the i-d guide to exhibition openings

Frieze has just opened in London and the whole art world has arrived in town. You could go out every night and be treated to exhibition openings and after-parties where the free drinks flow on and on, and dashing, puzzlingly dressed people stand around...

by Adam Fletcher
20 October 2014, 1:32am

Linda Nylind/Frieze

Where to go
The best exhibition openings are those at moneyed galleries in the city-centre, which often attract a classy Chuck-and-Blair-from-Gossip-Girl sort of crowd, and those at cool, young galleries in the East End and South of the river, which attract a lot of art students and are much more likely to turn into a rave. Just turn up and walk in, there's almost never a guest-list or anything like that; if anyone challenges you, just say you're one of the artists and wave your hands around in an arty, exasperated fashion.

Once you're inside, grab a handful of drinks and go outside again. It's usually a drinking-and-smoking outside sort of vibe, anyone who's anyone will be stood outside drinking and smoking - even if it's raining - so dress warm and bring an umbrella. Cigarettes are a highly sought-after commodity in the art world, they're the only thing that can lift the fog of confusion/boredom that comes from thinking about "altermodernity" and talking about "the diaspora" all the while, so bring a lot of cigarettes and soon you'll be the toast of the town (although eventually they will kill you).

However, never bring a lighter! Just ask anyone you like the look of if you can borrow their lighter.

What to talk about
If you don't have anyone to talk with there's no need to stand in the corner looking at your phone like a lonely gooseberry, just go inside and pretend to look at the art. This is an exhibition opening after all! Try to project a haughty air of, "I don't have time to chat to anyone, can't you tell I'm looking at the art?" And if it's a really awful exhibition, too awful to look at, you can always hide in the toilets and play with your phone. 

Really though you should talk to some interesting-looking strangers, and a good opening line is, "What do you think of the show then?" (Obviously this won't work if it turns out you're talking to the artist.)

Now what the art crowd really enjoys is slagging off other artists. At any one time in the art world there are three or four major hate figures - most likely young artists that are suddenly making a lot of money - and if you can figure out who they are and say something like this everyone will adore you.

"I find this work highly problematic."
"I much preferred their earlier work. This just looks like everything else."
"Everything is shit, I just hate everything."
"Well it's all very trendy/post-internet/collector-friendly [delete as appropriate] isn't it?"
"I will not take a selfie in front of this awful nonsense!"

A very good idea is to explain, slowly and tiredly, "I'm just so bored of all this art made by middle-class white men." Everyone will agree with this, even if they, and you, are middle-class white men.

However, there are also some things you should never ever say at an opening, such as…

"A one-year-old could make this."
"I don't understand it."
"I just want an art that will change the world and start a revolution!"

"But is it art?" 

What to wear
Once you've made your friends, follow the opening train to the next opening, and the opening after that, and the after-party; there's always an after-party. What should you wear though? In the art world there's two major styles: dress smart or dress weird. For the former it's all about expensive Lanvin suits and jackets worn as capes and rare running shoes. For the latter it's about expensive catwalk looks from avant-garde Japanese designers like Comme, and highly unusual silhouettes and maybe even face paints. I saw someone at the opening of Frieze with a painted face and she looked amazing. Another option of course is just to wear scruffy, paint-splattered artist clothes. 

Who you'll meet

These are insane continental gentlemen with out-there designer glasses and rumpled suits. They never sleep, they drink mugs of boiling water, they sometimes stick magnets to their foreheads to increase their brainpower. Although they know everything there is to know about obscure conceptual art they also have James Franco on speed-dial and hang out at parties with Kim Kardashian. They're awesome!

These are gallery girls, usually blonde young ladies of very good stock who have art history degrees and work in high-end commercial galleries. Often aloof and unapproachable, everyone really fancies them.

Art critics are jaded, they've seen it all before and they sort of hate most art. They're grumpy and funny and well-informed, and generally excellent to chat to.

The most popular artists will have amazing, rapper-style entourages of health goths, noise musicians and transgender models following them around everywhere like a moody, fashion-conscious cloud. If you have the opportunity you should totally join a massive artist entourage and travel around the world's art fairs with them; start by making friends with all of them on Facebook.

Art students
They're messy, good-looking and lots of fun. They like to criticise all the capitalist excesses of contemporary art whilst also partying off its spoils; they're the future of the art world! Art students are brilliant to hang out with but they'll keep asking you for roll-ups and if the free drinks run out they'll probably try to make you buy them a pint too. Just pretend you can't hear. 

Last of all there are the surly dealers and the bloated billionaire collectors, the power-brokers who say things like "how much for the whole show?" and "how do you clean blood off a bright white jet ski?" and "where can I buy turtle eggs at this time of night?" However you won't actually see them at the openings; they'll be in the back-rooms, cutting deals and drinking champs and making millions, and you're not allowed in. Although, if you can somehow blag your way up there you're likely to have a fantastic time!

How to chat someone up

Lots of attractive people attend openings, which are often seething whirlpools of unrequited loves and base desires. Everyone wants to be loved, after all. But the beautiful gallery girls are aloof and the handsome aspiring artists are shy and maladjusted, and so it's always you that has to make the first move. One of my artist mates suggests that you sniff people and comment on their perfumes, and take it from there. Another says that if you're approaching girls you should adopt an extreme feminist view on everything - absolutely everything - and if you're approaching boys you should just try to shake them out of their strange, socially inept artistic stupor. 

Also everyone at an exhibition opening loves art gossip, and a good way to bond with someone you fancy is to just make some up. How about saying something like, [such-and-such] is so hot right now, but I heard…

"His dealer signed him by accident when he was really high."
"She's absolutely crackers and sleeps on a golden pyramid."
"He has sex with all his artworks."
"She has a pet elephant that paints all her work for her."
"He used to be Leonardo DiCaprio's favourite artist, but now Leonardo DiCaprio absolutely hates his work and says it makes him vomit."

Of course, if you're trying to chat up an artist you should just say those magic words, "What sort of art do you make? Wow! That's so interesting..."


Text Dean Kissick
Photography Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze

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