Gallery flow


Dear Artist,

As touched on in the clickback before last, Small Stuff — how people move around in galleries — contributes greatly to their success or failure. We have to differentiate between commercial galleries and public galleries, for each serves a different purpose.

In commercial galleries, it’s been my observation that the larger open spaces facilitate valuable cross-room movement, distant viewing and shared energy. “Feng shui” suggests these sorts of spaces should have the feeling that something is happening. Compared to small rooms and heavily partitioned ones, big spaces are also easier to manage. Dealers and staff can more easily keep an eye out for clients who may be coming to a decision. Also, democratic overhearing is increased, inviting others to join in. It’s not just the art-client connection, but the dealer-client, and client-client connections that enrich. This is particularly true at solo and group shows where discussion, humour and libation are part of the gallery experience. Red-sticker show-offs can be accommodated in these environments, while the discreet can also have their way. I’ve observed these ritualized dances in countless openings in dozens of well-run galleries. Incidentally, it’s reported that the convention of the “closing room” now only works for bank managers and car dealers.

Public galleries, on the other hand, are not generally venues for selling. They require a more educational or mind-expanding approach. That’s why I opted for the 100-word notes accompanying each painting in my current, non-selling, retrospective. I wanted people to learn something about painters, the painting life, and my taste and interests in particular. It was important to decide beforehand the level of info needed, because this affects gallery flow. Too much, and people get overwhelmed, or bored, and move on. Too little, and they breeze through even faster. In this day of gallery guides and hand-held audio devices, people are demanding more. But we know they are turned off by arcane deconstruction and art-speak. The better info unit might be the “artist’s story.” We are currently monitoring visitor action in this particular show. Visitors, most often moving in a clockwise direction, are considerably slowed down by the 100 word write-ups. Many visitors are looking at a work for five seconds, reading the material for thirty seconds, looking again for ten seconds, and then moving on to the next one that catches their eye.

Best regards,


PS: “Everything on display was sold for a good price to decent people. It has been a long time since I believed that you could educate public taste.” (Claude Monet, 1840-1926)

Esoterica: In the medium of film, the director and editor control the order and duration of disclosure. The art gallery visitor, on the other hand, “self-edits” — free will determines the “time of linger.” He may “edit out” in less than a second, or “edit in” for much longer periods. In the commercial-gallery experience the viewer has the option of editing-in for a lifetime. Feng shui tradition says: “When sitting at a desk, the entrance door should be in a clear line of sight and you should have a view of as much of the room as possible.” In gallery situations, however, desks need to be placed obliquely to the entrance so that visitors are not intimidated by the direct sight of a potentially judgmental gallery person. Visitors should be able to edit-out at will, including, temporarily, the person behind the desk.


Story missing
by Marie Martin, Fountain Valley, CA, USA

I love color, I need to paint, I crave the experience of standing in front of a canvas and I work long, hard hours in order to see what I can make happen. I hope to make something pretty and/or dramatic and/or compelling and/or soothing and/or intensely dynamic. Other than that, I don’t really have a ‘story.’ I work hard to get a good painterly result… I don’t have out of body experiences or deep meditations on pieces. I simply paint my heart out. Because of all the talk about the need for an artist’s story, and my lack of same, I end up feeling as though there is something deficient about my work. I read many art books and magazines and am always struck by what artists have to say about themselves and their work. So often I wonder if that’s how they really feel, or if words are being put together to create an image in order to sell. Do you have any words of wisdom on this subject?

(RG note) Thanks, Marie. You’re right, there’s not always a lot you can say about a painting. And so be it. In my current show the paintings I chose were often personal ones, so there was a story to tell — trips, friends, anecdotes. But I had an ulterior motive — to give visitors an inside look at a painter’s life.


Gallery notes
by Dale Witherow, Olympia, WA, USA


“Delicate Inquiry”
36 x 36 inches
by Dale Witherow

Last fall I opened my first solo show with Gallery IMA in Seattle. Since I was new to the gallery and the Seattle audience, I decided to write short narratives about each piece so the gallery owner and staff would have something to share with the clients. The idea was a success with the staff and the public. It made the work more personal and created a link between me and the viewer. The feedback from the staff has been extremely positive.





