Tagged: please don’t take me into a gallery

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.)