The Galleristas and the Mona Lisa
Question #1. What is the most famous painting in the world? Hint: it is a portrait of a woman smiling.
Question # 2. What is the first thing a baby usually sees? OK, it's not the Mona Lisa smiling at him/her, but usually it is a woman smiling – Mom.
# 3. Multiple Choice question: What stand alone galleries (i.e. galleries not on the floor of a building enjoying multiple simultaneous receptions) in Chelsea are crowed when they have an opening or event?
A. Galleries that have welcoming staff
B. Galleries with good art
C. Galleries with attention grabbing art (not necessarily good art)
D. Galleries push the serving of wine, beer and refreshments
My answer is A, based on experience. Actually, it is overwhelmingly A, although I will grant that the galleries serving wine and beer openly have a lot of people, especially at the refreshments table. In fact I have recently repeatedly been at opening receptions in good galleries that were jammed packed and I had no idea where the refreshments were – and drink my way through life and these events on bottled water and non-alcoholic drinks so I am looking for that table (oh, for the gallery that would serve hot tea on a cold winter's night).
One of the most important and perhaps underrated jons in a gallery is manning the reception desk. That people who love art appreciate a smiling lady is evident in the answer to question #1, which of course is Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
As I wrote about in the blog Starting a New Art Movement - Making a List, Checking it Twice... I continue checking out galleries to approach – or make myself approachable to, and one of my criteria is whether there is a welcoming -- better yet -- smiling person behind the desk. A year ago, I did not realize that having a radical new theory of art (I did not have a manifesto, that idea came after the Armory show), that is the next step from Conceptual/Word art made representing me valuable. Back then, I was just trying to find galleries that might be open to my work and basically not embarrass me and the collectors and fans I now have.
Currently, there is a show in Chelsea at Danziger Projects , a solo show of photographer's Andy Freeberg work, entitled, “Sentry”. Freeberg deals with images of the front reception desk of prominent Chelsea galleries. Each desk is eerily the same, anonymous, cold, with usually only the top of a head peeking above the barrier. Some of the galleries included I have found to be more friendly and give a few a good mention here, but others -- well, I only write good reviews, so what I will say is that Freeberg got it right.
At Lisa Hunter's blog, The Intrepid Art Collector , there is a wry “quiz” that artists can take to determine if they are a current art star. For one item, dealing with Chelsea , NY gallery representation the bonus question reads, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how rude is the gallery receptionist? Add one point for each degree of surly aloofness.”
Yet gallery receptionists (and even staff) actually represent the gallery's taste as much as the work of the artists they represent. The way I see it, a gallery that represents an artist is kind of the artist's professional home. As an artist, I want to welcome my guests. For me, that welcoming is deeper than just good manners – it is a biblical principle.
It also just is good common sense and good business? Why? If people feel welcome, they are more likely to feel comfortable with the work of the artist. And, although, the majority of people who visit a gallery, especially those top Chelsea galleries, may not be collectors and are most likely tourists, still they are exactly the people who will pay to see a show of the artist when it comes to museum in near their home town – or NYC. You think all those people who came to NYC to see the Christo event in Central Park can afford to collect original Christos?
Galleristas are so important that Danielle Ganek's debut novel, Lulu meets God and Doubts Him centers around one. The novel is a fun romp through the contemporary art world, well informed as Ganek is a formidable collector herself and former NYC magazine writer and editor for Woman's Day and Mademoiselle.
Galleristas and their male counterparts (who seem to fill in when the gals are on lunch break or vacation) that I term, with a wink to Picasso, “galleritoros”, are the first people seen as one enters a gallery. A welcoming smile, or at the very least a reciprocating smile is very important – at least to me, as I check out galleries.
I had not thought to compile who was who, being too focused on who was not welcoming (thus, reducing my list of whom to send an unsigned manifesto and introduce myself to), so I do not have everyone's name as I should. I am going to be adding to this list as I think that a good job, a friendly greeting is worth acknowledging. Plus, from my view point, many of the best galleries are very welcoming and deserve acknowledgment as such.
One gallery I was very interested in, due to their artists, and then checked off my list because after repeated visits no one had managed to even nod at me is Nicole Klagsbrun . The problem was the physical set up of the gallery itself, which has a large office area where people were visible working, but no actual reception. Happily, that was remedied, and now the vivacious and friendly Erin mans a newly created reception desk right inside the entrance. Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery!
At the George Billis Gallery there are various people, seemingly busy with many things behind the front desk, but whenever someone walks in, they all seem to smile and nod.
I have been in both the uptown 1018 Madison and Chelsea galleries of Mitchell Innes and Nash, and the receptionists always look up, smile and go out of their way to answer any questions.
Actually, the 1018 Madison Ave building seems to have only helpful and friendly gallerists and galleritoros, and I will have names posted soon, but this includes the new outpost for Luhring Augustine , Richard Grey and of course, Mitchell Innes and Nash.
