Posted by Andrew Berardini on 7/6/09
Rather than dive headfirst into troubling eyewitness accounts of the punishing social dynamics of the art world, I thought we’d begin with a little etiquette lesson. Recently I was asked by the daring and creative editors of Paper Monument to contribute to a handy pamphlet they were publishing on etiquette in the art world, the pamphlet is in the offing and I offer this as a sneak preview on one account of art world etiquette, handy at every opening anywhere for any reason, if only as something that can be mentioned sotto voce with chortling derision.
What are the rules of etiquette for the artworld?
It’s like that photograph of John Baldessari standing with his back to the palm tree with the word “WRONG” painted beneath it: any amateur photographer knows that it's a mistake to snap a picture with a tree growing out of someone’s head, but then again, who cares? Why is that a rule anyway? Who makes these rules? Are there rules for art or even behavior in the art world? Why does one charming attractive talented artist/dealer/critic/curator fail miserably, while one whose diseased dog’s tumor explodes volcanic pus on the backseat of his dealer’s brand new Prius triumphantly succeeds? This only underlines the fact that, no, there are really no rules.
But there are guidelines. The guidelines for behavior in the rarefied air of the art world ultimately relate to the furthering the promotion and distribution of the work. Being able to be witty and polite with collectors, museum patrons, reporters, and the public is pretty darn helpful—but then again, there’s that tumorous dog. Rather than write an exhaustive list for every situation, which is perhaps above my pay-grade, I’ll concentrate on one situation in detail—though again, these are only guidelines and can be promptly ignored. This is an incomplete list of situational aesthetics.
Guidelines for Openings:
1. You must attend openings. When you’re Bruce Nauman, you can be a hermit in New Mexico. Until then however, you have to attend openings. Why? If you’re young, it’s important to find out how things work, to meet your colleagues, to find out what’s out there in the world and ultimately, perhaps, to learn how to behave at openings. If you’re old and you hate openings, it’s likely your best years are behind you, and you think all art but the stuff you and a few precious peers made is shit. I hope your few years of past relevance allow you an uninterrupted retirement with your television.
10. The dinner after the opening can only be attended if you’re invited formally, beforehand, or by the dealer or artist during the opening—except if it’s a very wealthy gallery having a very large dinner where no one is sure who’s invited and who isn’t, and you know a few people there. Somebody always doesn’t show, and either way you’re welcome to stay at the bar or smoke outside while things mix up. N.B. This only works at certain restaurants. In Los Angeles, the best place to crash is Dominic’s.
12. Business can always be discussed at openings and dinners, provided you observe the protocols. Artists can never directly invite dealers to visit their studios, unless a strong rapport has already been established. Artists can, however, talk about what they’re working on, and the excitement that others have for the work, e.g. “I just finished the installation about Hekabe with the really ornate collage, Han Ulrich stopped by on his way through and said it looked like Vito Acconci on acid.” Curators can corner dealers for specific works. Critics can, and should, get whiskey for free.