The largest art weekend of the year in Chicago is upon us. Many galleries in the city synchronize their schedules to kick-off the Fall at the same time, Friday, Sept. 21, including the galleries of Monique Meloche's Gallery Weekend Chicago. In addition, the long-awaited international art fair, Expo Chicago, opens with the MCA's Vernissage on Wednesday, Sept. 19 before the fair opens its doors to the public on Thursday, Sept. 20. Running straight through until Sunday, Sept. 23, hundreds of galleries from around the world will be represented at Expo Chicago.
Since Expo Chicago is in its first year and Gallery Weekend Chicago only in its second, this seems like a perfect time to go over my top ten tips for art gallery hopping, just in case it is your first time making the rounds.
1. Go! (Yes, Just go!) It can be intimidating if this is your first time to an art opening or art fair; but, despite some quirky old misconception that has hung around for way too long, art is not just for the rich or privileged. Art is for everyone. It's practically one of the Ten Commandments. By definition, art is for everyone. So, yes! Go and check it out.
2. Enjoy the party. Openings and art fairs are as much about joy and celebration, as they are about art. The artists have been working long and hard leading up to this evening. This is their moment to shine, take a deep breath, step back and feel really good about what they have done. So join them! Breathe in, stroll around, have a drink, engage with the art and artists. Remember, it's a celebration for a huge job well done, so raise a glass and enjoy!
3. Look, and/or listen (um, but don't touch). Now that you have settled in and are feeling comfortable with your new-found hobby, take it in: look, listen, discover, roam, read, open your mind, tilt you head in bewilderment, laugh, scoff, be incredulous, be confused, be moved. But here's one thing not to be: disruptive to the art. For the ten years that I owned my glass gallery, at least once a week someone would come in and tap the glass sculpture with their long fingernails and say, "Is this acrylic?" That got old fast.
4. Make it a date night. No need to go it alone. Bring your friends, have a good time and look, laugh, question, and take it all in together. Gallery hopping is also an excellent date night option. Many great relationships have started this way and you get extra brownie points for being creative.
5. What The... ? Can't make heads or tails of what is going on with that art piece? Ask the gallery owner. There are no stupid questions. And more importantly, the days of snobby gallery owners are over. If you have a question, are interested in learning something or are just truly baffled, ask it! It is a great way to make a connection with the gallery owner, particularly if you want to come back to the gallery for the next round of openings and feel like you have a personal "in."
6. Speak on it. Here's where things get good! You like it. Your friends hate it. That's the beginning of a great conversation that will carry over into a late dinner afterwards. Let the art spark your next great debate that will put our current politicians to shame.
7. You have to kiss many frogs. OK, so you think you could create the same piece of artwork in your backyard. We get it. This particularly piece of artwork isn't for you. State your points, tell you friends, but there's no need to point, make fun, or generally be disrespectful. It's like dating. The pieces that you DO fall in love with only really mean something because you didn't like or connect with all the ones before. Accept that it's not for you and check out the next thing.
8. Think layaway. Then it hits you. Shazammm! Whammo! You fall in love! This piece is for you. You know where it will go, you know you want it, and it is a gazillion dollars. Now what? Think layaway! Nine times out of ten, the gallery owner wants the artwork to have the perfect home with someone who loves it, rather than go in a mansion just because it matches the couch. If your love is sincere, any gallery owner worth their salt will work it out with you.
9. Be genuine. Buy what you like. Like their snobby gallery owner counterparts, the days of snobby collectors are also gone. You don't want to be one of those types collecting because you are supposed to, because it is the artist that everyone else wants, because you want to rattle off names. Buy what you love. Buy what speaks to you. Buy art that will grow with you long term. You'll be thankful down the road.
10. Be careful, you just might be a collector. Watch out! Art is an obsession for lots of people and you just might catch the bug. Head to Gallery Weekend Chicago (free and open to the public, Sept. 21 - 23) or International Expo Chicago ($20, a well worth it ticket fee for exposure to galleries, art and lectures, including The Dinner Party, from around the globe, Sept. 20 - 23 at Navy Pier) and open yourself to a whole new world. You just might like it.
Follow Elysabeth Alfano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DinnerPartyChgo