I am a staunch believer in the fact that if you address a problem, you should also address a solution. To that end, and based on my reply to Jerry Saltz’s weekly column (below), I’d like to take a more constructive tact and recommend some advice to gallery goers. If the vast majority of Saltz’s readers would adopt these general rules, front desk people may evolve over time, and the art world could be a friendlier place. Here goes:
GENERAL TIPS FOR THE PUBLIC ON INTERACTING WITH THE GALLERY ‘FRONT DESK’ SCENARIO:
1. Unless your name starts with “Christian” and ends with “Bale,” please control your libido or flirtatious behavior when confronting the front desk. Really. We mean it. Seriously. Stop it. Thanks.
1. Galleries are private businesses, not museums or foundations. They do not have to be open to the public, but they are, for a good reason: the owner & artists want you to see the work. In NYC, this means you get to see museum-quality exhibitions for FREE in Chelsea, whereas you may have to pay as much as $20 to see the same work in an institution. Rejoice! Enjoy what is there for you – the art – and forget about the things that are not there for you (benches or seating, water coolers, air conditioning, public help desks, etc).
2. If you must air your grievances about the lack of these things to the front desk, why not be proactive? Your contribution of $5, $10 or $20 could go towards buying a bench, water cooler, etc for the public. See if the galleries take you up on the suggestion to place a box on the front desk of the gallery. Or start a kickstarter.com drive that goes towards placing benches in galleries throughout Chelsea, the LES, etc.
3. Galleries do not have public restrooms. Please do not ask. The only exception is Paula Cooper Gallery. But obviously with people working in these galleries, they must have facilities on site, yes? So why can’t you use them? Well, have you ever been to Starbucks at the end of the day and it smelled rank or felt grimy? This is what a restroom looks like after many people use it, and that is with paid staff to clean it. Galleries do not have paid staff to clean the restroom. But Starbucks, Joe’s Coffee, and Bottino – all in Chelsea – do. How about treating yourself to a $2 cup of tea or coffee, and a public restroom? A solution that works well for you, the local economy, and the art galleries.
4. Don’t like the art work on view? That’s fine. No need to tell the front desk. Certainly in this age of media explosion you can find another forum for your screeds.
5. “THE ARTIST” IS NOT THE PERSON WORKING AT THE FRONT DESK. There, I just answered the #3 question that you get on the front desk. This is also true for art fairs.
6. It is annoying sometimes that the prices are often not made available to the public. But if the front desk person tells you that they don’t know the price, do not have access to the price, are not allowed to tell you the price, this is true AND IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT & IT IS NOTHING PERSONAL AGAINST YOU. The owners establish the protocol. The front desk person may, in fact, have overheard the prices or know the general price range, but they have been instructed as part of their job requirement to NOT release it. And they risk their livelihood by so doing. Knowing that, does it really seem fair to address your frustration about the system towards them? They may in fact be sharing your ideological frustration, but have more at stake than you in defying the dogma, so they don’t.
7. “How do they know I’m not a collector?” is a lament often heard in response to treatment by the front desk (especially when not getting to know the prices). Here is the answer: they don’t and the owner has instructed them that it is not for them to decide. Trust me: as an art advisor, often times when I go into a gallery, I see the owner or sales person right away & they will supply the price. However, I could go in to the EXACT same gallery and only see the front desk person, even if (s)he knows who I am, they will not give me the prices. BECAUSE THEY DON’T KNOW THEM OR ARE NOT ALLOWED TO RELEASE THEM. AND IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT. SO RELAX. Write a letter to the owner if it really bothers you that much. BUT DO NOT DEMEAN THE FRONT DESKER.
7. It is unfortunate that there is no help desk in Chelsea. I think it would be great if there were (actually, I was going to do this in the original, 27th Street ground-level office that housed my current consultancy, but I moved out of Chelsea). There are, however, things like the Chelsea Art Map, Gallery Guide, and now a number of iPhone apps. Yay! These were put together by pros and offer far more useful data than any one person sitting at a front desk ever could.
8. Bearing in mind all of the above, is there really still a reason to engage with the front desk person?
9. If there is – like let’s say you genuinely want to know more about the work on view – then test the waters. Be polite, and courteously approach them. As in “Excuse me…Hi, I love your show and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about it?” I’ve seen this approach work in galleries big and small, with even the iciest of gallerinas. And if they can’t/ don’t want to/ don’t have time to do so…at least you go home with a parting gift in the form of a gallery press release.