Two Questionnaires

Ryan Steadman and Michelle Grabner
Two Questionnaires

from I like your work: art and etiquette, available August 1. Order it here.

What are the rules of etiquette for the art world?

1. If you’re a skinny artist, be clean and neat. If you’re a fat artist, be crazy looking and disheveled. Not sure why, but this seems to work best.

2. Negative comments about the artist’s work at their opening is the equivalent of taking a shit on someone’s birthday cake at their fortieth birthday party. The proper thing to do is to save your negative comments as an anonymous blog post!

3. Don’t wear khaki pants.

Was etiquette foregrounded in any memorable situation?

One code of unwritten “etiquette” delivered to me in hushed tones by almost every art-world type immediately upon my arrival in New York was, “Don’t EVER walk into a gallery with your slides (this was before JPEGs); you’ll never get a show that way.” Right after completing my MFA, I walked into one of my favorite galleries, Feature Inc., slides in hand. In return, I got mixed reviews and a job offer. Shortly thereafter, I fell for one of the Feature artists, married her, and we had a baby together.

All the predictions were correct! I never did get a show at Feature Inc., only a job, a wife, and a baby, because I brought my slides into a gallery.

What customs or mannerisms are particular to the art world?

Probably just the tendency to thoroughly investigate any particular group’s culture or customs.

When does breach of etiquette play a role in embarrassing or awkward encounters?

I have a friend who, every time I see him socially, cannot coordinate his “kiss” greeting with mine. Sometimes it’s two air kisses, sometimes one air kiss, sometimes one real kiss on the cheek, sometimes with handshake and/or pat on the back. It’s very confusing and we can never manage to both utilize the same technique.

How should people behave? What would be a maxim for appropriate conduct?

People SHOULD behave nicely… I SHOULD behave nicely… uh…

Has there been a shift in etiquette as the financial climate has changed?

Really there’s just more desperation than before (you are going to publish this aren’t you? I really need some press right now…)

What constitutes bad manners?

One enigma of the art world is that it is frowned upon to go to an opening solely for the free booze, but it is also frowned upon to NOT serve booze at your art opening—quite the conundrum.

—Ryan Steadman

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What are the rules of etiquette for the art world?

My observation is that etiquette is wildly diverse, thus requiring great elasticity by those who occupy the lower social, professional, and economic ranks within the contemporary art apparatus. It seems that each figure of authority culls his or her own style of etiquette, decorum, and behavioral expectations. Watching artists assess and adapt to these different situations on the fly is staggering. Art fairs are a great place to observe such adaptive behavior.

Was etiquette foregrounded in any memorable situation?

European royalty and heads of state were in attendance at the grand opening of MUDAM in Luxembourg, and the artists participating in the exhibitions were briefed in proper rules of etiquette and protocol. My guess is that the foregrounding of etiquette is a common occurrence when state, diplomatic and culture institutions come together in ceremony.

What customs or mannerisms are particular to the art world?

Manners and customs are highly individualistic and as diverse as art-world couture, but this multiplicity of social behavior underscores distinction and status, not equality.

When does breach of etiquette play a role in embarrassing or awkward encounters?

The Fondation Cartier in Cahors, France, was throwing an afternoon lunch celebrating the exhibition “La Sphère de l’Intime,” curated by Jerome Sans. Sans greeted fellow curator and friend Peter Doroshenko with, “you wear a T-shirt to my party?” Doroshenko replied that it was from agnès b. Sans was being playful, but there was also a cutting whiff of offense in his comment. Those of us in earshot immediately fell into rank and file, mentally preparing a defense for our shirts and blouses.

How should people behave? What would be a maxim for appropriate conduct?

Kindly and with regard.

Has there been a shift in etiquette as the financial climate has changed?

People are behaving more vulnerably, but I haven’t observed a renewed interest in the ideals of etiquette. Etiquette is selfless. In a downturn economy people are inevitably self-interested.

What constitutes bad manners?

The worst offense is not getting back to others who professionally (or even sincerely) request something of you. Not responding does not mean ‘no.’ Have the courtesy to simply respond with an answer.

—Michelle Grabner