Can Food Make Gallery Openings More Accessible?

by An Xiao on January 23, 2013

"Bakery" by Constance Castillo (via

“Bakery” by Constance Castillo (via

LOS ANGELES — Gallery openings can be intimidating affairs. Smartly dressed artists and art lovers gathered with glasses of wine, discussing art, politics and everything else. All in all, even a friendly crowd can feel tough to break into. Most artists I know can relate. The code of gallery opening ethics is often opaque, and though it varies from city to city, it’s more or less the same energy. “Gallery opening” and “accessible” are two things you rarely see together.

I was clicking around on Harvard Business Review recently and heard about a project called Wok+Wine. It’s a simple idea: networking meets jumbo shrimp. Yup.

Here’s at Peter Mandeno, one of the founders, had to say:

“As soon as the shrimp are out on the table, the energy in the room changes. Something about eating with your hands, sharing food with strangers, and the awkwardness of getting the head and shell off a jumbo shrimp made it possible for people to open up. To connect easily and authentically, to forget the bravado they had brought into the room, and instead just behave as themselves.”

I’m reminded of the gallery openings where there was food served. At an opening at Taller Boricua in New York, I remember dining on delicious shrimp paella rather than sipping wine or beer. At one opening in Manila, they had a barbecue. Maybe the foodie is me is just biased, but I think Mardeno has a point: there’s something about engaging with food that breaks the tension.

Could food be all that’s necessary to make a gallery opening more accessible? Doubtful. Gallerists might balk at the idea of visitors getting their hands sticky so close to fine art, but I’m not sure red wine is much safer. I turned to Twitter and got a couple responses:

What do you think, dear reader? Does food help or hurt a gallery show? How else can we make gallery openings more accessible, or are they accessible enough already?

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  • nyc

    i went to a Matthew Ritchie opening in Chelsea where the gallery arranged for a dimsum truck to be serving out front. The gallery people (probably interns) were handing out tokens to exchange for free dimsum – which controled the crowd and timing. It was great! gave people a more open oppurtunity to mingle with people you may not have otherwise started talking to. Seemed much more civil and generous. Im sure it cost a fortune though.

  • Food is central to Rirkrit Tiravanija’s practice. Here’s his description of the atmosphere at one of his early exhibitions:

  • Jacqueline K Segura

    Down here,food and wine are offered at openings. Never knew it was different in other places. I thought it was the norm.

    • Just for clarity, where is down here?

      • Jacqueline K Segura

        My bad :) I am an artist living in Louisiana.

  • b_thoughts

    maybe it’s just the parts of the country I’ve lived (e.g, not NYC), but there is always food & wine at the openings. it changes the dynamic.
    the problem is that it gets expensive… especially on gallery hop nights when people are using your wine table to as a reason to get free drinks at every gallery..

  • I do not think enticing people with food draws the right kind of people. Austin (TX) openings are plagued with people who just come to drink or eat and drink — in other words, mooch. Our gallery (Tiny Park) does homemade cookies…but that’s just because I like to bake.

    What we do to get new/different people in the gallery is host readings, music, and sound performances. How common are galleries that do this?

  • Having a bite to eat at an opening is part of what keeps conversations going. Creating the right balance of food and art is a challenge. We avoid having a spread on First Friday’s whicj are basically an art crawl. Too many folks are just out for the scene not the art. We keep some snacks on hand to encourage a bit of lingering.

    We save the spreads for our artist reception which most galleries have moved to weekends or other nights. These days have an art focused crowd,

    Cost is an issue and we’re always looking for ways to make an attract spread that doesn’t break the bank.

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