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How to "Do" Gallery Openings: What to Expect, What to Wear, and How to Network (Don't Do It!)

How to "Do" Gallery Openings: What to Expect, What to Wear, and How to Network (Don't Do It!)
A glass of free opening wine, image via New York Cliche

Art openings get marketed as glamorous boozy parties or networking hubs, but more often they’re crowded and stressful. Whether you’ve been to a million openings or have never been to one before, standing in a brightly lit white cube with a pack of insidery strangers is uncomfortable, even with the free can of Tecate beer clenched inside your sweating fist. In part to soothe our own social anxiety, we’ve written up a brief “how to” for openings, and we wish you the best of luck.



Which are the “important” openings to go to? Honestly, none. Art openings are primarily social events. They exist as mini-parties for the artists, and so that scene-y people can scene with each other. Unless it’s a one-night-only show (they exist!), the art will be around for you to see during the gallery's open hours. If you don’t like crowds of strangers (or don’t want to run into people), just go on another day! Most galleries are closed Mondays and Tuesdays but open on weekends, so there will hopefully be a time for you to make it, even if you work a nine-to-five office job. (That being said, visiting a gallery is free. So if you're you're looking for something to do without spending a dime, openings are cheaper than a movie!)

If you know people who are involved in the exhibition (the artist(s), curator, or gallerist, for example), that’s a whole different story. If it’s your friend’s show, then it can be nice to go and support them. Your friend will feel touched that you schlepped out, and will appreciate that you helped fill the space, since bigger openings can create hype around a show. If you’re not especially close to anyone involved at the opening––that is, if there’s no one there to support––then you can skip it without getting FOMO.


Opening image 1Image of an art opening via Artforum 



If you don’t know anyone but are trying to “network” with the artists or gallerists… maybe don’t? If you admire an artist and just want to briefly thank them for their work, that’s fine. But this is their Big Night, and they will probably, unfortunately, not want to spend it talking to you about your practice, and might get annoyed if you try. Then again, it might work! Just sharing the possible risks!

However, if you are an artist and are building a relationship with a gallery (like, say, you were included in a group show or had a recent studio visit with them), it is a good look to show up to openings, show face, and support the gallery. Just be conscientious of why you're there—to support them—without the expectation that this means they're obliged to support you back.



If it’s a blue chip gallery, help yourself to the wine; they can afford to get you a little buzzed. If it’s a small gallery, they’re probably cash-strapped, so slipping Tecate cans into your tote bag is definitely a bad move. Also, people will probably notice. And if you're going to gallery openings for the free drinks, you're doing it wrong. That being said, it's totally fine to have a beer or two while you schmooze; bring your own if it's important that you have something to sip on or if you expect you'll show up in the second half of the opening (since the stuff goes quick.) This should go without saying: don't get belligerently drunk. You're in a gallery, not a bar.


One personImage of an art gallery via Artforum



Remember: an apartment gallery is also someone’s apartment! Be respectful of their space, i.e. don’t leave dishes in their sink, don’t track mud on their floor, don't snoop around their bedrooms, don’t be so loud that the neighbors call 311. If you get their gallery shut down, they will hate you forever, and then get their friends to hate you forever. On the upside, if it's an "opening" and not an intimate gathering between friends (i.e. something more akin to a dinner party), then there's no need to bring a dessert or a bottle of wine.



If the opening is on a weeknight, then there’s no need to dramatically dress up. Most people will be coming from work, so you might seem tryhard if you come with a look. If the opening is on a Friday or Saturday night, this might be the first stop on a larger night of partying, so feel free to go a bit harder if dressing up is something you enjoy. If it isn’t, then don’t worry. If you’re underdressed, people are more likely to think you’re so cool that you don’t care.



Other than the all-too-rare cheese plate, openings never have food. So if you’re the kind of person who eats dinner early, have a snack beforehand. Galleries might get mad at you for bringing food in (you might get it on the art!), so come satiated to be safe!



In terms of social media, just treat the show like you would a crush. Tagging someone in a post or a series of posts about the show is fine. Spamming them… not so much.



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