What exactly happens at an art exhibition opening night?
What to wear to an art exhibition?
To my exhibitions – wear whatever you feel comfortable in, either straight from work or home. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if anyone rolled up in togs and thongs (we’re talking tropical gumboots here, not dodgy underwear); in fact I’d be pleased that they felt that relaxed.
However if you want to blend in at a flasher event in a fancier establishment such as a 5-star hotel or a formal gallery opening in an inner-city area, wear smart casual clothing or business attire such as a suit, or at least trousers with a long-sleeved shirt and tie; if you are a bloke; and the equivalent office attire for women; as that is what most people will have on. Depending on the opening time, it is common for people to come to an exhibition opening straight from work.
Do other people attend art exhibitions on their own?
The people who come to my exhibitions are an unusually friendly mob and there will be others who have come on their own. And they’re the sort of passionate, enthusiastic people who make an effort in life rather than sitting at home on their lounges waiting for good things to fall from the sky.
So don’t be reluctant to come by yourself. In any case you might unexpectedly bump into other people you already know. Sometimes people are thrilled to bits because they spot a valued friend that they lost contact with and haven’t seen for many years. This is not as co-incidental as it might first seem because while these exhibition opening nights are a gathering of people from all walks of life, these particular people are present because they share common interests and values.
Ask around and you might be surprised at friends, relatives and workmates who might be interested in coming along. Children are also welcome to attend.
What sort of people go to exhibition openings?
Inner-city galleries usually specialise in particular art mediums or styles and they have specific regulars who attend their exhibition openings. Galleries in regional areas and unconventional venues will usually attract a much wider cross-section of the community, and this is my personal preference.
My exhibitions have often been held in less usual venues such as hotels and the opening is attended by people with a variety of backgrounds, occupations and incomes. There are always people who have lived all their lives in the bush and people who have lived all their lives in the city. There are always a number of people present who have never visited an art exhibition before and many who have not been to an exhibition opening night. There are usually some people present who have driven all day or flown from another state just to attend.
What happens at exhibition openings?
5.30 for 6pm means that you’re welcome to come from 5.30pm onwards because everything should be ready by that time, and that the official part of the evening begins at 6pm.
It’s best to arrive at least 15 minutes before the official part of the evening because it is only brief and it can be distracting for the speakers if there are people arriving in the midst of proceedings.
Usually the opener speaks for a few minutes and I speak for a few minutes. The venue manager might briefly introduce us. The official part of proceedings usually takes around 15-20 minutes or less, all up. Often I will pick one particular photograph and talk about it. Of course people are welcome to ask questions too. It is likely that others have been wondering the same things so they are interested in hearing the answers.
Afterwards people come up to me to say hello, make comments, talk about photographs they’re thinking of buying or what they have already bought etc. My only comment would be – please don’t ask technical or business-related questions because I find such topics very uninteresting and so do most people who attend exhibition openings.
Mobile phones – of course they should be turned off during speeches or if the gallery is very quiet. Normally galleries have a contemplative atmosphere and the intrusive ring of a phone will rudely interrupt other people’s thoughts. However at the opening it’s fine to have your mobile turned on during the rest of the time if you have a very good reason to do so (eg. young children at home), as there are usually people having a good talk amongst themselves anyway. Naturally phone conversations should be conducted out of the room so that other people are not disturbed.
The aim of most exhibitions is to sell the art on display (either on the spot or at a later date when circumstances are right) so there is no admission charge. At some stage during the official opening finger food is available and there is usually wine, fruit juice or water to drink. This is either at no charge or there may be a bar charging nominal prices for alcoholic drinks, just enough to cover the artist's or gallery's catering costs, or bar proceeds may be destined for a particular charity.
Is artwork for sale on the night?
The gallery director or other paid staff will usually handle all sales on the night so the artist is free to converse with as many people as possible. A deposit is paid straight away to confirm any sales. There may be other edition numbers still available, but lower editions are more valuable and later editions are likely to cost more.
If the exhibition will run for more than a month the art can usually be taken before the end of the exhibition, perhaps even on the night. However if the exhibition only runs for several weeks it is common to pay a deposit on the spot and the balance at the conclusion of the exhibition when the purchased art can be taken away by the buyers.
How long to exhibition openings go for?
Usually a couple of hours but sometimes there are people still having animated conversations about common interests several hours later. If they’ve made the effort to travel a long way they arrive early and leave late to make the most of it. Of course if you can only stay for a short while that’s fine too and there are often people coming and going all night and no-one bats an eyelid.
Most people have the attitude that it’s better to squeeze in a quick visit before or after another commitment, than decide to not come at all. Some people can only come straight after work while others may call in before going to another function. Others may have young children with them who have had enough after ten minutes.
What happens after the exhibition opening?
Sometimes it is very late but if time allows we go out to dinner afterwards with anyone who is interested (either old friends or brand new) to make the most of the gathering. From an artist’s point of view an exhibition opening is very much like a wedding because there’s never enough time to talk to as many people as one would like.
From my point of view it’s always enjoyable to hear people’s thoughts in person and I often get to meet buyers who bought photographs months or years earlier without us meeting in person. Afterwards it’s great to read the exhibition Visitor’s Book. I always appreciate the effort that people have made to write thoughtful comments.
How do you find out when exhibition openings are on?
Most newspapers publish a weekly ‘what’s on’ or ‘diary’ guide for the arts and these are usually the most comprehensive and up-to-date sources of information. There are also many websites that list events. Galleries and artists have mailing lists that they send invitations out to. Few artists can afford paid advertising so if you’re interested in attending an exhibition opening night make sure you ask the artist if you can be put onto their mailing list.
And if venue space or catering limitations mean opening night attendance numbers have to be capped, naturally it will be people who are already on the mailing list who will receive first preference to attend. If it has to be narrowed down even further, it will be previous customers who will receive the first invitations.
After every event I meet people who say, “I would love to have come, if only I had known it was on”. The only way to make sure you never miss out on hearing about particular events is to put your complete contact details onto the mailing list and keep them current.
If I want to come to an exhibition opening night, what should I do?
RSVP as soon as you can by email, mail or phone. Unless numbers are restricted due to space or other limitations, it’s usually fine to bring other people with you, however the organisers need to know numbers for catering purposes. So when advising of your attendance also let them know how many people you will be bringing. It’s also a good idea to advise the numbers and ages of any children coming so that the catering can be adjusted accordingly.
If you won’t know whether you can definitely attend until after the requested RSVP deadline or are unsure of exact numbers, just let the artist or organiser know so that they’ve got a list of ‘maybes’ along with the ‘definites’. It makes organising these events so much easier and more reassuring when you have an accurate idea of numbers well in advance so that there is plenty of food and drink for everyone.
What happens at a book launch?
Similar to the above, except that the book is the focus of attention instead of art. Of course the book is for sale on the night. Visitors can meet the author and get their books signed in person.
If you’re thinking of coming to an exhibition opening night or book launch and have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Like to have a permanent reminder of an exhibition or event you have attended?
Enjoy more than 800 images of classic Australian outback landscapes by purchasing your own personally signed copies of the books 'Biggest Mobs - Longest Shadows', 'Life as an Australian Horseman' & 'A Million Acre Masterpiece'. Most of the images in these books can also be purchased as limited edition prints.