Invaluable Grossmalerman Tips on Art Openings

(image by the author for Hyperallergic)
(image by the author for Hyperallergic)

Farewell Amagansett!

I’ve emptied the sand from my shoes, scraped the last fatted ticks from my groin, ear, and armpit areas and returned to the hectic pace of the Fall Openings season.

You know, speaking of the Fall Openings season, students often ask me whether there is any particular etiquette regarding how an artist should behave at openings. Not my students mind you. I don’t teach. I should really make that clear. No, I simply mean students I have dealings with. Some of them fairly often … but … in a mysterious way that I’d prefer not to go into if you don’t mind. In any case, I’m getting off topic. The subject at hand is openings and how the young artist should behave at them. I have many strong opinions on the subject and I am especially eager to share them with you as few things vex my heart more than the sight of a young artist breaking all the rules. After all, people go to gallery openings to see and be seen and there are few things more delightful to see than a wide eyed artist, maybe 23 or at the most 27, with their futures stretched out before them and perhaps without a bra.

Here are a few tips …


I know the thought of walking into a gallery filled to the brim with professional rivals, ex-lovers, critics, collectors, curators who happen to also be ex-lovers, gallerists, and Steve Kaplan is a terrifying prospect but you’re just going to have to do it. You can’t just loiter outside with your grubby hands in your pocket all night. Cowering in the rain as you nurture your inventory of social slights and other gravely suffered indignities. Just set your mind to it. Run in if you have to. Just open the door and run in! You can do it! There you go! Great Job! … Good God! Look out! You’ve run in too fast and tripped over someone’s shoe, barreling into an old lady! You idiot! Now you’ve made a complete spectacle of yourself. In the worst way possible!

You know, none of that would have happened had you gotten a few drinks in before arriving. Galleries may or may not offer alcohol at an opening (WTF! Right?) so it is best to not hand your fate to chance. I really can’t stress this enough. Always … ALWAYS get a few drinks in before arriving at an opening. The sight of your terrified, boozeless, and expectant face is not going to help advance your career. Look, someone’s just asked you a question and you can only respond in a timid, stammering whisper! My point is made.

Which brings us to …


The absolute worst thing about openings is speaking to other people. People you fear and hate and often don’t recognize, and therefore don’t remember you hate. Sometimes they will speak to you for no other reason than to speak. They will tell you things you don’t want to know. Like, about their creepy kids who are, quite obviously, not an interesting subject of conversation. They’ll speak of their successes and failures, idiotic hopes, and meaningless triumphs or some awful show their bland work is in. They will speak to you as though their life is every bit as interesting and relevant as your own and they will do all of this despite any of your dramatic gestures of disinterest. Droning on and on regardless of your darting eyes or even you, explicitly stating your profound indifference. I have, on occasion, gone to the extent of hurling vile insults at these bastards and had them mistaken for charmingly risqué banter! To the young artist attending an opening, I strongly advise that in the event anyone should approach you and begin speaking, simply walk away.

What’s that? The opening’s already over!?

Congratulating the Artist

It’s extremely bad form to leave the opening without having first congratulated the artist. Though distasteful, it’s best to simply get on with it so here are a few rules of thumb I’ve always tried to follow.

If you find the artist already speaking with someone else, don’t hover around them waiting to be noticed. That will just make them nervous and resentful. Be bold! Abruptly address the artist and, using my two handed “corral” technique (one hand on their shoulder and another shaking their non-drink hand) move the artist to your desired location. Preferably somewhere quiet where you can really “talk.” Remember to always keep their back to the crowd so their expression doesn’t arouse concern and don’t ever lose eye contact. That’s how you “bond.”

It’s always a good idea to mention the work at some point during this exchange. Something like “Great show!” or “I really liked your show.” Or, if you’re especially industrious, you could choose a specific piece and say something like “I really liked how shiny the piece on the left is. No, not that one … that one.” Your eye for detail will not go unappreciated. If, because of the impoverished nature of the work this is simply beneath you, there is always the nompliment. “Congratulations on your show.” or “It looks like you’ve been really busy” or “You did it! Yay!” are effective at neutralizing the true horror of the moment and still fulfilling your obligation.

Now, having “paid your dues” so to speak, feel free to ask them for that studio visit you’ve been wanting or better yet, ask them to introduce you to their gallerist. Also, don’t forget to ask where the after party is.

Now get out.

NEXT WEEK: Navigating the After Party what fresh Hell is this?

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