Back room advice
by Jonathan Almblad, Haviland, KS, USA


stained glass
by Jonathan Almblad

I want to comment on your mention that the “back room” was only helpful in cars and banks. My first major art purchase happened at the Magna Gallery in NYC back in 1990. I still recall the moment clearly, as it was very powerful and one I have had the joy of “using” myself a couple of times to advantage of a client and my art work.

So, there I was looking at a limited edition Salvador Dali again and again coming back to it, hemming and hawing. The sales gal, Alexander Kargilis, must have been aware of my editing-in with regards to that work and as I was about to leave, she invited me to a side room to view a piece she thought I would appreciate. Lo and Behold, it was the Dali piece with lighting specifically set to bring tears to my eyes — it was 2000 dollars and beyond my immediate capacity — so I asked her to give me a month to send her the money — I came up with it because I so so so wanted that piece as well as the memory. I still enjoy that print and the memory. So, maybe knocking the “back room” might not be the best advice.


Take the time to fall in love
by Scharolette Chappell, Auburn Hills, MI, USA

Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, by Jeanette Winterson, is a recommended book. I’ve taken some of her statements about writing and replaced with the words, ‘A painting.’ So it goes something like this: “[A painting] objects to the lie that life is small. [A painting] is a cell of energy. [A painting] defines itself. [A painting] draws its viewer in for longer than an instant. [A painting] exhibits boldness. [A painting] restores power to exalt, unnerve, shock, and transform us. [A painting] does not imitate life, it anticipates life.”

Imagine going to a gallery to sit in front of a painting for one whole hour and really look at it! Just an hour. Funny we spend an hour making love without a second thought, we spend an hour mowing the lawn out of neccessity, or going to dinner, but to sit and look at a painting? Well, we might just fall in love if we took the time?


The urban artist
by Dwayne Davis, Williams Lake, BC, Canada

Artwork in galleries in the larger cities have more freedom of subject, it seems, than that of the smaller communities, as well as, of course, far better and more diverse venues to show their art. This has been the Achilles heel for suburban dwelling artists. Questions I’m sure many an urban artist has had to deal with like, “How much without the frame?” “You have any pictures that match my couch?” One begins to realize the value many of the clients take in the artist’s efforts. I see things from local artists that are put out as “salable” art. I find that many artists in these smaller communities are trying only to sell to their local market (I can mostly be included in this assessment) and are stifling their creative juices trying to play a guessing game on what will sell or what a certain gallery would want to show instead of trying for what they want to create. My art style suits my local client base, but there are so many others I’ve seen whose work is suited more for the metropolitans, not the suburbanites. But, without the support of the local art buyers, their work goes stale and they lose interest in their unique creative style.


Words add meaning
by Carol Lois Haywood, Mountain View, CA, USA


“Barbara and Allen”
watercolour painting, 22 x 30 inches
by Carol Lois Haywood

I created a similar, if somewhat briefer (more like 50 words), guide to each painting hung in my latest open studio event. It was printed out as a flyer and went in the same order as the pictures around the walls of my home and studio, with a small thumbnail heading each entry.

What amazed me was how interested my visitors were in what I had revealed about the inspiration and process of each work. Some pored over their paper deeply as they moved around; some began conversations with strangers over their reactions; everyone carried theirs home. It was a last-minute idea that brought me great satisfaction since it is impossible to walk around with every person who comes and talk with them about each painting — and tedious to us both as well.

This experience told me a lot about helping people enjoy looking at my art. I felt that I had communicated much more about my work’s meaning than I had ever been able to do before.


Direction of flow
by Sue Johnson, Gainesville, FL, USA

It’s interesting that your gallery flow is going in a clockwise direction. I docent at a university art museum and we almost always tour our groups in a counter-clockwise direction. This is not an arbitrary decision either. If you think about doing that weekly food shopping for instance, most people, when they enter the store, automatically go to the right to begin and move in a counter-clockwise direction as they move up and down the aisles. Apparently the same thing happens at the museum and so we tour that way.

