Have you ever wandered into a gallery and felt curious or lost? When you looked around to find someone to steer you out of your confusion, was there anyone in sight? As I've written before, galleries are not generally service-oriented entities. If there is a human in sight they are most likely sitting in the entrance behind a large desk, reading, talking on the phone, or doing anything to ignore you.
Once you have someone's attention, have you ever felt insecure about asking a question? Intimidation is a well-known sales tactic, especially in some of the Blue Chip galleries. If you aren't "in the club" (they don't know you and/or you've never purchased anything at the gallery), many galleries won't offer any assistance, even if you ask. I have a friend who worked at one of those Blue Chip Chelsea galleries not too long ago. She got in a whole heap of trouble for sharing pricing information with an inquiring gallery visitor. Sharing any information with strangers in this gallery was a no-no. When she asked her boss how she should have responded to their questions, she was told that if "we" don't know the individual inquiring then you tell them that the work is no longer available and leave them be, prompting no further questions. In other words, be rude.
Thankfully, service and friendliness have crept into many galleries as a survival tactic in today's experience-driven economy. Don't be intimidated to ask any questions you may have while standing in a gallery. If the woman or man dressed in black scowling at you behind that front desk proves to be of no help, kindly ask to see someone who may answer some of your questions. I can't promise that you will be treated kindly or considerately in every gallery, but it never hurts to ask.
And if you are going to be brave and ask questions, here are a few I use to get the conversation started:
10 Questions to Ask at a Gallery
1. How old is this artist, and where is s/he from?
2. Is this the artist's first solo show?
3. Where else has this artist shown?
4. Can you tell me a little bit about this exhibition?
5. Do you have some earlier work by this artist that I could see?
6. What do you like about this artist's work?
7. Can you tell me more about this particular piece? (Ask this when you especially like, or even when you especially dislike, a specific work)
8. Do you have a price list, and/or what work is still available?
9. Do you have any information on this artist that I can take with me?
10. Do you have a mailing list, and if so, how can I get on it?