How to Visit an Art Gallery
November 11, 2013 7:33 AM   Subscribe

I've only been going to art museums, but lately, I've been wanting to explore and go to art galleries. Problem is, it's a bit of uncharted territory, and so I have no idea where to start.

I live in NYC, and I like art. I'm not an artist, or a total expert, and I think I've read Artforum maybe once, but I've taken a few art history courses in my time, and so I know my way around a museum.

I've read about an exhibit at a major-ish art gallery, and I want to go. I also want to explore other art galleries, especially since I'm not too attuned to contemporary art and I think maybe going to an art gallery would be the best way to explore that. But, basically, I have no idea where to begin.

For one thing, it seems so overwhelming. It's like, there are so many, and so much going on at any given time that I often don't find out about them until after the fact. If there's a one-stop resource or listserve or something where I can find out about them, that would be great. For another, I know they're there for people to come and look at and buy art, but would it cost anything to just look? I'm so used to paying to get into museums that I'm wondering if there'd be any sort of catch to going to a gallery. I totally do not have the income to actually buy anything from a gallery, nor am I ever likely to in the near future.

I'd love to take that first step, but I don't know where to begin. Is there anything else I should know?
posted by Puck Soppet to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Time Out NY has a weekly list.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:36 AM on November 11, 2013

Art galleries are totally free and there is no catch! No one will expect you to buy anything. No one cares how much you know. And if you go to an opening, you can get free bad wine too!

In NYC, the biggest concentration of galleries is in Chelsea -- mostly between 18th and 27th Streets, on the blocks between 10th and 11th Aves. You can spend an afternoon wending your way up and down the street, stopping in any place that looks interesting. Chelsea galleries are closed Sunday and Monday. Openings usually happen Thursdays and Fridays between 6 - 8.

There are also a lot of interesting galleries on the Lower East Side. The Time Out listings are good, and there are worthwhile recommendations on the New Yorker site.

Have fun!
posted by neroli at 8:02 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'd say the only real rule is: if you know you're not buying anything, don't take the gallery staff's time and attention away from a potential customer. Otherwise, if the gallery's kind of quiet when you're there and one of the staff members seems amenable, by all means chat with them, ask them questions, and enjoy being there.
posted by estlin at 8:17 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Really, the best thing about galleries is that they are, in fact, just stores. And like Wal-Mart or DuaneReed you can just walk in, poke around, and then walk out again. It's perfectly fine thing to do.

Politely wave hello and good-bye if you want to, but there's no strings.

Admittedly I haven't been in NYC for a couple years but if I woke up there tomorrow I would
1. Not go to galleries on mondays - most are all closed.
2. I'd see what was showing at 'the big' galleries first - in my head this is David Werner, Paula Cooper, Matthew Marks, Gagosian, Pace, (say). I would also start at the southern end of Chelsea and work my way north. These galleries (in no way exclusively) have some of the most 'historically' 'pertinent,' or at least put forth as such, artists (often the estates of artists, so you might see 'relatively' older but still good work) - seeing their work can at times serve as a lead-in to what's showing at the other galleries.
3. Drop in everywhere else in between but do so with a completely open mind. Lots and lots of work will not interest you. That's fine. Maybe you don't like cilantro, or the color green.
4. I would make a point of stopping for a bite along the way.
5. When I was tired, I'd go home. I probably wouldn't go back to look at galleries for another month or two, when the shows change, or if someone I know tells me about something.
6. Then go do it again. But if it didn't strike you as worthwhile, for god's sake don't bother yourself.
7. Also, avoid any show where the work is white neon words/phrases. Cerith Wyn Evans did it like 20 years ago and no one knows why everyone is doing it (again) now.

(About not buying work. I'm not rich enough to buy work, most people I know aren't- but R.Pettibone's drawing's aren't always that expensive and I remember an Artschwager show at Mary Boon where most of the pieces were under a thousand bucks; I didn't have the cash, but would of if I could have. And at the smaller galleries, you might see something that really lights your fire. If you do, and they will sell it to you, remember to ask, politely, for a discount. Because everything is negotiable. You can also pay on the installment plan.)
posted by From Bklyn at 8:33 AM on November 11, 2013

Don't feel guilty about not having any intention of purchasing anything, the galleries want as many people to come by and see the shows as possible, in reality that is why they are open to the public. The idea is to get the artist's work seen by as many people as possible to make the work better known and therefore more valuable.
posted by Bengston at 8:42 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most of the major galleries have open hours on weekends. IIRC free weeklies like the Voice and L Magazine (as well as Time Out and probably New York and The New Yorker if you want to pick up a copy) have listings with hours. Art F City (which used to be known as Art Fag City) is a great blog to read, to get advance notice of who is showing where, openings, and some pretty good art criticism and art world coverage as well.

Large galleries that book major shows of well-known artists know that people are going to come by just to see the work. They do not expect the hundreds or thousands of people who stop by to see work by Warhol or Donald Judd or whoever on a given weekend to be millionaires looking for something to hang over the couch.

For smaller galleries, you might want to subscribe to the Nonsense List, which often includes gallery openings in addition to parties and other underground-ey avant-garde-ish types of events. Smaller galleries are less likely to have open hours, just because they're small and can't afford to staff someone to be there all day. Also, at smaller places there probably is more of an expectation that people who visit might actually be in the market to buy art. There won't be any sales pressure or anything remotely like that, but you're more likely to be approached by the people working there (especially if it's by appointment only), be handed artist statements and price lists, etc.

Absolutely do not be afraid to call and set up an appointment at a small gallery if there's something you really want to see. If there are open hours at all, try your best to go at that time out of respect for the people who work there. But I worked for a small gallery/arts collective in college and it was absolutely not a big deal if someone asked to come by or even just knocked on our door in hopes that they could check out some art.
posted by Sara C. at 10:22 AM on November 11, 2013

There are a few meetup groups dedicated to exploring the art scene in NYC, memail me if you want the recommendation of the one I just went to for the first time.
posted by nowoutside at 6:16 PM on November 11, 2013

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