Lessons from the Art World: How to Go Gallery Hopping in Chelsea

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Meg Webster at Paula Cooper Gallery in May – July 2016

Why are people scared of the New York City art world? Don’t answer that question! I already know. It probably has to do with how it has been portrayed in newspapers, movies, and TV shows for years. How we are made to seem like cold, pretentious, unnaturally beautiful people who are part of some secret club. How deals are made behind closed doors, how lawsuits are so common, how dangerous it can be. Well, I am here to tell you that you have no reason to be scared of the New York City art world (just make sure you get everything in writing).

The art world is just like…the world. There are rich people and poor people. There are gorgeous people and ugly people. There are sketchy people and there are good people. There are tall people and there are short people (like me). The list goes on. Simple as that.

In my newest blog installment, Lessons from the Art World, I hope to provide how-to’s for getting started. If you’ve been meaning to see more Contemporary art, Chelsea is the perfect place to start. Check out my honest tips for a successful gallery hopping trip below:

Know where to go: Anywhere between West 18th and 28th is golden. You’ll want to weave your way through these streets between 9th and 11th Ave. Just do it. Almost every single building will be a gallery after you cross under the Highline heading west.

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Know when to go: Most galleries are closed on Mondays. Some galleries are closed on Saturdays or Sundays. During the summer, most galleries have modified hours. Don’t let this deter you — just go on any day that isn’t a Monday…and don’t go gallery hopping during the summer (you will be too sweaty to enjoy it anyway).

Know the opening days: Most galleries host their openings on Thursday nights. Once you start compiling a list of your favorite galleries (see below), add the openings to your calendar and start drinking their free wine (just kidding — go for the art. Do NOT go for the free wine). Some of the most exciting openings happen in the fall.

Know what you’re in for, and do research beforehand: Contemporary art can be weird, even with an art historical background. Know that there is such a thing as Bad Art. Just because something is up in Chelsea, doesn’t mean that it can’t be bad. However, do try to have a basic understanding of art before you go gallery hopping so you aren’t the idiot shaking your head and saying, “I could have done that.” Start by browsing a few publications. Some of my favorites are Art F City, Hyperallergic, ArtForum, and artnet News.

Trevor Paglen at Metro Pictures in September – October 2015

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Trevor Paglen at Metro Pictures in September – October 2015

Get an app: There exists a glorious app called See Saw, where you can see all of the current gallery exhibitions in New York (and LA, Berlin, London, and Paris). You can select the region within the city, add your favorites to the in-app map, and then see your route. Indispensable resource.

Bring a notebook: You should ALWAYS bring a notebook when you go to galleries. Why? Because you will want to take notes. Realistically, you can do this on your phone…but do you really want to be the person on your phone? No.

However…don’t be afraid to take pictures: You’re going to want to Instagram a neat work of art, and that is fine. You will want to document your favorite works. It is okay. Usually, photography in Chelsea galleries is fine unless stated otherwise.

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Know the big gallery names: Just like any other field, the art world has its titans. Gagosian, Pace, David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth…the power players. Stop by, but don’t be the person who only visits these mega galleries.

Don’t be afraid to walk up stairs: There are also a ton on amazing smaller galleries in Chelsea. Most buildings in Chelsea also have galleries on the second or third floors. Make sure you see a sign for an art gallery before heading up a random staircase (you heard it here first, kids). Bring a friend if this scares you.

Actually look at the art: Congratulations, you made it to an art gallery. Look at the damn art, fool.

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Mike Kelley: Shaped Paintings at Skarstedt Gallery in April – June 2016. Mike Kelley is one of my favorite artists

Don’t be scared of gallery employees: “Gallery Girls” are known for being cold to anyone who doesn’t look like a wealthy collector. This myth isn’t entirely true — they are just people. Smile when you walk in the door, and be friendly. If they aren’t friendly, it doesn’t really matter. In the end you are there to see the art, not them.

Always grab a press release: Press releases are great exhibition summaries. Find them at the reception desk — they are usually on a single sheet of paper (if you don’t see one, ask the receptionist). I always take a press release, because it is a great way to learn more about the artist/s. Once I’m back at home, I like to read through all of my press releases.

Compile a list of favorite galleries and sign up for their mailing list, and follow them on social media: In addition to reading through all of my press releases, I like to do independent research on all of the artists I saw. I will visit the gallery home page, search through the artist’s other work, save images of my favorite works, write reviews, read interviews, etc. Follow your favorite galleries and artists on social media to say in the loop.

And finally, repeat! 

Thanks for reading!

C.C.B.B

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