Art galleries are my sanctuaries. They are perfect places for quiet reflection and interesting interactions with created pieces or performances. However, I do have my off days. These are the kind of days where the sky seems an extra, disturbing tint of yellow or when it feels like everyone in the city has disappeared elsewhere, abandoning me. On these days, the gallery can turn from an escape into a surreal, frustrating place. Whether you are having an on or off day — or are simply in a new place — I have devised a few tips for how to go to an art gallery and what to do once inside.
1) Find the art gallery.
Sometimes art galleries are obvious, planted directly in the city centre with big signs out the front. But finding the smaller spaces run by volunteers, or only one or two paid staff, often requires a complex process of locating a vague address online, then realising the gallery’s website was last updated two years ago and its opening times are obscure. Finding galleries then become like hunting down a runaway, highly strung teenager and requires of you the patience of a saint.
2) Enter the gallery.
Galleries may seem simple to enter — walking through automatic sliding doors or using door handles are rather instinctive to us — but be alert! The sudden tension between you (the “gallery goer”), the attendant, another gallery goer and sometimes even an artist lingering in a distant corner has been known to cause an anxiety so fierce that one might suddenly desperately need air, a toilet or a hole to hide in. But, in the smaller spaces, there is no turning back!
Even worse than this tension is when no one seems to be in the gallery whatsoever. This happens regularly, and it still remains an unexpectedly haunting experience. Many questions go through your mind: is the gallery closed? am I trespassing and therefore a criminal? am I being watched? am I the art? is the attendant going to suddenly appear around a corner and are we going to give each other a huge fright then simultaneously apologise and try to forget it all happened?
Also, be prepared for the silence. The world’s quietest room is said to drive a human crazy or make them hallucinate in under thirty minutes. While gallery spaces are not usually built with “no echo” technology, any sound you make in a gallery is, somehow, crude and exaggerated. Of course, you can decide your nose sniffs are your right, but I once followed a person who came down with a serious bout of hiccups through three different rooms of a large gallery in Japan. They bravely walked on while everyone around them quietly went through perplexion, anguish and hysterical contained laughter. Silence does that.
Take several breaths and quietly congratulate yourself for getting this far.
3) Find the art.
Contemporary art no longer consists entirely of big oil paintings in gold gilt frames made by horny old men who have taken hot girls as their subject matter and sources for revitalising their long-buried youth. Now art is...anything, really. And because of eccentric curators and boundary-pushing artists, art is not always easy to find. Sometimes a gallery goer can find themselves staring for ten minutes at the gallery’s closed bathroom door. After what seems like a cyclic inner monologue, desperately reminding yourself that art is about the process and ideas now and vaguely considering what you will eat for dinner tonight, you decide you have spent enough time on the piece and move on. As you move on, you hear a toilet flush and the attendant walks out. Red in the face, you start to walk away from the door, but a small text on the wall catches your eye: Bathroom Door (2015). And then it clicks, absolutely everything in your entire life falls into place! It was art, it’s all art!
4) Leave the art gallery.
After going through this explorative process, don’t forget to leave the art gallery. Hone that inspiration and start your own practice. You are an “artiste” now.