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One of the things that still amuses me, is how terrified most people are of actually entering an art gallery.

As those of you who have been to our Bethesda gallery know, the gallery is encased in glass. In other words, the entire inside space is exposed to the square of Bethesda Place because all the exterior walls are made of glass.

This is bad for heating and/or cooling costs ($400 a month), but good because the entire exhibition is always visible from the outside.

Therein lies the problem!

99.9% of all people will circumnavigate the outside walls, cupping their hands and peering in… sometimes they go around several times, like sharks, and often point and discuss the artwork. And yet they never come in!

Every once in a while, when our former neighbor in the square (Discovery Channel) and now our new neighbor (Comcast) holds a fire drill, the square is filled with several hundred people at once. The drills last maybe 45 minutes.

And the masses walk around the gallery, looking in through the glass, discussing the art, and out of hundreds of people, maybe two or three brave souls dare to come in, but not before asking “is it OK to come in?”

And on Sundays, our other neighbor, the Original Pancake House has a hour waiting list, which means that 40-50 people are always hanging around the square. And yet, despite the fact that they circle around and peer in, only a precious few ever come in (although our biggest sales ever have been to some of those Sunday pancake eaters!).

Often, in the spring, we have the two front doors propped open. And this also causes some interesting situations. Every once in a while, someone will stand on the outside of the opened doors, and stretch (as if as the end of a precipice) and look inside for a few minutes. It is as if one of those Star Trek force fields is between the door line and the gallery.

Even a smile and a “you can come in” often just gets a silent smile back… not even a response.

My conclusion: there’s something about an art gallery that terrifies most people. I call it galleryphobia and have defined it as:

Galleryphobia (Gall-e-ree-pho-bya) – The unjustified, deeply rooted fear of actually entering an art gallery. Usually exhibited by attempting to see the entire exhibition through the glass windows from the outside, rather than stepping into the welcoming, temperature-controlled space.

My initial discussion of galleryphobia generated responses from gallerists as far as Canada, Uruguay and the UK!

But best is this one from photographer James W. Bailey from the Greater Reston Arts Center in Reston, Virginia:

I wanted to recognize your scientific identification of galleryphobia. I believe that I have identified a sub-species at the Greater Reston Arts Center.

It just so happens that the most popular cigarette break spot at Reston Town Center is right in front of our largest window. There’s a concrete planter that sits facing our window and the smokers congregate for their isolationist rituals 6 to 8 times a day.

During the course of their smokes breaks, especially when their thin conversations have worn thinner, many of them will walk right up to the glass, plaster their faces against the glass, raise their hands above their heads to block the light so they can see better and stare through the glass while puffing away on their cancer sticks.

But they never come in! There’s this one girl whom I’ve been watching for 2 ½ years through the damn glass! She’s never stepped foot in the gallery.

Yet, everyday she’ll stare inside. I’ve tried opening the door, stepping outside and asking people to come in and take a look and even offered wine to them.

They are terrified of actually walking into the gallery. If you have no objection, I’m naming this sub-species, galleryphobia smokerterrifiedicus.


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About Lenny Campello

  • Shark

    Ever thought of a sign?

    “Come in and look around.
    We won’t bother you.”

    Aren’t most people afraid of being approached by a pretentious asshole who’s working on commission?

    Just a thought.