You’re mid-20s, you’re attractive without being showy about it, you’re living in the cultural epicenter of the world, still grappling with the fact you went to Governor’s Ball like only two years ago, and hiding all evidence of it well. You are thinking about starting a noise project, now, actually. In other words, you’re no philistine, but the only hard truth you can discern when that beautifully vague phrase “art world” is uttered is that you’re an outsider to one of New York’s most elusive circles. You’ve visited the major museums, and you’ve perused the gallery exhibition openings for the free wine with the hopes of hooking up with another slightly inebriated gallery goer, nothing more. You want to know what lies behind the walls of the White Cubes that dictate taste for New York’s creative elite, and you want to know why only insiders are privy to that information. You’re 30 conspiracy theory YouTube videos deep, and you want answers.
“Art world.” You hear it again, like one of those '90s Calvin Klein perfume ads where racist Mark Wahlberg whispers in all-caps a completely random word that means nothing but also everything. Now it’s haunting you, and you decide for yourself that you can’t keep nodding your head at parties when your friends “in the visual arts” gripe, groan, bitch, gush about this thing that has velvet roped your ass out for too long. You can’t ask questions because you’ve been faking being “in the know” for too long to get caught in the lie by your chic artsy friends. You’re going in.
Your closest point of entry is the Chelsea galleries. They’re free, low commitment, and give you the freedom to mosey in and out of the viewing spaces as you please knowing you spent exactly zero dollars to be there. You hop on the subway with a new zest for your mission of pulling back the curtain, hoping that this time when you encounter the oasis of secrets, Larry Gagosian beckons you in with a congenial “come on in, the water’s fine.” With that image in mind, you head to 24th Street, land of the titans, and probably the only galleries you’ve ever heard of. You stare 11th Avenue straight in the face and regret closing out of the Cosmopolitan article “What to Wear When Gallery Hopping So You Don’t Look Like a Poor Dumpster Fire.” An Escalade with tinted windows zips past and you get showered with street water. It hasn’t rained in weeks. You look up and Blue Ivy Carter exits the vehicle, she’s alone and walking into Gagosian Gallery.
“You’re not cool! You went to Governor’s Ball two years ago and everyone knows it!” a pigeon with Bettie Page bangs, a Tumblr and a POPULAR SLUT CLUB T-shirt squawks at you. You realize you’re not among friends. Weary and curious traveler, it is important that you don’t get discouraged by the intimidation you encounter during the first three minutes of your 24th street journey, that you don’t lose sight of your mission.
You walk fiercely ahead to the end of the block and through the double-doors of Gagosian and you see her. The gallery girl. Her fingers dance along the keyboard of the Mac she unflinchingly stares at as you enter the space. She’s the gatekeeper of the whole operation, a power she is well aware of. Depending solely on how you engage with her, she can be Virgil, the sagacious guide accompanying you through the perilous pits of Damien Hirst Hell, or Mark, the bouncer who kicked you out of your favorite club on your own birthday for drunkenly trying to citizen’s arrest clubgoers with zip-ties you got from FedEx.
You take one step in her direction, her eyes scan your face, and instantly pick up that you’re a nobody, a common schlub, a member of “gen pub” as they say in the biz. The sting of judgement washes over you, and as you try to blubber out your question about press releases, you vomit straight into your stupid hands. Another bad omen telling you to go home and watch the Trisha Paytas (blndsundoll4mj) cover of Look At Me Now on YouTube for the millionth time because that’s where you belong. “I don’t see how you can hate from outside of the club. You can’t even get in!”
She fires out an SOS via HipChat to the security staff: Gen pub member puked, need a guard to handle it lol.
Kicked out before you even get a glimpse at those Hirst Dot Paintings you definitely haven’t seen before? The nerve! A veritable paparazzi throng of tourists gather around you, and even though it’s only been a minute since you retched all over yourself and the floor, they’ve invented a story that you’re an artist, engaged in a performance piece to protest late-capitalism and the inflated bubble that is the art market. You’re covered in puke, but you may make headlines on ARTnews.
You’re starting to feel sorry for yourself now, aren’t you? Look, the only way you’d be able to waltz on into this universe without enduring public humiliation by way of the gallery pillory is by being filthy rich. I’m not talking “rich for Missouri” or wherever the fuck you’re from, I’m talking you started collecting AbEx painting at age seven because your dad gave you play money, and you wanted to make a smart investment in the art market that would only appreciate in value over time. Remind yourself of the old adage that art requires suffering, and that this world owes you nothing.
You respawn on the sidewalk, shake the nerves, stare up at the 24th Street sky with new eyes as a little jet plane writes in the sky NOTHING MATTERS like a Jenny Holzer truism. New York has a brilliantly cruel way of making itself small to confront things that make you uncomfortable. Maybe you run into him having brunch with a prettier woman. That cafe that didn’t hire you has franchised into your neighborhood. This isn’t going away.
At this point you’ve got absolutely nothing to lose, you enter the next gallery with a confidence that is both delusional and undeserved. You fit in perfectly. Like a cat burglar you sidestep through the laser alarms with grace and ease, careful not to trigger the ambivalent eye of the gallery assistant. Enjoying the paintings by the artist unknown to you but who has had a recent major retrospective at the Whitney Museum, you’re curious the price of one in particular, so with your newfound swagger you walk straight up to the assistant and ask. Her eyes begin to dart back and forth, and her head twitches due to the electric shock that’s been administered for not recognizing you as a buyer.
“Uh, let me get you a director, just one moment.” One muffled phone call later and a power suit struts to meet you, hand extended. The suit’s silver tongue guides you through the exhibition where you learn about the artist’s process, how the work is contextualized within the artist’s oeuvre and within the grander scope of contemporary art. Now you’re all in, you’re ready to sign on the dotted line, to own your first VERY IMPORTANT piece of art that will consequently change everything. You will be able to seamlessly integrate Foucault’s arguments into dinner conversation. It won’t be a lie when you say you understand a David Lynch movie. Things are going to just make sense. Your face reveals its unbridled enthusiasm, the suit hurries you through a trap door, and by candelabra you descend a staircase where each step is the body of an unpaid intern.
“So the smaller paintings are priced at $50,000…” Through all the honey-coated art talk you had completely forgotten your initial question, but a figure like that is enough to thrust anyone out of the elevator music that plays in our heads and into the realm of reality. The panic is sinking in, and you don’t know that there’s a way out. The staircase has disbanded to perform menial tasks, and there’s no visible exit in sight. Your palms are sweating profusely, and with each step forward your head feels lighter. Suddenly black.
You wake up to the cooing of your name. A nurse informs you that you’d passed out, but are free to be discharged once your strength returns fully within the next hour or so. You smile softly as you understand the ghoulish pit you visited with the faceless suit was a feverish hallucination.
Then you open your phone, where one unread email is waiting. Subject line: Nice Meeting You at the Gallery Today!