Behind the barrier


When I go to look at art at a gallery, one of the things that I watch a little is the interaction of the gallery staff/owner with its visitors. Sometimes, I try a little interaction myself, usually when I’m interested in a book/catalogue. Yesterday, I went to see a few shows in Chelsea (NYC), and one such interaction struck me as quite memorable, and not in a good way.

I had gone to gallery X (let’s call it that) to see a show of a photographer whose earlier work I like. As it turned out, the gallery had two books lying on the separation barrier (is there a better name for the little wall, which in many galleries separates the show room from the business area?), one of which I actually was interested in. Behind the barrier a young, friendly woman and a rather unfriendly man were sitting at a table, the latter of which never bothered to even look at me. I asked the woman how much the little book would cost, which triggered what can only be described as intense awkwardness, since the young woman, nervously glancing over to her opposite, could not really tell me, and when I asked her how many copies of the book they had, she said “a few”, only to very quickly correct herself and to tell me what the unfriendly man had just told her - very much in a way audible for everybody: “one”.

I didn’t really feel like either arguing with those people, and I also didn’t feel like telling them what I was thinking about them at that moment (even though I could have always claimed that, being in Chelsea, an outburst of rude profanity would have to be considered an act of rather spontaneous art), so I just left.

There is no excuse for such behaviour. None whatsoever. If they had told me that they only had a few copies left, which they would reserve for people buying a photo (or whatever other reason they have), that would have been simple and OK. But what they basically told me is that I really wasn’t all that welcome in the gallery anyway.

Of course, if you are a well-known collector or critic you will never run into this problem. And that is what really irks me about this whole episode (apart from the obvious rudeness on display): this attitude that considers the vast majority of people who visit the gallery as not worthy.

That’s not how I view art in general and the way it should be treated. To me, art lives from the participation of all parties, and that includes people who just walk in from the street.