How to be ‘Artjacent’

Why be part of the art world when you can just crash the party? 

John Hughes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986, film still. Courtesy: Paramount Pictures and Alamy

Artists have to make art (tedious, unoriginal). Gallery girls have to guard it (tedious, as there are never heists anymore). Gallerists and institutional curators have to pretend the artists are geniuses (acting, which is even more tedious). All of this Sturm und Drang for the occasional beer-filled-trash-can preview, post-opening dinner, pre-biennial gala or destination art fair. Why should you devote untold hours to professional boredom in exchange for a few brief moments of glory, when you could just show up for the party? Why be of art, when you can be near it? From my own humiliating experience, I present the outsider’s guide to being ‘artjacent’:

1. Whatever you do, don’t make art. 
Most artists aren’t in the art world. It can take years of posting your gracelessly wonky nude paintings to Instagram before the vultures start circling your Direct Messages. In fact, making art is more likely to get you cancelled than invited to a gala. The hardest-partying artists already on the circuit either went viral for a Medium post about the lack of diversity in the American Express Collectors’ Lounge or are friends with a Dutch arms dealer’s daughter, or both. 

2. Sleep with an artist.
Ideally, one with a ‘supporting job’ like art handler or coat-check attendant, so they can smile-and-nod you past the bouncers at the Whitney Museum. It is essential you don’t know anything about their work, as there is a 90 percent chance this knowledge will render them less attractive, making your task harder.

3. Say you’re friends with [European-sounding man’s name].
It offers plausible deniability for questions like: ‘Why are you here?’ or ‘Where do you work?’ or ‘What do you do?’

4. Cultivate an enigmatic Instagram.
Think mysterious, but not so boring that it reads ‘graphic designer’. A few shapes and shadows are fine, but it shouldn’t feel like a Knoll catalogue. Include some bathroom-mirror selfies so people know you do coke.

5. Achieve the right mix of tattoos.
Too much Sailor Jerry and you’re an ageing hardcore girl at a dive bar. Too many paper-thin leafy twigs and you’re banished to a second-tier city like Portland or Philadelphia (very few galas per year). And beware of the ‘triangle trap’ – so many lines and angles you look like a West Elm store. (Design gays, keep moving.) Instead, curate a careful balance of hand-drawn sparrows, badly scrawled text, non-ironic cartoon references (The Simpsons for boys, anime for girls, Looney Tunes for all) and at least one Keith Haring-esque doodle (on your finger or behind the ear) to show your playful sense of the body-as-canvas.

6. Pierce your ears (gays only).
If you choose not to do this, I will not – in good conscience – be able to tell the bouncer at the Brant Foundation Annual Fish Fry that you’re ‘one of the performers’.

7. Be patient.
Every truly extravagant open-bar event at a museum/hotel/warehouse/16th-century-cathedral-designed-to-look-like-a-sex-club has a door person/iPad girl. And every iPad girl, buried under layers of pathos, has a small tablespoon of humanity. If you’re polite and wait long enough – a little bit off to the side – she’ll eventually become numb to you and let you in.

8. Find the girls with dead hair and become friends with them.
Almost all are white and 100 percent of them have dead hair. These Saras, Sarahs and Simones have locks as limp as their ex-skater boyfriends’ whiskey dicks, and they’re always down to party. Unimpressed by the herd of overgrown adolescent males around them, they feel little need to safeguard the art world’s social sanctum. Text them and they’ll tell you where the afters are, every time.

9. Just show up.
If all else fails, book your ticket to Art Basel Miami Beach now. Hostels are cheap; The Standard hotel will just let you walk in if you’re confident and don’t make eye contact with the staff; and a geo-tagged selfie from the Pérez Art Museum is worth its weight in gold.

This article first appeared in frieze issue 211 with the headline ‘How to be 'Artjacent'

Steven Phillips-Horst is a performer and writer. He lives in New York, USA.

Issue 211

First published in Issue 211

May-June 2020