Dear Laura Lark,
I’ve noticed that gallery employees give me dirty looks whenever I go into the dark recesses of the back room. What gives? Their attitude is ridiculous, and what is the difference between an art gallery and a tee shirt shop?
Michelle S., Dallas
When I first read your question, I thought you were either the most ridiculous imbecile I had ever come across and needed a chaperone for even a trip to the Kwik-Stop, or you had been sent by my boyfriend’s bitch of an ex to waste my valuable time. Then it occurred to me that I have for quite some time visited, shown in, and written hate mail under an alias to many, many art galleries, and the problem here is one of perspective. It prompted me to recall the times when I was on the other side of the fence—when I was so intimidated by frosty dealers and their employ that I could barely take in the art what with my shaking and self-consciousness.
With that in mind, I came up with a few things that I know now that I didn’t know then.
a) Art galleries are public commercial venues, just like tee shirt shops–like the Gap. I once wandered into the back of an art gallery and an employee scowled at me. I once wandered into the back room of the Gap and an employee handed me a stack of super-skinny low-rise jeans, 24 long, and told me to put them out on the floor and straighten out the pile of casual V-neck pullovers near the entry. Both were kinda irritating, but the people at Gap bought me Arby’s for lunch.
b) Years ago, I looked at the not-so-friendly gallerina or gallerino and thought, “Stuck-up asshole! How’s that minimum wage workin’ out for ya?” Nowadays, as the not-so-friendly gallerina, I look at you, the unannounced back room visitor, and think: “You’re interrupting my meaningful tasks of filing and wrapping really expensive wax paper on this abstract drawing that I’m pretending to like but really think is stupid.”
c) Now, unfortunately, I also look at you and think: You’re probably not here to buy art, as most collectors make arrangements to visit in advance, and you’re certainly not here to buy MY art, so I already hate you.
d) You’re in the back room of this place where I work and you’re rifling through the racks and you may well damage a piece and I’ll be held responsible and I don’t make much money, so replacing something, even at cost, is really gonna suck some major ass. That’s one sentence. If you read it aloud quickly, and with enough anxiety-drenched panic in your voice to indicate a need for high levels of street grade Xanax (much more effective than the boring, prescribed time-released crap) you’ll get the full effect here.
But this is after some time in the trenches, Michelle. I think your confusion is justified. I no longer think your question is stupid; in contrast, I think it’s quite valid.
I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules. I guess you might approach it as if you’re a guest in someone’s home. If you are invited into the living room to see the lovely wall-to-wall plush Karastan carpeting, it’s not difficult to imagine that the living room (in this case, the exhibition space of an art gallery) will be prepared for your arrival. The state of the bathroom devoted to old, wheelchair-bound, carbuncle-ridden Uncle Chip (the back room of aforementioned gallery) could be another story. Anticipate the invisible but implied STAY OUT THIS MEANS YOU sign that you might once have plastered on your own bedroom door as a sullen teen.
Like every venue, including a tee shirt shop or the Gap, the owners are there to make money. You could use that and the previous example as general guidelines, but like all rules, there are many exceptions. Some gallerists are, quite simply, nicer than others. Some gallerists have inflated ideas of themselves as harbingers of culture, status, and class, and despite the fact that they’re still driving their mothers’ beat up Gremlin hatchbacks, will see you as beneath them.
Think about the nation’s economy. Think about how essential a four foot sculpture of some self-important artist’s weiner is for the average home. I think you get the picture. Your behavior might be a problem, but their behavior could be problematic as well. My Lord! This is a dilemma worthy of the United Nations! Let us all walk a mile in one another’s shoes! Can’t we all get along?
If not, the booger you just smeared on that Rauschenberg might make it more valuable. Not that I condone such behavior.
Love, Laura Lark
P.S. The other night, my boyfriend Doug and I were lying around on our plush, wall-to-wall Karastan carpeting looking up the true meaning of “irony” in the OED (RIP David Foster Wallace) when we were made aware of the many disgruntled detractors on Laura Lark Loves You #4: Following the Rules. I read these with pain and dismay. Doug shook his head and said he wished that people didn’t feel the need to be so hurtful.