Buzzers are killing art. Today, I went to a well-established international gallery on Savile Row. It’s in an old building at the start of the street, with a panel of gold buzzers at the entrance. I buzzed the one marked with the gallery’s name and waited awkwardly. Eventually, someone came over the intercom and said ‘yes?’… I mean, what did she think I was there for? ‘I’m here to see the show’, I replied. I could almost feel her weighing up her options, staring at me through the video intercom. It was like breaking into the Royal fucking Mint or something. When I was finally let in, the gallery assistant literally stood guard, making sure I didn’t try and pocket any of the six-foot tall paintings. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t exactly dress like a multi-millionaire art collector and, sure, I’m a bit of a schlub, but I shouldn’t be made to feel like I’m imposing on the gallery by coming to look at the art.
Going to galleries is awkward enough without being made to feel like unworthy riff-raff. Being buzzed in is so uncomfortable, judgemental and off-putting. I’m Time Out’s freakin’ visual art editor, I’ve been going to galleries in London since I was 18, and even I find it exclusionary. There’s a bit of me that reaches for the buzzer and immediately wants to turn away. I have to take a little breath and think ‘no, it’s cool, this is normal, press the fucking buzzer, dickhead’. If I feel like running away, how must everyone else feel? Here’s one tweet that proves I’m not the only one who thinks buzzing in is bullshit:
That's how regular people feel about it. I understand security concerns, and I understand that some galleries share their buildings with other companies who will want the doors closed. I even understand that this is just the way it is and always has been in the art world. But this is no way to experience art. Nothing makes you feel less welcome than standing in the street, pressing the buzzer and knowing that some douchebag in a turtleneck is eyeballing you through the video intercom and deciding whether or not you’re worthy of being granted entry into their holy temple of bullshit. I love art and I love galleries, but this only keeps people away, and that's not good for anyone. If galleries want to be inclusive, if they want people to see the art, they've got to drop the buzzers.