At Zach Feuer , Grace will smile and help out, and if she is not available so will Lumi (who is a director but fills in).
Pace Wildenstein , in all its various locations and configurations, clearly hires and promotes a welcoming front desk staff, both galleristas and galleritoros. Most notably, I recently was greeted with a warm smile as I stepped off the elevator at Pace Primitives by Tiffany.
Walk into Charles Cowles and get a big welcoming smile from Alessandre. Any time I have ever been a Sikkema Jenkins Scott, a galleritoro, has been most friendly and helpful, answering all of my questions, with a good knowledge of the gallery's artists. P. P. O. W. is another gallery that always has someone manning the desk who is welcoming and helpful. At Marlborough , the three lovely galleristas, Aime, Lindsey and Samantha are freiendly and helpful.
At Caren Golden , you will always be greeted. Daneyal Mahmood gallery seems to always have someone who will find you and say hello even in the press of a jammed filled opening or Scope fair.
Back, actually less that I year ago, when I began my journey to find a potential galleries to approach for a relationship, rather that just focusing on the art, three galleries and receptionists stood out.
The first was George Adams , where the former receptionist (this no name) intelligently and with a friendly attitude answered all my questions about Roy De Forest and gave me information about the gallery.
Then, there is Ryan at ACA Galleries . What can I say about Ryan? She's fun, knowledgeable and became a gallery friend. Whenever I am near 20 th street I look forward to going to ACA just to see Ryan, which says a lot as ACA has excellent shows and artists. See “ The Serendipitous Show at ACA Galleries ”
At one gallery, the gallerista took the time to come out from behind her desk to knowledgeably answer all my questions about James Cohan Gallery artist Fred Tommaselli. This impacted the way I currently work (thanks also to some technological changes in a gesso that allows me to work on canvas with watercolor pencils and acrylics). Essentially, I in my unique way emulate Tomaselli's layers of resin that allow him to “float” what to me are strokes. I use layers and layers of acrylic gel gloss, that are not poured like his resin, but stroked on (I am all about the stroke) so I get texture. However, I now have layers of strokes that "float". strokes. The information that gallerista gave me also, and unbeknownst to her at the time allowed me to blog on Fred Tommaselli, What do Fred Tomaselli & Picasso have in Common? . It one of my first articles about other artists, not shows per se.
One of those jammed packed galleries, as always, is the James Cohan Gallery. At the opening for the show for Ingrid Calame.The gallery is filled with people, and on the street outside a line forms of people waiting to get in. This seems true for every opening. Could part of what makes a gallery successful be due to the friendliness and helpfull attitude of the people?
Season opening in Chelsea, first Thursday of September '07 there were more openings in the two hours from 6 to 8 PM than anyone could physically attend and manage to see the art. Some good shows were fairly empty, even though the galleries were serving refreshments. Others, were jammed packed. Zach Feuer, Charles Cowles, Daneyal Mahmood, George Billis all with openings that night are cheek to jowl. So is Danziger Projects, where people are friendly and the irony of the juxtapostion to the photographs on the wall does not elude me.
So, now, let us return to Question #3, the multiple choice question, where I assert that the Chelsea galleries that are usually most welcoming end up with the best attendance at openings, usually, although I have to grant that the pull of well known artists and celebrities does help – but that aside…
After multiple visits to openings at the James Cohan Gallery, I happen to know where the beer can be found in a back cubby closet of a room, not that it matters to me as I am drinking water. In fact, some of the most crowded galleries may not have a refreshments table, or have one off to the side. Hardly anyone in this gallery seems to have a drink and it does not matter.
People come because they appreciate the art and the atmosphere, which begins at the front desk with the receptionist's smile.
Since I have been in business, I know that inevitably the bosses behind the galleristas and galleritoros set the priorities and tone, as well as hire and fire. Even so, I want to acknowledge those people who man the desk who are friendly and knowledgeable - - and I intend to continue to do so. I am thinking maybe there should be a kind of yearly contest ending with some special recognition at a fair or maybe King and Queen of the Art Parade or something.
This blog is woefully incomplete, and deals only with the 1018 Madison building some galleries around 57th Street and Chelsea – and even then it is only partial. I have not been into every gallery, no less every major one, no less at least twice, which is the case with every one mentioned. Plus in my on my visits I did not necessarily always get. names as I had no inclination that I would to blog and acknowledge the galleristas and galleritoros.
So what I am going to do is begin a separate web page linked from the blog and web site home and index pages to a list of galleries I recommend visiting simply based on the friendliness of staff – nothing else. There are more galleristas and galleritoros I would recommend and I will actually begin a separate web page and list that I will post and add onto soon. This will be ongoing. I am open to recommendations of respected galleries especially in Chelsea but also in Manhattan. Please email me or post to comments the names of other galleristas and galleritoros that you believe are worthy of good mention, whatever the locale.
February 13, 2008