Our guide on how to mingle with art industry experts
After a quiet summer, September marks the long-awaited relaunch of Dubai’s exhibition season, as the city’s art scene perk ups with exciting new elaunches and openings. For those who are intimidated by the highbrow nature of galleries, we’ve done a little investigation on gallery etiquette and networking to help you with the basics – from asking the artist the right questions about his work to conducting yourself with decorum at a gallery opening. The Ara Gallery assistant manager Laurel Munshower, a Dubai resident of four years, reveals her top tips on how to be the star guest.
Is it easy to meet the artist at an exhibition? Most artists are more than happy to speak with guests who are attending, and are so thankful for the support. If the artist is taking part in a general chat with a group of people and you feel comfortable adding your input, then jump in. However, if you’re feeling shy, you can always approach one of the gallery representatives to initiate an introduction.
What’s the best way to impress an artist in conversation? It’s great to come across a guest who is not only familiar with the artist’s work, but has been following his or her career from the start and is knowledgeable about their artistic roots and growth. If you’ve genuinely been captivated by the work, have taken in the collection and have considered what it means to you, share your thoughts with the artist – you may find yourself privy to enlightening details about the piece not shared with the casual observer.
How can you comment on their work without offending? Many artists are quite open to hearing feedback about their work, which may help to progress and refine their future work. If you’d prefer to avoid any potential offence, stick with general compliments and congratulations and leave the critical commentary for the art critics and reviewers.
Is it possible to negotiate prices with an artist? The policies for price negotiation vary from artist to artist and gallery to gallery. But if there’s a piece you really want that’s causing your bank account to grumble, it can’t hurt to approach the gallery or representative who is selling the artwork to see if they are open to negotiations.
How should people approach networking at galleries? Given the likely shared interest in art, striking up a conversation about the exhibition you’re viewing is a really easy and appropriate way to start to network. Have plenty of business cards ready to go – these evenings are generally a great way to make new connections.
How should you dress for an exhibition launch? Aside from obviously being respectful of the culture in which we live, I think just about anyone involved in the arts can appreciate a gallery visitor dressed in a way that represents their individuality. Every gallery has its own personality – you may find a terribly chic crowd, or one that’s more on the fringe or experimental end of things.
Are exhibition launches an appropriate place for budding artists to introduce themselves to gallery representatives? Of course. Making contact through a brief introduction with a gallery representative, along with a follow-up email, is a useful way to get your name out there. But remember that an exhibition launch is a celebration to honour the exhibiting artist, not an open casting call for artists.
Is it rude for people to turn up for five minutes, eat all the canapés and leave? Who can resist the call of canapés? Honestly, I think it’s better to drop in to an opening for five minutes for any reason than not to come at all. After sampling the canapés, you may discover a new favourite artist or gallery. I haven’t noticed that is much of an issue here in Dubai. This city is full of really dedicated art lovers who, if anything, aren’t yet ready to leave at closing time. Practise your gallery etiquette at ‘Taqaseem’, opening on Wednesday September 5 at at The Ara Gallery, Downtown Dubai (04 454 2784).
1 Take an interest in the art and artist – don’t just be a casual viewer. 2 Have fun. The best exhibitions and events feature lively guests taking part in artistic discussion, sharing creative ideas. 3 Be respectful of the artist and artworks, the gallery, and your fellow visitors. 4 Be considerate of your time with the artist. There are likely to be many people who want to share their congratulations and questions with the VIP of the event. 5 Support the artist, gallery, and local art scene through word of mouth, sharing your photos of the event on social networks, bringing your friends along or, if possible, making a purchase.