September 8th, 2020

Advice for the first-time art gallery visitor

There are few people whose eye cannot be captured by a wondrous painting or ethereal drawing, or maybe a sculpture created from found objects that demands closer inspection. Given the right piece of art, even non-connoisseurs may pause, if only for a moment, to check out a gallery’s window display.

Images courtesy of Marilyn Affolter Fine Art

But will they go inside?

Possibly not. Dan and Nancy Morrow, who own the Gallery at Ten Oaks, once shared that reticence about galleries. “Hollywood tends to make galleries look pretentious and available only to the wealthy,” says Nancy. “We didn’t dare step in. We believed we’d get asked about art appreciation or the Italian Renaissance!”

It’s part of an aura, says long-time gallery owner and artist Marilyn Affolter, that’s fed by news about high-end auction houses and even by some artists. She and others in McMinnville are on a mission to dispel those myths. 

Why? Because McMinnville’s art galleries are for everybody. 

Snobbery is nowhere to be found, and hospitality is abundant. You’re in Oregon, remember. Jeans are okay. Children are welcome. You aren’t expected to buy, or be able to converse about impressionism or Rococo. 

“People who don’t come in may be afraid that they don’t know enough about art or that they will get a hard sell,” says Kathleen Buck, an artist member of the Currents Gallery co-op. “We don’t do a hard sell, and don’t care if they don’t know anything about art. If they just want to inhale some art vibes, we are happy to let them browse.”

Images courtesy of Marilyn Affolter Fine Art, located in Downtown McMinnville

Never stepped in a gallery before? Here are a few pointers:

  • It’s okay to bring children, but make sure they’re reasonably quiet, well-behaved and supervised. 
  • Be respectful of others; don’t block someone’s view if you’re not alone.
  • Take your time. “Buying art is not necessarily an impulse decision,” says Nancy. “It often takes time, sometimes multiple visits, before making the final decision.” 
  • Respect price tags. “Just because it’s local doesn’t mean we’re going to bargain about prices,” says Ilsa Perse from Currents. Would you try that at Wal-Mart? Then don’t do it in a gallery. 
  • Is it okay to take pictures? That’s up for debate in the art world. It’s probably best to ask first. That said, remember that most galleries make their inventory available online.
  • Ask questions! Says Affolter: “We really are just regular people doing what we love and wanting to share it with others.”

David Bates is a McMinnville writer who has appeared in Gallery Theater productions since 1998.