Culture Clash | Introduction

When the contemporary art gallery fails to be engaging


This text is a disquisition on some of the problems that face the contemporary art gallery. It is interested in the relationship between the gallery and its visitors; in particular those visitors who fail to engage with the experiences that the gallery offers.

It is motivated by a concern that many visitors are unable to engage, and intends to explore why this might be. It will consider what, if anything, the gallery can do to increase engagement, and reflect on the implications of any potential remedies.

In examining the problems that visitors have in engaging, it may also be useful to look at the conventions of the contemporary art gallery, with a view to identifying mindless and un-useful assumptions.

To reiterate; our concern is the visitor who, for whatever reason, is unable or unwilling to engage with the experiences that the gallery offers.

This text does not believe that a sea change in attitudes is possible, but it believes that small and incremental change is. It believes increasing the odds of engagement, not in revolutionizing the statistics.

It is based upon one person’s experience working as a gallery attendant in a single contemporary art gallery, and as such it does not aspire to provide a comprehensive overview of the areas that it explores. It has been written in the spirit of exploration and hopes to, at best, provoke further debate about ideas it considers to be interesting and relevant.

Related posts:-
Culture Clash | Experiential expectations


  1. I suppose the question is if someone is unwilling to engage with art then why try and change their view? People do not have to like or understand art if they don't want to, they have a right to dismiss it. I suppose though if they are in the gallery already then as a gallery assistant you need to try and engage them in some manner.

  2. Its partly about opening up a realm of experience that they may otherwise be shut off from. The concern is that their unwillingness is founded on un-examined ideas and values (premature cognitive commitments); in other words, a position that was taken before the person was perhaps ready to understand the implications of the position.

    Perhaps its about opening them up again, and giving them the chance that they should have had. Whether art is worth anything to them at this point is another matter.

    But really its those people who have been 'tricked' into thinking that this realm of experience is not for them. In opening up a realm of experience - even if the person then decides to leave it - the world becomes a bigger place. So instead art being something that perhaps makes them feel belittled, it becomes something that they feel comfortable with; this also helps the art world, because they understand why it exists, and, whilst it may not be for them, they can understand its value to others.

  3. Dismissing art from a position of ignorance and fear vs. dismissing art from an informed position.

    With the former there may be a feeling of resentment, with the latter probably not so.