I once had a solo opening on a day the stock market happened to fall out of bed. Arriving late, I was surprised to find a lineup in the street and a crowd of eager buyers inside. "What's going on?" I asked my dealer as he rushed back and forth with his dots. "It's always like this when the stock market goes down," he said. "People put their money into art. And when the stock market goes up, they have extra money so they put it into art." The event was one of my first insights into the remarkable phenomenon of the art show.
Being flock animals, humans gain confidence when everyone else is flocking to a kill. Also, being predatory, we like to tear off the best cuts, preferably in front of others. It's called "conspicuous consumption," a term first used by the sociologist Thorstein Veblen in 1899 and in evidence ever since.
Over my lifetime, shows have become more subtle and nuanced. In a lot of areas they are less frenetic and perhaps less effective. I've had shows where there were no sales at the openings; people discreetly phoned their orders the following morning. Perhaps there were sociologists in the crowd, but it may just be a Canadian thing--the desire not to expose our fangs in public.
Bringing artists and public together is a main function of shows. Actually, customers turn out to be real people, as do artists, humility and all, and George Bernard Shaw's dictum, "When you know the artist, you think less of the art," is often, but not always, laid to rest.
Then there's the modern miracle of the Internet-telephone axis. Once a potential client has agreed to receive a show by email, a dealer in Toronto can sell work to a keener in Kapuskasing. The best galleries send their virtual shows to favoured customers just in the nick of time--like an hour before the opening. Nowadays, when you're sipping your Chardonnay and the gallery phone rings, you know that foreigners are crashing the party.
And that reminds me of booze. Everyone knows it loosens the tongue. It's a wallet shaker as well. Once, late in the evening when we had pretty well run out of cheese, a fellow said to me, "Thish is your worst show yet, Robert--I'll take that one."
From Robert Glenn Twice Weekly
Posted by Brandt Eisner