How galleries are like hospitals. Or what I learned in #CLASS.


Spotted during the #CLASS tour of Chelsea with William Powhida. (Photo by C-M.)

Last Saturday, I joined a merciless gang of art nerds for a gallery tour of Chelsea led by artist William Powhida as part of the month-long series of events known as #CLASS at Winkleman Gallery. For the course of a couple of hours on a chilly afternoon, we inspected galleries all over Chelsea, looking not at the art, but at the galleries themselves. We studied spaces where the owner sat front and center, and others where management retreated to private offices beyond a partially-hidden elevator. Some galleries seemed downright residential (hello, couch art!), others felt like palatial mini-museums. We also analyzed how easily information was made available to the general public: as in, were price lists, press releases and artist statements front and center? Was there wall text? Or did viewers need to go begging for crumbs of information from a disaffected-looking gallerina? It was a fascinating anthropological expedition.

Afterwards, as I chatted with my fellow #CLASSmates (thank you, Barry), I realised that galleries bear an uncanny resemblance to an institutional space of a different nature: hospitals. The likeness, in fact, is downright unnerving.

Galleries and hospitals both…

  • …have lots of blank walls occasionally dotted with art of a questionable nature.
  • …are staffed by front desk employees who are willfully unhelpful until they’ve determined your ability to pay.
  • …are populated by individuals who look nervous and unsettled.
  • …are filled with unforgiving bright lights.
  • …feature dour-looking people in austere uniforms.
  • …are bare to the point of frigidity.
  • …have waiting areas stocked with odd magazines.
  • …smell funny.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a visual comparison:


From left: Hospital, gallery. (Images courtesy of pol ubeda and Marshall Astor.)

10 comments

  1. Joanne Mattera

    You KNOW I’m going to use the lead photo here in one of my blog posts. I might even have to write something special to be able to use it. Of course C-Mon will get the credit, big props and a link.

  2. Tove

    Interesting perspective! Being an artist who also works in the operating theatres of a large London hospital I will be undertaking my own analysis of the two environments since you’ve pointed this out!

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  5. Tim

    I can see what you’re getting at… But still, at least in my country, most hospitals’ walls tend to be light green or blue, not white (easily overlooked in a b/w photograph). I’m not so sure about the magazines and the funny smell either, plus in most art-spaces people are too bored to look nervous and unsettled- I think that’s the whole problem. Fact is that the gallery system (and the institutions that are in charge of (re)presenting art in general) is decomposting and we know it- the question is what we do with this knowledge. I’m very interested in discussing this topic, so thanks for opening it up! :)

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