The Importance of going to exhibition openings

Reasons for attending exhibition openings

Written by Louise Ross

I’ve been to a lot of exhibition openings over the last few years. Probably close to forty, and I could have gone to a lot more if I had wanted to and had the time. One thing that continues to interest me is observing who attends openings. There’s a particular “in crowd” that attends. There are the buyers, the art fans, the groupies and the gallerists. But here is the clincher, I think that anyone who is serious about being an artist, especially in Johannesburg, should be attending as many openings as they possibly can.

I have, therefore, come up with a list of reasons that will hopefully motivate you to get to as many openings as possible:

  1. At exhibition openings you will get to see art, lots of art, and if you want to be making art you should be enjoying/ engaging with/ critiquing the art of your contemporaries.
  2. There is normally a bar, and if you are lucky it will be free, otherwise expect to pay a cheap rate for wine or beer.
  3. You will meet other artists and many like-minded individuals. This will hopefully result in new and exciting projects, peer mentoring groups, discussions, collaborations and innovation.
  4. You will get to witness crazy, intriguing or interesting performances.
  5. Sometimes you might even get food.
  6. You will learn who works at the galleries, who the gallerists are, who the curators are and ultimately who the power players are in our very small art market. Hopefully you will be able to use these connections to benefit your career in the future. It’s much easier to approach a gallery once you know someone who works there, you know who is making the decisions and they know your face and name.
  7. You will see what kind of work is exhibited at different types of galleries. Each gallery has a particular agenda and vision. Most galleries have a particular type of art that they show, and so going to openings will help reveal this to you. Hopefully you will then use this information to determine which gallery may be best suited to and most interested in your art.
  8. You will meet many other arts industry practitioners – writers, critics, researchers, lecturers, teachers, publishers, designers, curators. These are all people you need to know in order to establish a successful artistic career.
  9. Exhibition openings are a great free social activity to take friends to. Hopefully you can help to expand the art viewing audience and ultimately the art buying market. The more people who attend openings and are interested in art, the more chance that new galleries will open and you will have of selling and exhibiting your work.
  10. You will be more likely to hear of opportunities available to art practitioners if you attend openings – possible jobs, residency opportunities, and funding opportunities.
  11. Other people will begin to know you, and when you do have an exhibition they will be more likely to attend because you will not just be another unknown artist trying to make a break.
  12. Get yourself onto as many mailing lists as possible. This will help to keep you in the loop as to when openings and events are happening. Most galleries have a guest book where you can leave your contact details for this purpose.
  13. Remember it’s important to maintain the relationships that you begin to build at these events. Remember people’s names, who they are and what they do. Be honest and open and you will begin to discover a whole new world.

So go to the next exhibition opening you hear about. Grab a glass of wine, mingle, talk, be friendly and interesting and I guarantee your chances of having a successful career as an artist will increase dramatically.