The Beginner’s Guide to Art Gallery Etiquette

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Given the unexpected popularity of some of the most recent exhibitions at the National Gallery of Australia it would be easy to expect that the new visitors would understand the etiquette of visiting such a institution. But after visiting the current exhibition (Degas: Master of French Art) it seems that some people are in desperate need of education. Here are some simple rules that can apply to not only the NGA but any big gallery in the world, and are sure to avoid any potential embarrassment for the novice gallery visitor.


Rule 1 – Managing your time

Before examining the artworks contained in the exhibition take a step back and make sure you pay attention to what the rest of the crowd is doing. The main reason to do this first step is to determine the average time that people are spending looking at the works so that you can tailor your own experience to match that of others. If you spend too little time on each work you risk looking petty and insignificant. If you spend too much time you risk looking pretentious and smarter than everyone else. My advice is to take the average time spent looking at each painting, and then spending a fraction more time looking at it. This way you will look more learned to the average patron and are sure to impress anybody you are with but will avoid being labeled a ‘snob’. It may also help to look slightly concerned when looking at the piece. This will give the impression to others that you not only understand the art, but understand so well that you may have found something wrong with it. However, this tactic is best left to the advanced gallery visitor, beginners may come off as being stupid and clueless and it may lead to ridicule and in some extreme cases, the accusation that you don’t ‘get it’.

Rule 2 – Movement within the gallery space

The one absolute truth of any gallery is that the middle of the exhibition room is officially dead space and the only space that you may occupy is a one metre strip of floor around the outside of the room that the art is in. This way everyone can get into a queue and shuffle around the gallery in an orderly fashion, glimpsing the art before moving on to the next piece. The result of this is that center of the room in the gallery is officially useless and any artworks placed there are sure to be pointless and may be ignored. The curator is well aware of this rule and places only the most popular works on the outside walls, anything not on this prime space is likely to be small and insignificant. This is the area where they usually place works on paper, or studies for the bigger pieces which offer no real insight into what the artist was thinking and can be promptly ignored. . . read more.


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