Sophia Nakis, director and vice president for MacArthur Galleries in Tampa, has encompassed a passion for art her entire life. After obtaining her degree in film and video and minoring in art history at Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked for movie sets, MTV2 and CNN and has held a job as a gallery representative. After coming to MacArthur on Valentine’s Day in 2000, Nakis realized, however, that in the Tampa art community, no one was interested in purchasing artwork.
“Here (in Tampa) the art subculture is all artists – there are no collectors,” she said.
The sterile, white-glove environment of art galleries often scares potential visitors from enjoying art, or even from entering an art museum at all. Other people may feel their lack of knowledge about art or their confusion relating to pieces leads them to not appreciate the work. However, some local galleries cater to assisting people with these fears.
The importance of people who buy and collect artwork is essential to the survival of galleries, Nakis said.
Although she would never turn away someone who wasn’t interested in simply enjoying the artwork, Nakis said collectors keep galleries alive by supporting them financially. In Tampa, these people are hard to find, which Nakis said is detrimental to society.
“We’re not fully developed to understand fully what art does to a community,” she said. “In Europe, they embrace it in all forms. Over here, it’s an afterthought.”
But for those not interested in purchasing art, the USF campus houses Centre Gallery, the Contemporary Art Museum and the Graphicstudio for students to view the artwork of both their peers and professionals.
Sunni Barbera, gallery director for Centre Gallery in the bottom floor of the Marshall Center, said she likes her staff to approach all visitors to the gallery and say hello and mention the reception for the current show if it has not already been held. This helps make viewers comfortable with being in a gallery and asking questions. She said the more one finds out about the artist and his or her background, the easier it is to understand a piece of artwork.
“I think everybody has the same chance to understand something,” Barbera said. “In other cases, you need the artist to explain it in terms of what the artist is thinking about.”
There is always someone in the gallery in case a person has questions or doesn’t understand something.
“We try to approach it with, ‘This is just my opinion,'” Barbera said. “Then we ask them, ‘What do you get out of it?’ There’s no right or wrong answer.”
Margaret Miller, director for CAM and Graphicstudio, said both galleries give tours of the current exhibitions and set up lectures by visiting artists and scholars. They also offer handouts to visitors to explain the ideas of the artists and their works.
“A lot of art today is on a conceptual basis,” Miller said.
“Sometimes you do need to know about the artist and (his or her) intention.”
Nakis also holds workshops so people can get hands-on experience with becoming comfortable around artwork.
She pushes people to ask questions, shows examples of different artwork and keeps pamphlets and copies of materials with pertinent information at the front desk of the gallery. By giving examples of art and letting people examine them up close, Nakis hopes to build confidence in viewers to understand how the work affects them.
But the workshops aren’t only for those looking to further their understanding of art but also for the gallery staff. Nakis said she takes them on field trips and informs them of what is happening at other galleries.
Barbera said it is helpful to ask one’s self questions, such as why the artist may have used a certain texture or why he or she made a particular piece a certain size. Making a piece relevant to one’s self can also make the experience more enjoyable.
“I think everybody has the same chance to understand something,” Barbera said.
Although a background in art and its history is not necessary to understanding artwork, Barbera and Miller said learning about certain aspects, such as line, use of space and the history of famous artists, can add to the artistic experience.”Some people have a greater sensitivity (to art) than others, but if you have an interest you can gain the ability,” Miller said. “It’s like developing a taste for wine – you come at it slowly. You begin to notice how art comes together.”
Nakis said the art is directly affected by the gallery it is exhibited in, part of the reason being because gallery directors tend to be pushy in getting people to purchase artwork, which results in people being intimidated to even walk into an art museum.
And Nakis has experienced her share of gallery personnel. Four years ago, Nikas and her fiancÃ©e expedited on a 10,000-mile trek across America and visited 50-75 different art galleries, some of which came to be known to her as “gallery-glums.”
“The majority of galleries never acknowledged the fact that we entered,” she said.
So, with the experience of being both a visitor and a gallery director, Nikas devised a method for people who may not fully understand or are intimidated by art to be able to comprehend and possibly even enjoy it.
Nikas said the first step in becoming “art savvy” is to not be afraid to ask questions. Inquiring about the history of the gallery itself can be a good beginning question because it shows a curiosity and an interest about learning more.
One question of importance, Nikas said, is asking whether the art is an original or a print. If the art is an original, the texture of the surface should be constant and possibly raised. The signature of the artist should be the only name on the piece, and the price is more expensive than a print.
As for a print, a number on the bottom left corner of the artwork will be labeled with the number of the piece out of how many were printed. Usually there are numerous prints of an artwork. But with any purchase, Nikas said to be aware of what exactly is being bought.
Nikas warns to ask for a certificate of authenticity when purchasing limited edition prints. Also, asking the gallery representative about the printing process can establish a conversation that may lead into more information about the artwork.
Another problem people may encounter is how to “view” the art, meaning from which angle. Nikas describes this as logic. She suggests being at ease with examining details such as brush strokes, use of color and texture. The eyes and mind should be free to wander and interpret as they please, she said.
“You cannot make a right or wrong comment when art is concerned,” Nikas said. “It is completely subjective.”After implementing these practices at MacArthur Galleries, Nakis said something happened.
“The customers came back.”
And Nakis said that acquiring these return customers wasn’t a selfish ambition only for MacArthur Galleries, but was for the benefit of the entire art community in Tampa. The goal is to build collectors and to get them interested.
“Art comes in many forms,” Nakis said. “It’s almost like being a therapist.”
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