Everyone knows that the first rule of art galleries is as follows: You do not commune with others in any voice louder than a whisper.

The importance of this rule has nothing to do with showing any kind of reverence to the works of art shown (they really won’t be offended).  Nor is it even about ensuring your dozing gallery guard can continue to receive their much-needed beauty sleep.  Nope, this rule is about something far more fundamental to the human experience: not looking stupid.

If you doubt my rationale, then consider the following evidence for the prosecution, as overheard at Tate Modern’s recent Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia exhibition:

[scene: Room 2 – Early Works.  A middle-aged man has his arm a long way round the narrow waist of his trophy wife\mistress\inappropriately-close daughter.]

Man: Look at these works darling, aren’t they fascinating?

Woman: Erm, yes.

Man: Look at this early work, and this, and this.  Wow, look at them.

Woman: Yes, erm, I am.

Man: Really, I mean, look at the fascinating progression the artist has made, from this primitive early work here to the more sophisticated brushstrokes in this piece, to the vivid use of colour and shape and formal composition in this slightly later work.  What a transformation, what growth, what rapid evolution… 

Woman: Erm, wow…? 

The only problem?  The series of works on the wall here were not by a single artist at all but, as clearly labelled, by Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia.  Ah yes, that would explain the incredible progression the artist has made – being three different people probably had something to do with it.

Now I’ve heard worse (and as soon as I do so again you’ll get to read about it here), but the lesson is clear: galleries are not the place for speculating wildly (out loud) about the clear motivations of the artist when you know nothing of the sort.  Nor the place for bold conjecture about the undeniable inspiration the artist has taken from her religion\sexual activities\time spent in Paris\love of the films of John Candy. 

No that, my friend, is what blogs and academic journals are for.

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