(RG note) Thanks, Sue. This particular room, which is not large, presents the viewer with a wall of art directly in front when they walk in. At this point one cannot turn left, so the natural flow seems to be to the right. While the general rule is to turn right and go counterclockwise in most stores and supermarkets, and thus museums, I wonder if this holds true in the southern hemisphere?


by Tina Lindsey, Dallas, GA, USA


“The Pond”
oil painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Tina Lindsey

I found myself at a gallery recently in which the entire time there I kept a deliberate eye in the direction of the door. The gallery was so heavily partitioned that, after about a minute, I became anxious to leave. Still I managed, at a brisk pace, to at least glance into each area of the gallery. I never could give any painting a serious look, and once out the door I actually scolded myself for my ever growing need for simplicity and lack of patience regarding the gallery. While waiting for an order at a nearby coffee shop I overheard a patron echoing my very thoughts regarding the gallery to her companion. Why that affirmation made a difference to me I don’t know, but my coffee tasted the better for it.


Hanging for direction
by Sandy McMullen, Toronto, ON, Canada

Francoise 022

Francoise 022

Four years of watching gallery flow in our 500 square foot artist-run venue in the Distillery District in Toronto has provided a fascinating source of never-ending conversation as to what works. A high percentage of people that come into the gallery are artists, used to be artists, or want to be artists. They are the ones who spend the most time looking and often they are looking for technique. Other people come in and walk directly to what they like, regardless of where the painting is hung. Others are more democratic and look at everything, perhaps spending more time with a favourite. These people most often proceed clockwise unless something on the right catches their eye first. My conclusion is that the best way for us to hang a show is to approach the gallery space as a canvas and lead the eye (and the person) through the gallery with colour, shape and size. Some paintings relate to each other to form natural “stories” and we try to capture those as well as provide places of excitement and rest for the viewer.


Catering for red dots
by John Hulsey, KS, USA


“Dawn Road II”
oil painting, 32 x 34.5 painting
by John Hulsey

My wife, Ann Trusty, and I would spend the week before our openings cooking up a mini-banquet and then we catered the event. We placed two long tables right in the center of the large, open gallery space loaded with bite-sized food. People would enter the gallery, cruise the walls, and then head for the center table for refreshments. The eager buyers would skip the table at first, find the director and buy the picture of their choice, which put the red dots up. Others who lingered at the table, would observe the dots going up, sometimes lost their favorite, so they would cruise the walls again in search of an alternate. They would then make their purchase and head back to the table to relax and talk about their purchase with friends, who inevitably had their own favorites. This “churning” effect caused a lot of circulation and discussion and not a little competition among the buyers, and had the pleasant by-product of making the room noisy with conversation — always good for a relaxed atmosphere. Year by year, the avid buyers learned to come very early and purchase what they considered the “best” pieces before the crowd showed up in force. This put a lot of red dots on the wall and increased the pressure on the rest to get down to business first, and enjoy the comestibles later.


Listening in
by Gail Griffiths, Ocean, NJ, USA


oil painting, 24 x 24 painting
by Gail Griffiths

I happen to like the man-made sturdy mesh partitions that are put up to hang paintings on that represent walls. They allow air flow, the chatter of the room can be heard throughout the place and you can stand on the other side of one partition to hear true comments on your own paintings.

I got scolded for doing this at the last show I was in. I don’t think people are honest. They either are nice or they like to hear the art critic in themselves blab on and on about nothing. The first honest person’s opinion I got at that show was my eight year old autistic friend’s opinion, when he said, “It’s scary.” It is a dark, depressed painting, I knew I had done something right. My question: — Is it wrong to listen in on the comments given openly, on my own painting? After all the walls are thin.

(RG note) Thanks, Gail. Great fun to hear what is said. Friends can pass this stuff on to you too, if you’re interested. “I liked his former work better,” is a common line, as is, “He’s getting worse.” Sometimes they say nice things too.


Clutter works
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA


“Copse of Trees at Rabbit Hill Farm”
oil painting, 12 x 16 painting
by Linda Blondheim

My most consistent selling gallery is crammed with all kinds of chochki’s and bric-a-brac. Most painters snub the space because it’s not a traditional gallery setting with large spaces and white walls. This one definitely does not look like a gallery. Somehow it works for my work. The bric a brac is very high end stuff and so the clientele has disposable income. I believe that it appeals to folks who are not “gallery people” and so my work is exposed to new people who are not artsy per se.

(RG note) Thanks, Linda. Never underestimate the value of clutter. It is one of the great principles to take things from these sorts of environments and put them into a “perfect” environment — their home.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Gallery flow


From: Michele — Nov 03, 2007

I just discovered your forums and really enjoy what I have read so far….






Selling Pottery, India

oil painting
by Scott Burdick, NC, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

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