The Art World Safari
The Art World Safari

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The Art World Safari

A Field Guide to the Fauna of London's Galleries

Every area of London with more than one gallery has its own complex and diverse ecosystem of private view attendees; here, we run through the species you’re likely to spot, those who emerge only for the right occasion, and the downright scarce. Think of it like Pokémon for high culture. 

Think of it like Pokémon for high culture. 

The student

The Student

Ubiquitous at every opening, The Student subdivides into two categories – the Very Serious and the Very Drunk. The Very Serious is invariably studying the artist whose work is showing, and they’re practically (sometimes literally) taking notes. They mumble and blush if they’re introduced to anyone ‘important’ – a curator, the genius behind the art – and speak in hushed tones as though they’re in church. Although they’re of the same genus as the Very Drunk, they’re certainly not friends. While the Very Drunk is having a whale of a time, and can’t quite believe that the wine is really, truly, free, the Very Serious student rolls their eyes at the philistine. Don’t they know how important this is? The Very Drunk doesn’t mind. They have the buoyant air of someone who’s in on a joke, and a bottle down. 

The networker

The Networker

Also ever present, but not so easy to identify as The Student, the Networker only reveals themselves when you’re already deep in conversation. You thought you’d left the office an hour ago, but the Networker is determined to push you back into it. Take a business card and nod along to the spiel about a new website, undiscovered up-and-comer, or loosely relevant business venture. They’ll move on soon.

The peacock

The Peacock

The rarest yet, but undoubtedly the easiest to spot, The Peacock is a walking exhibition in their own right. There are various iterations of this species, some more awe-inspiring than others, but each has decided that this evening, this context, is the one to debut a hat covered in feathers, or an asymmetrical ballgown. These guys are a lot of fun to look at, but not so great to speak to – best enjoyed from a distance.

The Lovie is thrilled, just thrilled, to meet you.

The lovie

The Lovie

The Lovie is thrilled, just thrilled, to meet you. They sweep through the gallery, air-kissing cheeks and theatrically embracing the inner circle. Darling, I had the most wonderful time in Venice! We must go again next year – that little trattoria was heaven, wasn’t it? Yah. 

The namedropper

The Name Dropper

A close cousin of the Lovie, but with some intrinsic differences, the Name Dropper is an aspiring member of the art world elite. Listen closely for a faint note of desperation as they wrangle an anecdote to encompass a dinner with this or that artist, an evening with one or other Parisian ingénue, and you’ll know you’ve pinned them down.

The artsplainer

The Artsplainer

If you’re feeling a little unsure about how to react to the work, fear not – The Artsplainer will be on hand to tell you that everything you’d thought so far was wrong. Minimalist? I think you’ll find the artist was inspired by German abstract expressionism. Late 20th century? You’re way off – this canvas was finished last week. Not liking it? You clearly don’t get it. The Artsplainer is characterised by their fervent belief that there’s a correct way to interpret what you’re looking at, as though it were an algebraic equation and not an exhibition. They’re not a garden variety, but you’ll know one when they find you.

If you’re feeling a little unsure about how to react to the work, fear not – The Artsplainer will be on hand to tell you that everything you’d thought so far was wrong.

The harried curator

The Harried Curator

There’s one, maybe two, Harried Curators at every opening. Scan the room for the most exhausted, washed out human being you can find, likely to be clutching a glass of prosecco they don’t feel relaxed enough to enjoy and having the same conversation over and over again. They haven’t slept since Wednesday, and they’re on high alert for any flicker of trouble; while the artist is the star of the party, the curator is the martyred host. Be kind.

Cartoons by Gary Zhang. Words by Emily Watkins.

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