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“Book Your Event Now!”: Cultural Commentary on The Modern Art Gallery

by Deanna Duxbury 

Art Gallery of Southern Austrailia

I sipped my sparkling drink in silence, walking around the room between partygoers, with an odd sense of separation from the main event. Everyone was crowding and clapping and chatting with their free cocktails. I couldn’t help but feel I was noticing what no one else was noticing. 

Art galleries don’t focus on art anymore, and it’s a shame. 

I want to talk about art galleries as event spaces. Not exhibition spaces, or places where artists host a kind of viewing or conversational art experience. I mean superficially the “Book Now” section of the web page where people host rehearsal dinners and reunion parties. 

Galleries are cultural, conversational, decorated with creativity and usually made to accommodate a good bar. It’s a location of choice for a good reason, but what does that mean for the way we see and experience art now? 

I won’t point fingers or name names, because I love the way people are drawn to the idea of art galleries as being centers of culture, but I need to be critical. Art galleries have become something you can tell your friends about because now you’re that person that takes a glass of champagne while contemplating an abstract self-portrait of someone’s dog and finds real meaning

Galleries are the kind of place that fuel discussion. I have no qualms with tapping someone on the shoulder and politely asking why everyone in this picture has no hands, but there are the ups and downs to this interaction. I mean, you’re standing in front of some abstract installation with astrological signs and Kanye when some suave artiste tries to pick you up with a cheeky line on how it reminds him of ‘themes of human progress’. Sometimes cute ‘how we met’ stories are better on paper. 

Let’s take a second and think about the cocktail party I ignored and the art the cocktail party ignored. How does this work? 

Speakers were there to entertain, singers came and performed- overall it was a very successful event- but there probably wasn’t a single piece sold that night. It’s unlikely that anyone who attended will ever return with the purpose of seizing the sculptures lining the edges of the bar, as if that was what they came for. No one walked in, gasped at a photograph and yelled “TAKE MY MONEY!” 

Art galleries have transitioned to become a location that houses social practises rather than just a medium of cultural expression. This practise often sustains and publicizes the modern gallery in amazing ways, but how do we talk about this in line with how the public experiences art now? 

Sometimes I find that we only look at art when it is presented to us politically, absurdly and through scattered public occurrences. As student or young professional, when was the last time you visited a gallery because you want to browse and curate a collection? I mean, I’ve never done it. I visit exhibitions and frequent events but the act of walking through a gallery on any given day seems to be rare. Do you have an excuse to go? Do you need one? 

As much as everyone likes to talk about art moving away from elitism, popular culture gravitates to galleries as sources of insta pics, cultural gratification and long-stem drinks. Maybe nothing is wrong with that. Maybe it’s just nicer to have a venue with a little bit of originally. But is it really original when you know any gallery with a good sound set up and convenient location will do? 

This is an open question I can toss myself on either side of. Exposure, for an artist, is wonderful in whatever form. I genuinely enjoyed my drink and everyone seemed to be having a good time regardless. I had a great time dressing up and I really liked feeling like I received something from being there. Whether that’s shallow is really up for grabs. 

We’re in an interesting time, where art is becoming more and more publically criticized for it’s implications and interactions with the socio-political world. We want murals and daring performance pieces and skewed visions of the future with ironic tokens of the past. All of this plays a part in the way we interact with art in a daily capacity. Maybe the more we become enveloped in art naturally, the easier it will be to make gallery spaces more than a meeting-ground for sating a social image.  

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