Art Gallery Openings – A Young Artist’s Colorful First Time Experience

The first time visit to an Art Gallery Opening can be an eye widener for anyone, as this experience of a young artist and newcomer to New York reveals:

The event was a combination exhibition opening and birthday celebration for the Lambert Art Gallery, which, a few years earlier, in a moment of exuberance and elation at its own prosperity, had given birth to the smaller, fledgling downtown dealership, the Eye Span Space, where, incidentally, Celia had planned to apply for a job. Having taken the bus up Avenue of the Americas to Fifty-Seventh Street, she steadily clicked her way east in semi-high heels, gradually losing awareness of her resounding progress. As she approached the large, dark, marbled arcade entranceway, she stopped for a few moments to watch the steady stream of well-attired people en route to and from various events being hosted within the tall, shadowed and foreboding expanse of building which confronted her. Taking a step backward, she shivered slightly, bracing herself as though against a sudden, chill breeze. Then, gathering her courage about her as a shawl, she walked ahead to join the easy flow of people now entering this awesome mass of architecture.

Once safely inside the dark glass doorway, Celia joined in the procession to the equally impressive elevators. The doors rolled smoothly open and closed on a deep amber and brass interior, large and rather impersonal, in keeping with the structure’s darkened atrium entranceway, yet at the same time warm and set aglow by its now pleasantly peopled interior. Curious, the hushed, polite, but electric intimacy of vertical travel alongside strangers. Celia tried to picture the experience of “lifts” designed for horizontal movement — travelling around, or even spiralling the building’s girth. Fun, she decided, like a work-a-day amusement park, but neither practical nor intimate. Flying could be very sensual, but sometimes strongly separative; for, a definite pull of gravity was necessary for any true sense of intimacy. And the shyness — that same kind of shyness was present that sometimes occurs at one-to-one first-time encounters or during formal introductions among groups of strangers. It was difficult, next to impossible to look directly at anyone now, for everyone faced straight ahead, except for couples and threesomes, who stood slightly inclined toward one another, even in their subtlety, boldly breaking the pattern.

Celia called on peripheral vision to glance at those persons on either side of her. To her left stood a rather tall, handsome, olive-skinned woman beautifully attired in black silk and speaking in a quiet, but animated fashion to a very tall, pale, young wisp of a man wearing flesh colored spectacle frames who swayed back and forth, seemingly in slow motion, to the staccato rhythm of her words. On the left were profiles of elegance and polite impatience; on the right, of amiability and anticipation, silent silhouettes of well contained emotion.

When the elevator doors slid apart once again, its passengers stepped out into a spacious, high-ceilinged room with soft spotlights on large abstract still-life paintings against newly painted white walls. The room was already nearly two-thirds full of mingling people — some lively, animated; others with affectation of condescending boredom.

A slender dark young man (one of the bored) was commenting in a rather loud whine to a short portly matron in a sea-green suit with matching forties pill-box hat, on the inferiority of the champagne being served. To Celia, champagne was at this point still an item of novel extravagance; she had yet to discover differences in quality and the fact that, in general, gallery openings were notorious for serving relatively low quality liquid refreshment. The chubby woman in green seemed to agree wholeheartedly with the young man’s complaint. And yet, Celia noted that as they exchanged yawns and tired, affected, lazy remarks, both sipped away and emptied full glasses.

After several glasses of the bubbly, overly sweet beverage, Celia found herself floating slowly around the crowded floor in counter-clockwise direction, as though she were a vague dancer in some unexplained ballroom scene of another time. Along her course, she had brief encounters with a pompous politician; a harried hairdresser; an overworked bleary-eyed accountant; six painters; three sculptors; a jaded journalist turned art critic; an undertaker’s apprentice; the fussy, hyper mother of a “child prodigy painter” (in tow); a dapper Danish diplomat; a radiantly regal opera singer in flowing scarlet silk and satin; and a tall, slightly aloof man of fortyish with dark, greying hair and a child-like, uneven, mischievous smile that lit up large dark eyes in an otherwise sobered, somewhat stern face.

They met when Celia, turning abruptly to sweep yet another glass of champagne from a passing tray, tripped over her own feet, wobbled dangerously, and performed a loud, impromptu tap-dance to recover her equilibrium, at once startling and silencing the people around her. Reaching out, he offered support by means of a firm hand under one of her elbows until she regained her balance. Then, he brought his hands together gently in soundless applause as his face broke into a smile. “Somewhat disoriented, aren’t we?”

And those eyes… there was a strong pull, a definite sensation of magnetism drawing her into those lively, compelling eyes. Later, thinking back, she was certain they had been dancing together — just the two of them, somewhere off in a room to themselves, although there had been the crowd and no music at all. Something assured her of it, even though it couldn’t be so…. But first impressions can be like that. And first impressions lead to larger canvases of experience called Life.

Excerpt from the novel, La Belle Famille, by Ellen Gilmer, published by The Pentland Press Ltd., Durham, England

Ellen Gilmer