Snobbery in the New York Art World?! Say it Ain’t So!


Eileen Kinsella

The New York Times has a shocking account of the elitist and rude behavior endured by art lovers at the hands of unfriendly gallery assistants, often referred to as “gallerinas” (not to be confused with their male counterparts, “gallerinos”), usually young and well-coiffed, who man the front desks at imposing Chelsea galleries. Take, for instance, the experience of Nicola Barbieri, an Italian musician the Times “interviewed,” who visited roughly 60 galleries in Chelsea during a month-long visit: “And not once did he get even a hello from any of the workers at the reception desks.” Said Barbieri: “They are a little cold.”
The story takes readers “inside the pristine white spaces” of these galleries where “visitors are likely to encounter a reception area defined by a chest-high counter, beyond which gallery associates or interns are stationed at desks.” This hard-hitting insider account also includes presumably first-hand experiences such as this gem: “If a visitor walks up with a question, as one did at several establishments recently, they still might not raise their heads unless spoken to first.”
We’re still scratching our heads over why Times writer Ann Farmer believes there is anything new about this type of behavior at art galleries, whether inside or outside the New York art world, and, further, why she believes it’s limited to Chelsea. We’re pretty sure you can count on getting this type of arctic acknowledgement—if that’s how you interpret it—in any neighborhood, be it Chelsea, 57th street, the Upper East Side, Soho, or the Lower East Side. According to the report, “an air of exclusivity has seeped into the world of galleries, and not just the high-end ones, which have always exuded a certain air of elitism.”
Chelsea gallery owner and dealer Douglas Heller insists the practice of chilly reception is unique to Gotham, telling the Times that at galleries outside New York, “visitors are greeted with open arms and engaged immediately with the hope of doing business.” Heller further points out that he keeps the price list “handy,” while the policy at “other” galleries seems to be: “if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.”
In fact, some of us prefer being ignored since it allows for looking at and enjoying the art unhindered by having to engage in often-banal conversation about the artist or the work. The piece does acknowledge this fact, quoting dealer Joseph Kraeutler of Hasted Kraeutler, who says: “It can be a big turnoff if you come in and everyone swarms you. We don’t harass.”
We’re still not convinced this aloofness is exclusive to New York galleries. In fact, we recently did some “reporting” of our own on a trip to Los Angeles (see “Driving the Los Angeles Gallery Scene“), where we visited several Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Downtown LA galleries. Believe it or not, no one greeted us when we walked in the door. But we didn’t take it personally. We just chalked it up to surviving another day in the cold, elitist world of art galleries.