The First-Timer’s Complete Guide to Art Gallery Openings

So you got your first gallery opening invitation. You may be flattered or excited, but attending an art gallery for the first time can be stressful. The glitz and glamor may have a counterproductive effect and actually cause you to feel out of place. We hope you’ll find our little guide helpful.

What to Wear to a Gallery Opening

You’re going inside a room full of people you don’t know, staring at art pieces you are not sure you understand. There will be a moment when you need to socialize and interact with someone to play your part of a respectful guest. 

If you have a scheduled art gallery event that you need to attend and you are already overwhelmed with anxiety thinking about how to dress appropriately, how to behave, and when and whether to interact with others, we’ve got you covered.

This article will discuss the dos and don’ts of attending gallery openings. What are the things to anticipate and how are you expected to behave if you want to reduce the risk of the dreaded faux pas to the minimum?

Avoid Unnecessary Interactions

When you don’t know anybody inside the gallery, and you somehow want to meet the artists or gallery owners to feed your curiosity or feel like your being there has a purpose, see how things are going and then decide whether to engage at all. If you like an artist’s work and desire to congratulate them shortly for it, that is both polite and reasonable.

However, remember that this is their big, special night and they may have spent months or even years in preparations, so understandably, they may not have the time for conversation. 

But if you’re an artist yourself, and you’re getting to know an art gallery (maybe you were involved in a group show with them, or someone from the gallery showed up at your studio not long ago), it’s a good idea to attend openings, do your best to leave a favorable impression, as well as support the gallery any way that you can. But being calculated about it and expecting them to return the favor automatically may not be the way to go.

Choosing the Right Event

What are the most significant openings to attend? Truth be told, none in particular. Art galleries and art shows are essentially social events. Sometimes, these art shows can feel like small, intimate gatherings for talented artists so that they can interact. But it can be a great way to build relationships, and start collaborations. 

Unless it’s a one-night-only exhibition (those actually exists!), you can also see the art on display during the gallery’s regular operating hours. If you prefer to enjoy the exhibition all by yourself (or at least as privately as possible), choose a different date outside of the opening night, and you won’t have to deal with hordes of random people or risk bumping into acquaintances. Even if you do nine-to-five office work, you should be able to visit the major art galleries during the weekends. Art gallery visits are often free. So, if you’re searching for an activity to do for free, such as for a date night or with an out-of-town house guest, going to art shows and gallery openings generally cost less than movies.

When you know individuals participating in the show (the artist(s) itself, organizer, or gallerist), that’s an entirely different scenario. They will be delighted that you made the effort to show up on their big day and express your support, and they will value it because, at the very least, you helped fill the venue and attract a bigger crowd. If you really connected to anybody involved in the opening, you can pass it up, but it might still be worth a shot. You never know what connections you could build when you least expect it.

No Outside Food Allowed

Most of the time, catering is not available at the venue, especially when the organizers are on a tight budget. So just to be safe, make sure you eat before you leave the house. For the obvious reasons, you are not to bring snacks or food into an art gallery.

Free Booze?

Large and prestigious galleries can afford to give the visitors some buzz, so go ahead and help yourself to that delicious wine or imported beer. But when it’s a smaller gallery or an independent venue trying to keep costs down as much as possible, most of the time, free drinks are not part of the equation. If drinks are available, the supply may be scarce, so do not get your hopes up. Besides, it’s an art gallery, not a party. 

What to Wear to a Gallery Opening?

Don’t overdo it. An overly extravagant attire can actually make you self-conscious. This is especially true if an art show takes place on the weekdays. Most of the time, visitors will be arriving straight from work, many of them wearing casual clothes, especially if they work from home. So if you show up at the gallery overdressed, you may seriously regret your fashion choices. 

But how about what to wear to an art show that you know is going to be over the top? If the opening is scheduled on a Friday or Saturday night, it likely means you are in for a special event and you are allowed to get carried away. Depending on who you know and how good you are at mingling, it could also be the beginning of a long night of drinking and partying. If getting dressed up sounds fun and you are confident enough to pull it off, this is the perfect time for you to go all out. 

Privacy and Personal Space

An apartment-type gallery could actually be someone’s apartment. Even if it’s not, be respectful. Don’t talk too loud or, worse yet, talk on the phone so that everyone in the room can hear you. Acknowledge and respect your hosts’ and your fellow-visitors privacy and space.

To Post or Not to Post?

Do your very best to handle the event similarly to how you approach a crush on Instagram: it’s all good until it turns into stalking and spamming. However, it is not only perfectly acceptable, but also kind, to tag people or mention them by name in a post about your experience. The artist or gallery will certainly know how to appreciate your support.