It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
-- Oscar Wilde
Watching Catherine shift her weight from foot to foot, I rejoiced in my decision to wear practical shoes. It took only two gallery openings, where I need to be standing -- and pleasant -- at David's side for three hours to teach me that wearing heels is just plain stupid. As manager of the gallery, Catherine was on her feet long before we'd arrived, hanging the last of the show, cleaning up, purchasing a box of generic white wine and cans of Budweiser.
This was my first time to David's gallery in Houston, one of the nine that represent him nationwide. Since my life as a paralegal abruptly ended, I've found myself available to accompany my love to all his shows. Of all the cities I've visited (Los Angeles, Seattle, West Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard, and New York), this was the first time I'd seen patrons offered beer. Most galleries serve red and white wine or champagne; in West Tisbury, of course, it's an open bar.
After David had finished adjusting the lights ("It has to hit the print just right"), we waited for prospective collectors. We did not have to wait long. A man walked in, company ID badge dangling from his neck over a pot belly, and beelined toward David. Ah, a techie. When these guys approach, I suddenly find something interesting to look at over there -- "there" being anywhere other than where the techie is.
Techies are men (always men) who want to talk shop; they ask David about his camera, his process, his printing, down to the grainiest of grainy details. I picked up a great line to use when this situation occurs: "Let me know when you guys are done sniffing each other's butts." With David's extensive technical knowledge drawing techies like preteens to Playboy, my snappy retort is frequently put to use. The unfortunate thing about techies, aside from their terrierlike tenacity to take up the bulk of a featured artist's time, is that seldom are they buyers.
I've seen David's work before, so I tend to pass time at these functions by watching attendees. Distinct species of gallerygoers remain consistent from city to city.
Drinkers make up the greatest number of gallery visitors. I have seen people walk into a gallery, stride right past the art, straight toward the free drinks. They return again and again for refills of wine. At evening's end, their lips and teeth are stained purple, their movements loose, and their voices loud.
Similar to San Diego's Ray at Night, the Houston gallery was set betwixt other galleries, all showing work on the same evening. This is a great setup for drinkers -- more free booze, more drink options. I left David alone to answer the techie's questions and joined Catherine in the back, where she was pouring beer from cans into plastic cups. Only men chose beer when given the two options (three, if you count Bud Light). As the room filled up, a woman approached Catherine with arm extended, empty cup in hand. She asked for a refill of red. "We only have white here," Catherine answered.
"What? Only white? Pshhh. Well, I guess I'll have white then." The drinker pushed her red-tinged clear plastic cup into Catherine's hand as though she were doing the manager a favor. As the pouting woman walked away, Catherine screeched, "These people are unbelievable!" With a southern Texan twang, she went on to give specific examples of audacity: "Once, this woman came up to me and said, 'Do y'all have any water?' and when I told her no, she said, 'There's a bathroom here, right?' I said, 'Yes, there is, right over there,' and she was, like, 'Well, can't you take this cup and fill it up in the sink?' Can you believe that? I told her, 'No, but you can. '"
Another drinker came by and, when informed that red was not an option, made a comment under his breath. To demonstrate my loyalty to an ever-reddening Catherine, I said, "Next guy who has an issue with our free selection will be directed to the local market to buy his own goddamn wine." She agreed with a "Thayat's raaaht!" Not surprisingly, the drinkers rarely set down their cups to enjoy or purchase anything on the walls.
Without missing a beat in her conversation about contemporary art, an elderly woman grinned our way. Looking her up and down, I concluded that she fit into my "eccentric old lady" category. Complementary to the techie, this broad is refined, reserved, and extraordinarily wacky. Her large, colorful earrings were purchased at an artisans' fair or museum gift shop, and a brooch the size of a kitten perched just beneath her shoulder proclaims her panache. She smiles through orange or fuchsia lips as she makes her way about the room, stopping only to take in the art or strike up a conversation about local theater.
Eccentric old lady is on the scene for every art-related event -- museums, theater, galleries, craft fairs. Creative energy is the air she breathes. She is always in a good mood, because somewhere beneath her cashmere pashmina, within her wrinkled, ring-laden hands, she holds the answers to life's impossible questions. She is here to appreciate. However, only a few eccentric old ladies ever go home with a photograph.
I made my way back to David. A middle-aged couple greeted David in such a way as to make me assume they were related to him. He grabbed my arm and said, "This is my partner, Barbarella. Barb, this is Mr. and Mrs. X, they own one of my prints." They fit into my final category: collectors.
Collectors often come in twos, a husband and wife with an appreciation for the arts that goes beyond a gallery opening or a museum benefit. I've learned through friends (most of whom support local artists) that collectors are not necessarily wealthy. To have art in their homes, some collectors make arrangements to pay off the cost of a photograph or painting over time. For them, original art is a necessity. Because he produces on average only four new images a year, David's collectors tend to seek out his openings to view this year's new work. Regardless of whether they add to their collection, they always want to greet him, as if by purchasing one of his prints they not only acquired a work of art but also adopted a son.