‘Clear Drinks Only’: Home Galleries and Open Houses
A friend invited me to Sigmund Freud’s house recently. House museums are a passion of mine, as they are for many people, and I love the art programme the Freud Museum has put in place. Contemporary artists, responding to a rich history and a rather spiritual space, bring something very special to the museum when they install their work; Gavin Turk’s latest installation was no different. I really felt at home treading on the carpeted stairway, nosing through the bookshelves, and – as is often the way with me – thought about a glass of wine.
But then the thought strikes that you can’t drink red wine in a museum. No gallery ever gives red wine; ‘clear drinks only’ is the mantra of the private view. In this way, along with the shameless name-dropping and “oh darling”s, it is not too far removed from imagined cocktail parties with Frank Sinatra and the mafia.
Exhibiting art in your house may seem like a ridiculous venture, reserved for the more self-conscious and mannered figures in the Easts of the major cities. Maureen Paley, gallerist extraordinaire and YBA representative, spearheaded the home gallery craze in the 1980s when she opened her first gallery in her terraced Hackney home. Hans Ulrich Obrist, now with over 250 exhibitions under his belt, installed his first one back in 1991 in his kitchen.
The tradition isn’t as young as it seems, however. Movie nights and pop up gigs have been a mainstay of underground culture for decades.
Open house events, artist studio days and community tours, however, are perfect ways of expanding a network and viewing work outside of the clinical white cube gallery space. Hundreds of cities and towns host open festivals, all you have to do is sign up to get involved.
Exhibiting work in your house is a much less formal (and usually less stressful) affair than hiring a gallery. The type of work you show doesn’t have art world expectations projected onto it; you could show your old holiday photos, a mural on your stairwell or your kids’ school work.
Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, during Glasgow Open House art festival, treated her house as a canvas and painted every surface. You don’t have to go that far, but the options are limitless.
Because open house festivals are exactly that, festivals, they are usually sprawling and shifting, based on community spirits rather than commercial gain and extremely fun to be a part of. If you have opened your house up to strangers to show your art chez eux then you should explore your city in a new way and see what others are doing nearby as well. The majority of the participants are amateur artists, doing very interesting things in a very limited timeframe, usually working alongside their art practice.
- Consider the context of how you exhibit your work. Homely quirks and architectural anomalies provide great starting points to think of new installation techniques.
- Set a space aside. Unless you transform your entire home, it might be best to treat a room/definite area as your show space. This also stops visitors rummaging through your underwear drawer.
- Sign up to an open house group but do your own marketing as well. Unless you contribute something, you won’t get much back. Facebook events, flyers for local businesses and posters are quick, easy and cheap ways of reaching out.
- Treat every event as you would a cocktail party with Frank Sinatra and the mafia: remove all valuables, keep priceless fragile objects on high shelves and, most importantly, clear drinks only.