Published on 27/11/2019
WHAT DO YOU DO, Auntie Joan? Do you just speak to people? This question prompted some thoughts about running a gallery.
Yes, I do speak to people. In fact, in some ways, that might be the most important thing I do. We have experienced it ourselves, we have visited art galleries where no-one greets us when we come in, no-one speaks to us as we look round an exhibition and it can feel awkward, intimidating. If it is intimidating for us, how much more so is it for anyone unaccustomed to galleries. Are we being judged by our appearance? Are we not the sort of person expected to visit a gallery? Do we not look likely to be spending money on art?
It is actually unlikely we are being judged, whoever is in the gallery is probably just busy — busy answering emails, busy making arrangements for the next show, busy updating their website, busy doing accounts. There will be much to keep them busy, but actual visitors to exhibitions should always come first and we are always delighted to greet people and tell them about the art and the artists on show although, of course, that’s only if they wish to engage. If they would rather look round without being disturbed, that’s fine.
So it may look as if we just stand around having a chat. All may look orderly, everything in its place, paintings on the walls, objects on the shelves, a fire blazing, a pile of catalogues to consult, but the week before an exhibition opening, the scene is rather different.
In fact, it looks completely chaotic and a sense of panic can even creep in. How are we going to take down the old exhibition, package the sold pieces, arrange despatch of online sales, store remaining work, then unpack, photograph, hang and catalogue the new exhibition in time for the opening. Then if it's Christmas, there are mince pies to make.
And that’s just the basic stuff, before we even think of getting the exhibition online.
What is most difficult is deciding how best to hang the artwork, how it will all fit, which pieces will look best together. That’s the challenging element but it is also creative and rewarding when it works well, when pieces complement each other and the exhibition flows.
As if by magic, when the first visitors arrive for the exhibition opening, all is calm, all is in order. We are ready to greet them. Well, we usually are, although there may be some hiccups. Perhaps a piece of ceramics is unlabelled or the stove is refusing to light. But we get there and we are always pleased to see visitors.
Since the advent of websites, all galleries are finding exhibition openings quieter as people just look online. But you can’t have a proper conversation online, you can’t discuss a painting or a piece of glass. You can’t gauge the reaction to an exhibition. You can’t learn which artists people particularly like, or don’t like.
So, do I speak to people? Yes. Do I just speak to people? No.