Local Artists and Curators Offer Some Gallery Dos and Don'ts

Don't touch the art!
Don't touch the art! Bentley Gallery
Are you interested in attending an art show during First Friday but you're feeling a little intimidated?

The art world doesn't want to scare you off. It welcomes you with open arms.

But if you’re still nervous, we spoke to some local artists and curators to get some dos and don'ts for comfortable experience on your first gallery trip.

Have a Conversation

"You don't have to whisper," says Bentley Calverley, founder of Bentley Gallery, in downtown Phoenix. "Everybody walks through the door and whispers. I don't know why — there's not a funeral going on."

Talk to the Artists

They don't bite, and they appreciate that their pieces are being contemplated.

"Artists are usually very open and love to talk to people about their work," says Gina DeGideo, an artist and photographer who serves as co-president of Eye Lounge in downtown Phoenix. "Engaging the artist — saying hi to them, asking them questions — is something that people should feel comfortable doing at a show."

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Talk to the artists when you're at a gallery
Bentley Gallery

Don't Touch the Art!

Some guidelines vary from gallery to gallery, but this is pretty much universal. Never, ever touch the art without explicit permission. Calverley recalls growing so frustrated by people ignoring a Do Not Touch sign. Inspired by the controversial Andres Serrano photograph "Piss Christ," she put up another sign saying, "The health department requires that I inform you that urine was used in the process of making this."

"And people stopped touching it," she said.

Generally, Ask Before Taking Pictures of the Art

Photos are a touchy topic, and some artists' and curators' sensibilities are stricter than others.

"Most places, as far as art galleries go, are pretty open with that these days," says DeGideo of from eye lounge.
"Museums, it's typically a big no-no."

The key here is your picture shouldn’t be an exact copy of the piece, and you definitely shouldn’t be photographing with the intention of making money.

"The artwork is copyrighted by the artist, so you shouldn't take pictures of it ... so that it doesn't end up on coffee cups,” says Calverley. "Although, we did have a woman who came in and took a picture and turned it into her business card. We then explained that the estate was likely to pursue her legally, so I strongly suggested that she bring me the box of business cards and that I would promise the estate that they had been shredded."

"If you were to come with somebody, and you want to take a picture of them in front of the artwork, that's legal," she adds.

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It's perfectly legal to take pictures in front of the art.
Lynn Trimble
Some artists, though, will more than tolerate picture-taking.

"I encourage that," says Phoenix printmaker Wendy Willis, whose show "Nurture/Nature: Collaborations in Printmaking" was exhibited at Five15Arts @ Chartreuse, on Grand Avenue. "Personally, I haven't had a bad experience with anybody misusing my work ... I do appreciate when they ask, but it's not even necessary.”

Use Gallery Etiquette on Social Media

If you do take a picture, and you decide to put on social media, the recognized best practice to tag or credit both the artist and the museum or gallery.

Don't Abuse Any Freebies

Some art shows might have complimentary food or wine present. That's not a license to make the gallery your personal open bar.

"We've had people come in, fill up glasses with wine, drink them down, fill them up again, and take off — without looking at the art,” Willis said. "I think it's bad form to come in to abuse the buffet or whatever offerings there are, especially the alcohol."

The bottom line is that, if you're nervous about going to a gallery for the first time, you're probably overthinking it.

"This is not sacred. If you go to the Metropolitan Museum, you can get this close to a Rembrandt," Calverley says, putting her hand a couple of inches in front of her face. "So there's no reason you can't get this close here."
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