May 04, 2007

A Lifetime of Openings...

I should be sleeping but here is what's going on:

I had a legitimate excuse to skip out on the opening tonight in Memphis, J had a 911 incident at the lake involving a tree, a ladder, a falling branch and a badly sprained ankle. Fortunately he had his cell phone with him. He doesn't make a fun patient, especially on crutches. I thought I'd been sent a good excuse to skip the Memphis trip, but my sense of responsibility got the best of me. It's getting worse... not the responsibility thing, the dread of openings.

It wasn't always this way, but it sure has become this way. I've been trying to reason through it, wondering what changed over the years, why do I love to make the work, but hate to have to stand in front of it saying 'this is the best I can do, please say something nice about it.' The three hour grin-a-thon.

Early on, there were the festivals in parks... I'd be up and on the road, sometimes as early as 3am, be set up and grinning by 8 or 9am. Be there a day or two, socially adept at talking about my work, then head home. I did this regularly for about ten years when galleries finally took over the selling end of things for me. And they do it very well. The only catch is the occasional opening thing. Even though there were the usual jitters I always had a good time... what's different now?

Okay, let's analyze this. The openings I enjoyed most were in New Orleans. That's where I built my career, where I had the most friends, art support groups, most of them showing up for each other's openings. A great party event, a crowd I knew... and I was of an age where I could remember names of the newly introduced.

So six years ago we make a move to a similar sized town with a thriving art community. An old friend introduces me around, the door is opened for me to build a new community, but it's different now. I already have a career that requires only time to produce, not support from organizations or social groups. The beginnings of an anti-social hermit are born. Openings here have all the same ingredients as before, my gallery couldn't be friendlier or more gracious, but I'm beginning to freeze up... and now I can't remember names and small talk is painful.

So what about out of town gallery openings? Well, the Atlanta gallery has been in business long enough to be able to set a few of their own rules, so they just go with featured artists shows involving invites, but no formal opening so I missed that bullet. A number of out of state shows over the years accepted the fact that I would be unable to attend without question. A really terrific opening was in Santa Fe in which a bunch of e-friends (pre-blog days, but known via email only) chose to make a road trip out of the event and we had a great time!

So here I am, sleepless when I should be snoring away in anticipation. But my work is done. The paintings are delivered, hung and tagged... what is my purpose for being there? I'm an old lady artist, struggling to remember to grin (the only face lift I'll ever have, so I try to make it a habit) and hoping to sound intelligent even though I probably didn't hear half of what was said. Anyway... and I'll put this in writing... this will be my last solo opening. Group shows of at least three, maybe, but never solo again. I give thanks for the many opportunities I've had over the years, but all I want now is a little decent wall space and to be excused from the party.

PS - And the poison ivy is still in full rampage... great!

10 comments:

Self Taught Artist said...

I'm going to link to this post on my blog. It saddens me to read this but I understand it too.
I have never had my own solo opening, but I have felt and/or observed all that you have spoken of.
Its precisely why things need to change in my opinion. For the artist/the gallery/ and the audience.
thanks for sharing this.

KJ said...

Thanks for the link as well as the supportive comments. Good that you pointed out your observations that the artists, more often than not, appear to be stressed at these events. I'll try not to look the part tonight, though I do plan to wear all black ;-) Better hit the road...

meno said...

I wonder how many wonderful artists are never heard from because they cannot bear to do the marketing required to be successful. I know i would hate it. I had to laugh at the three hour grin-a-thon.

Daniel Sroka said...

I can take a guess why you no longer have fun at openings. There's nothing new there. Once you've done one, they all follow the same format: the same wine and cheese, the same questions, the same people pacing around the same rooms. What was at first fun and new, is now rote.

I find that I rarely attend gallery openings for the same reason -- even in the best galleries they are pretty sterile affairs. I'd much rather drop by an open studio...

Self Taught Artist said...

I went to an art opening last night and really wanted to compliment/talk to the artist and he wanted nothing to do with me. I think there is a language barrier, he is a 70 something yr old Asian man, nonetheless, it sucks when the artist isn't 'available'.

Dan is right about it being by rote by now....but why do we have to accept that? Can't we the artist try to make it more interesting?

I feel like we hand our work over and lose everything else.

Tracy said...

I have to say that I generally enjoy the openings that I have. After a few faux pas, I learned what to say and what NOT to say, and I am grateful to have a social event where most of the attendees actually WANT to talk to me:)

That said, there have been a few duds and they have been always been the ones where the gallery director does not make an effort to introduce me to people.

KJ said...

I'm having a flash back to fun, original, creative openings where there was more involved than just looking at art. But they were usually group shows so no one in particular was feeling the pressure. I'm afraid I identify with the older Asian artist you mention, STA... time will do that to you, as Daniel mentioned, unless you get into small talk and the chatty-social aspect of such groups. Meno hit it solid about the fear of marketing that afflicts so many artists, and who therefore fade into the margins. Most (at first opportunity) turn it over to someone else to do and happily fork over 50% of the sales. And for that 50%, please don't make me 'perform' as well. If a buyer wants to know more about a particular artist... that's what Google is for!

KJ said...

Tracy, the flip side of this is that I usually do 'enjoy' the openings. Once there and psyched into the proper state of mind, I perform well enough. It's the 'getting there' that's becoming harder and harder to manage. I guess that after the required number of years/openings, one should expect the paintings to do their thing without the artist there to validate them.

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