The Art Gallery Private View De-Mystified

We all know when a major exhibition opens at the Tate or the National Gallery as it’s usually all over the press and advertised on the Underground. There are usually specific views for the press and members before they open to the public. But what about the smaller independent or commercial galleries? Before an exhibition opens, they hold a private evening view where art fans and buyers can assess the artwork with a glass of wine or bottle of beer in hand.

This is a straightforward guide to private views that should answer questions such as whether you should be attending them and whether they are open to all.

Why hold a private view?
It’s  an opportunity to launch the exhibition and gives buyers an early chance to snap up works. It’s also at a convenient early evening time so you can catch it after work or before you meet up with friends for dinner or drinks.  The other advantages are that all of the gallery staff will be there and often the artist will be in attendance too, so you can talk to them about their work. The private view tends to be filled with art fans and collectors so offers the chance to converse on the work with like-minded people.

Are there any drawbacks?
The private view tends to be a very busy night especially if the artist’s work is popular. This can make it difficult to appreciate the work as the event is quite noisy with people blocking your view of the art. Often it’s better to return during the day if possible and view the art during a quieter period.

How do I find out about private views?
Understandably many galleries don’t want to advertise these events too widely – letting people know of an evening viewing with free alcohol is likely to attract the ‘wrong kind’ of visitor. Some galleries (e.g. those in Shoreditch) often publish the details on their website or in their newsletter while others prefer to respond to direct enquiries only. The first step is to add yourself to the gallery’s mailing list and when the exhibition is announced, enquire when the view will be held – it’s usually the night before the exhibition opens.

How private is ‘private’?
Despite the title, not as private as you may think. Most galleries will happily respond to friendly enquiries with details of the event and most are comfortable for you to pop in if you happen to be walking by at the time. If the exhibition is of a particularly popular artist or at an a exclusive location then there may be a guest list but an email to the gallery beforehand is usually sufficient to grant admission.

What nights are they held on?
Many nearby galleries like to combine private views so visitors can hop between them; this draws in more visitors as you’re more likely to make the journey if several galleries are showcasing new works. Some areas have organised events such as First Thursdays of every month for East London galleries, the last Thursday of the month for Fitzrovia Lates and the last Friday for South London galleries. Others, such as the Mayfair galleries, are much more fluid in their choice of evenings but tend to stick with Tuesdays or Thursdays.

Hopefully this guide to the often intimidating world of private views is helpful but if there are other aspects you’re unsure of, let us know in the comments.

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