The Art of Gallery Openings

Whether you are looking for performance art in the Theater District or visual art in anywhere from your local coffee shop to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is loaded like very few cities in the country when it comes to its artistic community.  The myth of these fantastic arts options is they are not easily accessible. Admittedly, I was one of those people until I made the decision to get out, and start exploring this visial arts scene that is literally everywhere around Houston.

My first foray into the world of Houston art galleries was actually spawned by an SPA board meeting at the  Bering & James gallery. I got there early with the rest of my co-workers to set up before our board members arrived. While we were waiting for the festivities to begin, I signed their guestbook, getting myself on their mailing list.

1. Get on the mailing list.
I’ll get to some gallery suggestions in another post, but if you have any galleries that you know of, but have never worked up the nerve to attend, simply click over to their website and get yourself on the mailing list. There is really no better way to be informed of future openings and special events.

After the board meeting, I got a chance to speak with one of the owners of the gallery, Blakely Bering. I asked her about the gallery. She is a wonderfully energetic and helpful gallery owner. She makes it easy for you to walk into her gallery, and make you feel welcome. Oh, and I own a piece of her work.

2. Meet at least one of the gallery owners.
There are a couple of good reasons why you should make yourself familiar with the gallery owners. If you are an aspiring collector, it’s always nice to build a foundation for future business you will be doing with the gallery. However, if you are just there for the art and the scene, it’s just plain good manners to thank your host or hostess for opening their gallery doors to you.

A few weeks later, I received an email about an upcoming opening at Bering & James. I checked my calendar, and had nothing to do that evening. I called up my friend Nikole to see if she would like to join me.

3. Take a friend.
While I have been known to make my own fun during a solo night on the town, I highly recommend you bring a wingman when you start charting your own course through the art scene in Houston. This is particularly true if this scene is not your typical environment. For instance, if you don’t get out much, an art gallery can be a bit daunting. I’m a regular social butterfly, and I didn’t feel comfortable going alone. Besides, people watching is a regular sport during events like this, and it’s always more fun when you have someone with you to comment on your fellow gallery-goers.

Speaking of people watching, you’re likely to be very surprised about the kind of people you’ll run into at a Houston gallery opening. It’s not the stuffy New York City crowd that pontificates on the art or vision, it’s pretty devoid of  pretension. People in Houston are friendly and open when it comes to artistic endeavors. Open up in the gallery. Before long, you’re sure to run into a new person who becomes a fast friend.

4. Nevertheless, dress to impress.
One thing that is always true about any Houston event, you get all kinds. Our cowboy roots tend to make us think that jeans are always appropriate regardless of the type of event. I am not saying that jeans aren’t okay at these events, just saying that you shouldn’t dress down for an opening. However, going over the top will make you look like a pretentious jerk; which is not the first impression you want to make with anyone in the gallery. You will see these people at other openings at the gallery you’re visiting, as well as, other galleries around town. Don’t let their first impression of you be that of a snooty idiot. What Houstonians lack in pretentiousness, they more than make up for in gossipping.

Guys, go with a button up (or a nice t-shirt)  with jeans and a blazer. Ladies, avoid the stringy tops, unless you have a jacket. Jeans are great, but if you have a cute dress to show off, this is THE NIGHT to bring it. The Golden Rule? Always remember that people are coming to the gallery to see the art on the walls, not on you. While it is generally nice for people to notice you, that is not the way to get noticed at a gallery. The artist and gallery owners are generally the only people who can and will break this rule.

Nikole and I have attended a couple openings now at Bering & James. There is one gentleman we have nicknamed Steve Perry for his Journey-esque hairstyle. This is one of the best parts of these openings; looking at the other people. Inevitably, there will always be a few people who either disregard the rule or flout it with admirable flair. Until you are a big time art collector, you need to keep a lower profile, and obey the rule.

5. The wine is free, but this isn’t Cheers, Norm.
Make sure you don’t come off as one of those people who is there for the free wine. NOT a good way to go. Have no more than two glasses at the opening. If you start hitting the free booze hard, people will notice and, even worse, you’ll start to get sloppy. This is a surefire way to get yourself OFF the mailing list. Generally speaking, you’ll probably not have the need to stay at the gallery much longer than it takes to drink one glass anyway.

6. Get in and get out.
Unless you are a collector or close personal friend of the gallery owner(s), I advise you get in, see the art, say hi to the people you know, drink some wine and get the hell out of there. Unless you get into some conversation with new and interesting people, I wouldn’t recommend spending more than 30-45 minutes at an opening. That said . . .

7. An opening does not make an evening.
Always have plans after the opening. Even if it is as simple as going somewhere to talk about the art, gallery and people, make sure you make the gallery opening your evening opening. This will also be helpful in keeping you from lingering too long.

In my next post: A short list of galleries you should get to know.