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frankie's guide to gallery etiquette
Snap by Wesley McLachlan

frankie's guide to gallery etiquette


Picture, if you will, a beautiful room where people put things on display, then ask other people to come and look at them while even more people (who are sometimes paid) stand around in case you try to walk out with those things, and also judge you harshly in silence. The image you’ve conjured is of course an art gallery, long revered by both art fans and old folks trying to fill an afternoon.

But before you set foot inside, it’s important to acknowledge that there are certain unspoken rules when it comes to gallery etiquette. So, let me guide you through the delicate knack of viewing art.

OBSERVATION If the gallery space is quiet, you’ll have as much time as you like to gaze at the art from the closest possible distance (read: the line at your feet, or if there’s no line, a point that won’t trigger suspicion from security). But if there are a lot of people around, wait a bit! Look at another thing! If you’ve ever had your art-viewing experience spoiled by someone standing close behind you, breathing down your neck, you’ll understand how important keeping a respectful distance can be. It’s better for everyone when your gallery time isn’t soundtracked by a chorus of throat-clearing and nose whistles.

VOLUME It may come as a surprise to some rookies, but the sounds you make in a large, open, hard-walled space do carry. Quite far. And also, clearly. Keep this in mind when expressing your thoughts with your Nominated Gallery Companion(s). For one, if the show features contemporary work, the artist is almost certainly in the next room, or hiding in a cupboard listening to what people are saying. But also, isn’t it just nicer when you’re not forced to listen to other people’s loud conversations? Try to lead by example, and if that doesn’t work, glare at perpetrators with the cold disdain you learnt from your Aunt Maureen.

TECHNOLOGY On the topic of audible chatting, I once heard someone have a 35-minute phone conversation with a call centre regarding an error with their monthly bill as they moved through a gallery (it didn’t seem to get resolved, just FYI). As a reasonable person, it made me want to throw myself down a flight of stairs. Self-awareness is key – keep your phone on silent and don’t take calls when you should be appreciating the fine brushstrokes, or whatever. And if you must take photos, do it quickly and subtly like a guilt-ridden pervert would, ’cause that’s what you are, you cheeky little art perv!

PORTRAITS First of all, never look a portrait directly in the eye – they’re almost certainly haunted. I once ambled around a corner at Oslo’s National Gallery only to find myself locking eyes with Munch’s The Scream. I couldn’t enjoy soup for 14 months after that harrowing incident, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

QUESTIONS If you have a question, ask! (Using your indoor voice, of course.) Do not be intimidated – staff often like to talk about the works on display, or just have some general chit-chat (eight hours is a long time to sit quietly in one spot). Keep it nice and you might even find out where the best toilets in the building are! But also – and this is my best tip – if you play the situation right, you can score yourself a free tour by simply continuing to ask questions and sort of shuffling along to the next work in a way that will make them feel awkward if they don’t kind of reluctantly follow you and answer in the shortest possible manner.

SAYING “I COULD’VE DONE THAT.” You couldn’t. You didn’t. No one’s impressed.

This guide comes straight from the pages of frankie 100. Head here to find your closest stockist, pick up a copy from our online store or subscribe from $59.50.