Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Valentino and the art of gallery survival

Living in Australia, most of the galleries and museums I have visited have been overseas. I’ve been lucky to see some amazing pieces, paintings and pictures in my travels, but never really at home.

Valentino: Retrospective, in Brisbane
thanks to Les Arts Décoratifs
That's why I was so thrilled to learn that Valentino, Retrospective: Past/Present/Future was coming to Brisbane's relatively new Gallery of Modern Art. Brisbane is kind of my home "city"; by that I mean I didn't exactly grow up here, but I grew up near here. GoMA had a coup on its hands with this exhibition, that's for sure.

Developed by Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Valentino, Retrospective explores the work of the Italian fashion house known around the world for its sophisticated, timeless design and glamorous clientele. It has been in Brisbane at GoMA since early August, and so time was running out to see the gowns all in one place, so close to home. I met up with my sister on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and we bought our tickets for a divine hour or so of fabulous fashion and general gorgeousness.

And the gowns were stunning. We had a great time guessing the year, or even decade, of some of those on display. Sometimes we’d pick the 1960s, and be correct, or we’d guess the 2000s, and the dress would actually be from 1959. Amazing, the style changes, repetition, and evolution, and how beautiful, intricate and timeless the vintage gowns were. We both adored the stunning row of black “rock” dresses from the most recent Valentino collection, fascinating that what most appealed was that which was most recent. Finger on the pulse, that Valentino.

As we wandered, we sometimes had to stop ourselves from laughing. Not at the dresses (although, some of those animal print sack-styles from the 70s were… different), no. Here’s the thing: have you ever listened to people talking in an art gallery or museum? Because, as I have learned over the years, it is hilarious. A few gems overheard at Valentino, Retrospective:

• “Yeah, it’s pretty. But if it were me, I’d take away all those side bits and just leave the middle.”
• “That looks like chicken wings. Totally. Chicken wings.”
• “Ew! So many feathers. That would be so itchy.”
• “How does she walk in those stupid shoes. She’s going to break her neck!”
• “Ha! Hope you don’t want to sit down with all that layering.”
• “Oh my god Ez, look how skinny Cate Blanchett is to fit into that dress.”*
(*last one may have been me)

So, my day at GoMA had me reflecting on the many hilarious moments I’ve had at art galleries, shows, and museums in New York, London, Paris, Rome, Venice, and Florence. It’s not just the comments, it’s also the type of gallery-goer. While most of us are content to appreciate the gallery or museum at our own quiet pace, there are also, I have observed over the years, several different gallery-going “types”:

1. The completist

This person buys the guide-book, signs up for the gallery tour, hires the audio-tour and must spend at least 90 seconds looking at and considering each and every piece in the gallery or museum. Don’t try to interrupt them or get in their way! They are too focused, even if they’re not really taking in what’s in front of them and are just counting down the seconds until they can move to the next piece.

2. The erratic

Also known as “my friend Kelly”. I would now like to invite you on a journey into what it’s like to attend a gallery/museum with Kelly. I have visited many with her during our travels, but have never actually spent the entire time in her presence, until Venice’s Gallerie dell'Accademia when we were forced, in some bizarre social experiment, to share headphones as they only had one audio tour remaining. Usually, I would wander the galleries alone, leisurely appreciating the work at my own pace. I had no idea where Kelly disappeared to, and I never asked. All I know is that she never, ever, takes in a gallery in any discernable order. Nope. Right from the entrance, Kelly darts about, revisiting her favourites, occasionally checking in with me with funny stories about what she’s overheard, or forewarning me about what’s ahead. She’s not unlike a puppy. This had never bothered me, until we were joined at the head in Venice. I started on my  relaxed way, which I’m reliably informed (as she told me so) made Kelly feel like she was being tethered and trapped, much like she was going insane. It was no better for me. As I wandered,  at faster than my usual speed, Kelly at various times tried to rip my head off my shoulders in a last-ditch attempt to view the gallery in her usual erratic way. Never again.

3. The over-appreciater

Of all the gallery visitors, this person drives me the craziest. They’re usually the ones who stand (in front of you, no doubt) and take a close up photograph of the picture before them. They don’t look at the piece, oh no. They take a photo of it and move on. You know, a picture, like you could find from a simple Google Image search. But being in the gallery, surely you want to appreciate what’s in front of you, in real life? No? Just want to show the folks at home that you were there? Okay. At least switch off the flash then.

4. The critic

I’m not talking about art critics here. I’m talking about the pretentious, loud, obnoxious gallery-goer who must share their (usually negative) opinion with the rest of us. We don’t care what changes you’d make to “improve” a piece. We don’t care that it reminds you of your days vacationing in the Greek Islands. We especially don’t care that you’re trying to impress us by having an “opinion”. Sure, think about what you’re looking at, but if you must, please talk about it quietly. And maybe lose the attitude? It’s not necessary to be critical of everything. Just taking it in can be half the fun!

And, there you have it. I know most of us probably fall somewhere in between those categories, but you know someone who fits at least one of them perfectly, admit it!  Regardless, I’m especially proud of Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art for bringing such an exquisite exhibition to the River City. And as the crowds attested to on Sunday afternoon, if you bring it, they will come. And who am I to say, maybe the dress would work better without those side bits?


  1. Would love to go see the Valentino exhibition. Go Brisbane!! Your gallery observations are hilariously spot on. I may or may not have purposely stood in front of paintings just to block people taking photos (in the midst of my erratic wanderings of course). Seriously people - stop being cheap and just buy the postcard!!

  2. Valentino, Retrospective is so gorgeous, and I love that it made it to Brisbane. Those photo-takers are infuriating! Like you say - buy they postcard at the gift shop! Thanks for inspiring the erratic gallery-goer section too Kel ;)

  3. Haha, Amy that is hilarious!
    Something I thought was so cute on Sunday was these three 12 year old girls, commenting on how one of Valentino's dresses was "beachy". I'm not sure that was the look he was going for...

  4. Great post Amy - you capture the typical gallery goers perfectly! I am definitely an 'erratic' too Kelly. I make no apology for the crazy beeline my nerdy excitement about exhibitions causes me to take:)