William Zhao’s Ultimate Guide to Art Fair Etiquette
The renowned art collector, curator and cultural critic shares the protocol for behaviour at every event during Hong Kong arts month
Art is in the air and we can feel it. Whether you want to rub elbows with your favourite artists at Art Basel and make a purchase or two, or simply want to network with art elites over sophisticated conversations in the VIP lounge, everyone is expected to be on their best behaviour in art events of all kinds.
The art scene is simply a world of its own. In order to blend in effortlessly with fellow trendsetters and tycoons alike gathered in town for all things art, it is essential to know about protocol.
Etiquette in the world of art, like most etiquette, tends to understood obliquely rather than spelled out explicitly.
In order to enhance your experience during art month (and to keep it enjoyable for everyone involved), we consulted William Zhao, noted art collector, curator and cultural critic on the do’s and don’ts in the art social scene.
Don’t make personal criticisms
According to Zhao, guests should keep strong opinions about the artist and their artworks to themselves. In other words, avoid overly hypercritical or disrespectful comments (the most common snide remarks being: “my child could have done that” or “you call that art?”).
“Don’t over-interpret artists’ works or be too judgmental,” says Zhao. Ill-mannered criticisms may sound witty at the time, but could provoke the artists or art dealers present or offend the person next to you, who actually has genuine appreciation for the piece. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Avoid small talk with the artists
“Try to dive into deeper discussions on a specific topic or concept rather than just getting general updates from the artists,” says Zhao.
While criticism is frowned upon in public art events, artists do appreciate sharp and challenging questions you may have about their works. Instead of touching on general subjects, make an effort to ask them engaging and in-depth matters on their pieces, such as technique, tools, and their experience during the creative process.
Do your homework before purchases
Artists like buyers who seem interested in investing in their works, but all too often it’s discouraging to learn that their newfound fans are poorly informed about the creators’ portfolios.
“It’s crucial to learn about the artists, their career path, academic achievements and profiles before making your purchase,” says Zhao. “Buyers should also look out for the distinctions of the previous work by the artists.” Not only do the transactions provide profit to the artist, they also encourage the artist to continue their creations.