The Insider after hours

How to behave at an art reception

And not embarrass your older sister
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Opening receptions at an art gallery offer a great excuse to indulge in free wine and cheese, but apparently there's so much more than that - just ask my sister, Jessica Pappathan.

Jess works as the assistant curator for the Alva deMars Megan Chapel Art Center at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, so she knows a thing or two about art. Not only that, she also knows the proper etiquette one should follow for just about any situation. I do not have this in common with my sister.

Naturally, I asked Jessie to come with me to the opening reception for an exhibit that piqued my interests at McGowan Fine Art, 10 Hills Ave. The exhibit, "Love, Lust & Desire," features the work of more than 60 artists. To some, this would mean more chances to get personal with an artist and engage in conversation with him or her. To me, this meant even more artists whom I wouldn't have the foggiest idea what to say to.

Jess agreed to come with me to the reception on Jan. 30 and was nice enough to give me some pointers to share with you, readers, on what to do at an opening reception at an art gallery. Because, let's be honest, those not so familiar with the art world could be slightly intimidated by an opening reception. Don't worry, these are only guidelines - Jess assured me that nothing is mandatory.

Guideline No. 1: Dress nicely. "Although it isn't required, you will likely feel more comfortable," she pointed out. I followed this guideline, and I'm glad I did. As soon as I walked in, I didn't spot a single person in jeans and a sweatshirt (my usual work getup), and I definitely would have felt incredibly awkward all night if I had worn such a thing. I opted for black pants with a non-wrinkled shirt - so no need to break out the ball gown, ladies, business casual seemed to be the best attire for the evening.

Guideline No. 2: If you are comfortable doing so, introduce yourself to the artist, if he or she is present. Dressing nicely was a cinch, but I wasn't too sure if I could handle this one on my own. I'm thankful that Jess ran into someone she knew, who, in turn, introduced my sister and me to two of the artists there that evening - Michelle Johnson and Brett Davis. Actually, Jess already knew Michelle Johnson, because she's good like that, but it was the first time she'd met Brett Davis.

Admittedly, even with my sister by my side, I was still a little unsure as to how to converse with an artist, so I stood back and watched her interaction with Brett while smiling and nodding at the appropriate times. First, she explained who she was and how she knew the person who introduced us to him, and then she asked Brett how he knew this person. Then, she asked Brett where she could find his pieces in the gallery. Shortly after this, she excused herself and told him that she would keep an eye out for his pieces and how nice it was to meet him.

Later in the evening, and after looking at Brett's pieces, Jess found herself in conversation with him again. I noticed now she had much more to talk about, as she had become familiar with his work. She also asked him where he had exhibited before and if he had any other upcoming shows. All of these questions seemed to get Brett talking, and none of them seemed difficult for a less "artsy" person such as myself to ask. They did engage in some art talk that was a little over my head, but I learned from their conversation a few basic questions that could help me out the next time I meet an artist.

Guideline No. 3: Introduce yourself to the gallery director, curator and/or other staff. Jess already knew two of McGowan's staff members, Sarah Chaffee and Amanda McGowan, and introduced me to both of them. It was my first time meeting Sarah, but Amanda and I both graduated from Saint Anselm College in 2007. Both Sarah and Amanda were incredibly welcoming. Amanda even escorted us to the table with wine and cheese and crackers and poured me a glass of wine. I noticed conversation hearts on the table, which Jessie and I both thought were pretty awesome. To me, the little bowl of candy hearts told me that the folks at McGowan Fine Arts had class but weren't afraid to have a sense of humor, too. (next page »)

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