Over the course of the last year I have the great honor of earning much gallery experience from the employment side. It began as a graduate student, whose many tasks involved gallery assistance at the now defunct Watkins Gallery at American University. From there the interests spilled into an internship at a local gallery, which then proceeded to earning the assistant gallery director position at The Chautauqua Center for the Visual Arts, and then a return to DC where I gained a job prepping and transporting art at a local DC gallery.
Having been to many, strolling through and looking at the art, talking to the occasional person (though rare since I'd rather dialogue with the art) I do not recall ever having leaned against a wall or been so out of my mind so as to scuff the wall with a bag. But, in all of my experiences, I am beginning to feel like the only one.
Work belongs on the wall - not your ass (unless it is a performance piece or unless your ass is the work... Note: that is not if you THINK your ass is a PIECE of work; there is a difference). Certainly I am getting too precious with the asylum-like nature of the white-walled gallery. And, I of course welcome a change from the aesthetic - variety is the spice of life. But variety should never come in the form of an unintended black streak smearing across the wall. This is a distraction from the elegance of the space and the nuances of the art in the space. There is an exception. For one installation I worked on the artist was wearing crisp new pairs of designer jeans throughout the installation. One afternoon the artist complained about the walls not being pristine enough to display the work. "The walls need to be painted," Then the artist became a bit annoyed when I said it was a result of hands placed on the wall by the artist and the artist's assistants during their installation. The response was akin to a child declaring "Nuh-unh!"
The overarching consideration is respect: self-respect, respect for the space of others, respect for the work of others. The preceding example of the artist is the exception since it is well known that touch-ups will be necessary after installation. And there are areas to lean on that are perfectly acceptable, like the brick walls outside the gallery. If you are a homo-sapien then you should be proud to be one and do your ancestry and heritage proud by standing as erect as you can for as long as you can in the confines of the gallery space without feeling compelled to drag your knuckles as you pillage the walls with a Louis Vitton hand bag. And certainly do not press your foot against the wall as you lean against it as if you are the modern-day James Dean.