also been working as gallery assistants’ for the Visual Arts Sector of Festival. It was fun, interesting, hellish and at times highly exhausting. But aside from the amusement that comes with seeing so many people coming in and out your gallery, we also learnt a lot from our experience that made all the hours’ worth it. One of the main things we have learned however, is that a large amount of the population do not know how to behave in an art gallery. So, to aid the unknowing we have created some guidelines to assist all in how to behave and what to think.

  1. The Gallery, however pretty and comforting, is not your home…

This means that you are not entitled to sit on the couch on display, eat your food over the art, do yoga on the gallery floor and talk loudly from room to room. Sure, we aren’t expecting you to act like you are in a morgue, but a certain level of respect for the artist and their space is needed and this means, you NEVER touch the artwork, no matter how much it looks like the teapot at home or the Persian rug you have in your living room.

  1. NEVER touch the artwork

Like we said, NEVER touch the artwork… Unless of course you have permission to (like interactive installations or performances) but even then, be delicate and don’t rub your grubby paws all over it or pull it out the wall, it is art after all.

  1. A gallery is a shared space

This means that as tempting as it is to scream and shout about how awesome the work is, the strangers standing next to you don’t also want to hear your opinion. This also means that you should be aware of your personal space – where you stand or sit – as there are also others who want to view the work and not the back of your head….

  1. Always ask!

Before you whip out your iPhone and Instagram the shit out of the amazing sculpture before you, ask the gallery assistants if you can take photos first and what the privacy permissions are before you get yourself in an embarrassing spot with authorities telling you to stop taking photos

  1. Children…

Children are delightful, with curious minds and curios hands which make them at once the gallery assistant nemesis. Their being in the gallery immediately makes us stand on edge as they run close to the 50kg sculpture. Please take care to keep their hands and busy bodies that love to run and jump away from the work.

  1. Opinions…

Artists love to hear about their work, who wouldn’t? So leave a comment or two on your thoughts of the work so laboriously created by the artist. It really is appreciated, even if you do think the work is crap.

  1. As much as we look like the artists, we aren’t them…

One of our favourite things was when the people thought we were the artists and rained down compliments on us and asked us intimate questions. We are flattered you love “our idea”, however we are merely the blue-collar workers of the system and the artists themselves are rarely at their own exhibitions, waiting around for questions, etc. So chances of you seeing them, unless it’s their walkabout, isn’t too common, so as we said before, leave the comments in the comment book.

  1. Cellphones…

The beauty of cellphones is that you can get in contact with someone any time, anywhere, except that too is also the problem, especially when you visit the gallery. Take the time to enjoy the art with your phone on silent (because that too is also the beauty of cellphones – you can turn them off or silent). No one wants to hear you chat to your friend miles away, or your camera clicking, or how popular you are with the “pinging!” of your message tone every 5 seconds. So rather leave the phone of for 5 minutes and immerse yourself in the art, cellphone free.

  1. Catalogues…

Artists are nice people, but somehow they need to make a living too. They are already being kind by not charging you to view their work, so at least don’t complain so bitterly or throw up your arms in disgust when you are asked to pay for the expensive paper and colour book between your hands. So we repeat… they are not free books printed in colour on beautiful paper for you to take home as a memento, so fork out the cash without your added 2c.

  1. Interpretation…

Art is weird, particularly contemporary art. Half the time it doesn’t make sense or it isn’t pretty to look at. But that’s art and it is always open to personal interpretation. And everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  Sure the artist creates the work with a meaning in mind but their meaning is open to you to decide if you feel that way about it or not. And the artists don’t mind, in fact, they often like that you interpret it how you will and like to hear about it. Think of it what you will, and if you don’t like it or understand it, that’s fine too.  Art isn’t always made to be pretty or comforting to look at, it is simply a means of expressing their visions and feelings into something physical, and those aren’t always the warm and fuzzy kind. Art impacts everyone differently and that is the beauty of it, it is publically personal.

 Yuki Matsueda - Plastic Art

Yuki Matsueda – Plastic Art