Art receptions are like watching Wild Kingdom. Once you pick out the lions, the gazelles, the hyenas and the vultures, receptions become an entertaining social comedy. There is an integral element in this group dynamic…so simple yet so infamous, like the Pink Panther. It is the sought-after and elusive “Red Dot“. When you’re walking through a gallery and you see that little circle of color next to a carefully printed name plate what do you do? First off, you look at the price tag. You do this discreetly of course, you pretend that you’re reading their artist statement or whatever but really, how much was this piece? Who bought it? I mean really, who has that kind of money to spend on art? Do you look a little harder at this piece compared to a non-red-dotted piece? Of course you do. Why did they buy this one and not that one?
It is the ultimate artistic status symbol.
The red-dot most commonly makes it’s debut at gallery art receptions. Art receptions are really quite hilarious and I suggest taking a step back and people watch the next time you go to one. It does not matter if the reception is in a posh downtown San Francisco venue or at a local co-op gallery. There are a medley of characters that show up to these things. Aside from the general public I like to categorize them into these groups: the artists, the critics, the significant others, the patrons, and my personal favorite: the grazers.
There is a wide variety of artist personalities but I will focus on my favorite two types: the “pay attention to me” and the “don’t pay attention to me (but still pay attention to me because I am just so mysteriously aloof)”. You can usually pick these people out because they will either look like they are way too happy or they are just plain bored. The “pay attention to me” artist will wear a put together outfit that will look hot in any art review photo. I fall into this category because I love the spotlight and when I smile the spotlight reflects off my teeth and blinds whoever I’m talking to. The aloof artist is also easily recognized. Looking like they rolled out of bed an hour earlier, their casual attire states that they are too good to dress up for their own show. The latter of these two personalities have a jaded bouquet of poor communication skills. My favorite part about them is their vague descriptions of why he or she painted a particular piece and that if you can’t understand it then you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
The critic definitely looks like he doesn’t want to be there. If you see someone standing in front of your piece with a notebook in their hand and a camera STOP the conversation with whoever it is you are talking to and get the gallery manager to introduce you. It would be taboo if you just sauntered up and introduced yourself – you simply must have a formal introduction, that way you don’t look like an ass. The critic could care less if you were inspired by the ephemeral artistic juxtaposition of complementary colors that embodies the ideology behind the loss of your pet lizard. He/she has five more of these things to get to and they are in and out like a fart in the wind.
There will always be significant others hanging out. Usually they find each other and make a little support group. This is a pretty funny troop to come across because the friends and family of the artists tell it like it is. “Oh God, HOW many times have you hung that piece? Don’t you have anything new?” The significant other is lucky if they find a bench or chair to sit on ’cause they’re in it for the long haul. Usually playing with their phone, they can be found in a quiet spot carrying various jackets, purses and handbags. They are an important support system for the artist. They will politely finish conversations with complete strangers because the artist had to wander off somewhere. They are the entourage, they refill the wine, they are the designated driver.
Patrons are more than just people with money. The key to being a patron is that you actually spend your money. This person may come to the reception for the art, they might show up for the attention. After a minute of conversation it is easy to tell which is which. People will easily mistake themselves for patrons just because they’re dressed nicely and they bought a piece of original art once in 1995. No, these are called “grazers” (more on them later). There is a common stereotype that patrons look like bejeweled, uptown folks with feathered hair wearing sunglasses indoors. This might be the case for some but patrons can be sneaky and look just like ordinary people. They might talk to the artist, they might not give a rat’s ass why the artist painted what they did. If they’re interested in a piece they’ll be casual and bum bum BUM…buy it! And a red dot goes up on the wall. The red dot adds an interesting energy to an art show. Watch when this happens – what do people do? People might stand in front of the piece a few seconds longer. Like a drop of blood in the shark tank, there will be a buzz.
Grazers love to get in on this action because these people have an opinion on whatever the heck it is they are looking at. Grazers are fake patrons who talk about money and art and make a scene but never pull out their wallets. Grazers fall into two types: the alcoholic and the rich alcoholic. I call them “grazers” because they come to art shows to drink bad wine and eat free ors ‘derves. Usually the grazers will mill around the open bar and make conversation with the poor soul who is pouring. “Hmm…this is a Carte Blanche Chateau 45′? It tastes more like a 46’ if you ask me…” I will warn you – do not get trapped in a conversation with this personality. If I am at a reception and I get pulled into this black hole I will use my significant other as a sacrificial lamb if he is near by. “Have you met my husband…?” Walk away. Often times they will have a vocabulary like a walking thesaurus. The best case scenario is that two walking thesauruses find each other and latch onto one another. Artist grazers are by far the best to eavesdrop. I would like to conclude this post with an example of what you might hear:
A: “Have you seen the latest piece from blah blah blah? I cannot understand the ephemeral use of the opposing color palette in this particular composition.” (A stuffs Ritz cracker with cheese in mouth)
B: “Ephemerally speaking, I find a greater offense to be the unbalanced gridlock of negative space. I mean, my eye is drawn way of course. Red please.” (B hands glass to bartender)
A: (chomp chomp chomp) “But you can’t ignore the nonconformist triadic use of Alizarin Crimson. I would have composed this with more of an ephemera of Permanent Alizarin Crimson. I’ll have the white.” (A hands glass to bartender)
B: “This is just so temporal. I mean, the transient nature of the golden means throws this completely off balance, from an ephemeral point of view of course. Do you have any blush?” (bartender shakes their head “no”)
A: “Of course from an ephemeral point of view, duh. Can you just pour a little red and white together in one cup?”
The gallery manager walks by and puts a red dot next to the name plate. He/she politely smiles and walks back into the din of people.
B: “This wine is really good, it tastes more like a Carte Blanche Chateau 46′ though.”