By Sara Peters & Dave Karrel
So, you’re going to an art event. Don’t just stand there, get R E A D Y! Oh, it’s weeks away? Perfect, you’ll need the time to prepare. Maybe you’re thinking, but I already know how to go to art shows. Ha! You couldn’t be more wrong. But worry not, this handy guide to the art of art is 2000% certified by Marina Abramovic™ herself.
Preparing for the Event
Don’t trust the Facebook event. All the people who say they’re going are not going. Anyone who marks themselves as ‘interested’ never gave it a thought.
Your friends can’t make it. Sorry to tell you, but it’s best you hear it from me now. One will get sick, one will be tired from a ‘brutal work day’, one will never text you at all.
If you do happen to spot someone you know, they will go missing within minutes. You will think, how is this possible in a 10×10 room? This is the art world, baby. Rules don’t apply.
Ah, the outfit. The cornerstone of any good disguise. Be sure to wear an unintuitive, semi-pre-mostly-post-modern combination of garments. Use this classic example as inspiration: Second-cousin’s work pants with a mesh top. Vintage back-issue of Life Magazine folded into a boat hat. Babybel cheese wax earrings.
To be truly unforgettable, wear a genuine mink shawl and insist it’s actually made of Beyond Meat™.
Entering the Event
The gallery’s entrance may come in the form of a garage door, nondescript archway, parting in the bushes, or subtle parody of an existing fast-food chain, eg: McDonTalds.
Enter the event as though you expected to walk into a restaurant but, upon discovering your mistake, have decided to satisfy your bottomless appetite for contemporary arts and culture.
You’ve arrived. Your need for high art is matched only by your growing thirst. In the back, you’ll find two near-identical near-angels selling tall cans from a makeshift booth.
Keep your head down. Approach slowly. Do not bare your teeth. When offered wine, take as many glasses as you can hold (the world record is 51) and consume immediately. Do not hesitate. If you hesitate, they will, in perfect synchronicity, read from their half-finished dissertations and lay a curse that renders you a permanent installation of the gallery.
Establish intellectual dominance from the outset: Take a hurried first lap. This will prove you consume art faster than anyone else in the room.
There will be a dimly lit back patio/parking lot/semi-outdoor area where people squat on tree stumps and take long wistful drags of hand-rolled cigarettes. You can find good conversation here, just don’t bring up the art.
If the artist is your friend, congratulate them before you’ve seen the work. Grasp them by the fingertips, fingerprint to fingerprint, gaze deep into their soul, whisper, Brave. So, so brave with your eyes fully closed.
Talk over the video that is playing on loop. You’re not actually here to see the art, you’re here to be seen with the art.
There WILL be someone whose backpack is twice the size of a Foodora delivery bag. WHAT IS IN THERE????! you will wonder but never ask.
If you run into the gallery owner, say How much? When they ask which piece you’re referring to, laugh and shake your head as you float away.
Learning the Language
Dipping into a new culture requires learning enough of the language to get around. For instance, when someone asks, what do you do? what they’re really asking is, what can you do for me? Look around. Is everyone looking at you? Good. Stand on tiptoe and mention that you know a little Japanese. If you’re looking to make an ally for the night, say you moonlight as a grant writer.
If someone tells you they used to know the artist before they ‘blew up’, it means they once shared a kiln while studying trans-epoch Trotskian pottery at OCAD and have since heavily lurked their social media.
Practice reading didactic panels before you go. The most important part is holding your face perfectly still so as to mask your inevitable confusion as you try to decipher seemingly incomprehensible sentences such as:
If you happen to find an error in a didactic panel, be sure to chuckle to yourself—bounce at the shoulders, shake your head. Make sure someone notices, to unwittingly confirm your superior intelligence.
If there is a Q & A, be prepared for an extended speech that betrays the asker’s prolific art-making history and (eventually) yields into a bumbling reference to one of the work’s materials and a half-hearted request for the artist to explain where they got the idea.
Leaving the Event
In order to leave, you’ll need to plan an escape route. Take into consideration the following likely obstacles:
- The door is actually part of the exhibit
- The group of intimidating art teens by the front door (How’d they get in here? How are they so cool? Are they real?)
- The man by the bar who wishes to tell you about the recent ‘urban farm’ he is building in his “friend Todd’s parents’” backyard
- Actually, where is the door though? This is frickin’ spooky
- Spotting the artist, and in so doing, feeling obligated to ask about their process
- Spotting the curator and having them tack you against the wall for 1-6 hours so they can tell you about their process
- Uneven flooring
- Literally no idea what’s happening with this door situation. Will I die here??
An older couple will wander in. The realization that this is not their destination will slowly drain the expectant joy from their faces until the woman grasps her husband gently at the elbow and whispers, “Ted, we need to go.” For an easy out, pretend they’re visiting you from out of town and follow their lead.
There—you made it. You’re now an Art World Veteran. Get yourself home, crawl into bed with your takeout, and post a couple Insta pics so everyone knows what a great night you had.