Gallery flow

Robert Genn

January 23, 2007

As touched on in the last clickback, gallery flow--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
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.

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.