Archive for January 26th, 2009
Free drinks are not enough to get people to come to the opening of a new show. In Tokyo as in any big city, you could go to openings every night of the week and have some pretty good white wine and snacks. The problem is that you have to put up with the uncomfortable awkward feelings that are bound to surface inside you at these events.
It’s daunting to enter a new space to encounter people you don’t know–or who, in the case around here, may not speak your language-and be surrounded by people who either know the artist or by young gallery staff who stand behind a counter and talk amongst themselves. In order to wanna go, you would have to be a real art lover, interested in the artist, or looking to meet someone or new people. It’s never for the wine and it’s rarely because you think the opening will be fun.
They usually are not fun. I go in with great expectations and am often disappointed. Art openings must have this kind of image with a lot of people because when I invite them to the opening, they give me a look that says, “I’d rather be at the dentist.”
So, although we call them wine openings, people come for the art and to meet people and gallerists must do more to make people feel welcome when they come. it is not easy to get people to come. They don’t have to come every six months–like they do to the dentist–for a check up.
Unfortunately, I think gallerists don’t understand the social aspects and the intimidating aspects of an opening and just leave the art on the walls and don’t make people feel welcome.
This was the case when I went to an opening last Sunday night at a well-promoted event in Shibuya. I had put it on my calendar a month in advance since I was very interested in the theme of the show and figured there would be some interesting people there. An artist, said to be a future super-star, had some new works to show, along with some editioned work and some prints he had done in homage to a now deceased manga artist.
The art was good and it is very popular right now, but the atmosphere was colder than winter in Chicago. I wanted to talk with someone about the art, but in all too typical art gallery fashion, people just walked around by themselves, talked on their cell phones or talked to the people they came with. The young gallery assistants–there were many–just stood behind the counter and chatted. I left early not feeling good about the gallery or the art.
Our gallerists shooting themselves in the foot by continuing this kind of “cool atmosphere”? I think so, especially in this era when art does not fly off the wall like it once did. BTW, the paintings in this gallery started at approx $40,000 US. I think today-always-gallerists must reach out to people and make them feel welcome at these kinds of events.
At our own gallery, we try to make people feel welcome, take their coats, offer them a drink and offer to talk a bit about the art and if people want to be left alone, we leave them alone. But more typically, people want to talk. It’s like going to a movie by yourself–I like doing it, but I miss the chance to talk with someone about it. So it is with art, people want to talk with someone about the art. So we talk with them and we introduce them to other people that want to talk and may have similar interests. People feel good and want to come back.
At our last opening, we had a mix of expatriates who had lived here a while, new arrivals, artists, friends, artists’s friends, clients and potential clients. It was scheduled for 7 PM to 10 PM, but we closed up around 11:30. We had a good time, people got to see a wide variety of art in the gallery and we sold some works. When people left, they said, “I will be back, I had fun”. This is what we set out to do with these openings and how you develop relationships with clients. We want the people to come back. We want a fun atmosphere. We do not want people to feel intimidated by the ” high step” you have to climb in order to enter a gallery. Acting cool is passe, it’s over. Galleries must make all customers feel welcome. Free drinks are not enough.