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The Sex and the City Guide to the Art World
Never trust a man who tries to pick you up at a gallery opening...
Art Girls Jungle 19 Jan 2021

Sex and the City is our obvious go-to for all things love and fashion—who can forget Carrie’s half-deep, half-absurd late night wonderings, or her style choices, for that matter—but the show also holds some well-hidden revelations about the art world. By default, the Manhattan social scene already involves the obligatory museum gala or art show opening from time to time, but Charlotte’s gallery job in the early seasons guarantees that even when the focus is elsewhere, the art world is always lurking just off-screen. We’ve mined all six seasons of Sex and the City (yes, binge-watching HBO is a hard job, but someone had to do it) to bring you these nuggets of wisdom about what happens when love, life and art collide.

1. Never trust a man who tries to pick you up at a gallery opening

Easy come, easy go: beware the gallery pickup artist!

From the very first episode, Carrie primes you for a show about two things and two things only—sex and New York City—inviting you to check your delusions at the door. Love enters the script only fleetingly, as if some sappy writer slipped it in by accident, and when it lasts, it’s obviously an exception to a very ingrained rule. And from the very first episode, the art world forms the backdrop for these single New York ladies’ broken dreams and broken hearts. Elizabeth, the “attractive and bright” English journalist, is fresh off the trans-Atlantic luxury liner when she has the misfortune of hooking up with Tim, “typically eligible bachelor” (read: typically flaky fuckboy) who soon hits her with the textbook case of ghosting. “They met one evening, in typical New York fashion, at a gallery opening,” Carrie writes, and with those fateful words, we know Elizabeth’s fate is sealed.

“No one had told her about the end of love in Manhattan,” Carrie realizes when Elizabeth musters surprise that her whirlwind romance left her heart in splinters. But perhaps the city isn’t to blame here, but the scene of their meet-cute; instead of serving up some melodrama about the end of love, Carrie should have tipped Elizabeth off that meeting girls at the art gallery is the urban sophisticate’s version of meeting girls at the club. The only long-term investment these rich banker types are hunting for on the Lower East Side is a canvas by some hot new Schnabel wannabe.

2. Don’t be seduced into a private viewing (or do, but know that art isn’t all you’ll be appraising)

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In the same eventful episode that Elizabeth gets her heart shredded by the skeevy investment banker (what self-respecting Manhattanite takes their date mini-golfing, anyway?), Charlotte succumbs to the most well-oiled line in the art book: “want to come up and see my [insert hot contemporary artist of choice]?”

But Charlotte is no gullible gallerina—she knows exactly what this private showing will actually be putting on display, but ever the sweet art history major at heart, she’s unable to resist the lure of the Bleckner—and her date’s not bad looking, either). She decides to play along.

The surprise comes not when Capote Duncan tries to take their art viewing from Platonic to passionate, but after, when, frustrated by Charlotte’s Victorian restraint, he hops in her cab (her cab!) to try his luck downtown with nothing but a cavalier “I really need to have sex tonight” to pass for an explanation. What Charlotte learned that night should be a lesson to us all: the thing about art guys is that their good taste sadly doesn’t translate into good manners—or good judgment.

3. Speak your truth and you’ll get far (or blacklisted from the gallery)

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 Season 6, Episode 12 opens with Carrie and Charlotte rushing to see a woman who won’t talk, eat or sleep, and no, it’s not to comfort a broken-hearted Miranda (spoiler: this is the episode where the tables finally turn for her and Steve!). But downtown, while the seasoned art scenesters like Charlotte are fawning over the “visionary” performance art piece, Carrie offers a slightly more down-to-earth take: “There are depressed women all over New York doing the exact same thing as her and not calling it art.”

In a testament to either her confidence or her ever-present delusion, she offers this take to none other than Alexander Petrovsky, famed art world perennial whose CV includes priceless paintings and dating every model at Studio 54. “I mean, if you put a phone up on that platform, it’s just a typical Friday night waiting for some guy to call,” she concludes, leaving a mortified Charlotte to squeak out a hysterical “she’s kidding!”

Leave it to Carrie to rewrite every punch line in her sex columnist layman’s terms, but her willingness to tell it like it is gives the scene the comic relief the fatally serious art world so desperately needs (it did, however, also attract death glares earlier in the episode, so pick your battles). What’s more, her flippancy lands her a date with Petrovsky himself even though, or more likely because, she’s the one woman in the gallery who isn’t fawning over him. Take it as a two-in-one bonus lesson: the art world loves an outsider.

4. Dating in the art world can take you a bit out of the box

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Later in the same episode, Petrovsky calls up Carrie with an eccentric date night proposal: dinner at 1am at a mysterious locale that turns out to be a private room in a slightly communism-themed restaurant, followed by a late-night visit to the gallery to try test Carrie’s suspicion that the performance artist on 24-hour hunger strike spends her afterhours wolfing down clandestine Big Macs.

Alas, Carrie’s hunch does not pan out, but what she lacks in art world intuition she clearly makes up for in charm, because by the end of the night, Alexander is smitten by her light and comedic approach to art and life. If there’s a takeaway here—other than don’t doubt the integrity of the performance artist and always test the commitment and athleticism of your new mans by leaving your purse in the taxi—it’s to give the weirdo with the 1am date idea and the meat jello a chance.

 5. Unless you’re Jenny Holzer, 90% of people at your gallery opening are there for the free booze

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“They say that most New Yorkers will attend the opening of an envelope as long as the champagne doesn’t run dry,” Carrie quips at the start of Season 1, Episode 6, the one that gave us power lesbians (more on that later) and the first of many magnanimous but ill-fated second chances that Carrie grants Big. Despite her willful ignorance when it comes to all things romance, Carrie really hits the nail on the head with this one: in any city worth its own Gagosian, you can safely bet that the majority of the denizens will be content to play out the “bad wine, stale cheese routine” week after week as long as that bad wine is bottomless.

The good news is some bottom-shelf Chardonnay is all you need to fill an opening; the bad news is that the mood of the room will in no way speak to the audience’s enjoyment of your art but to the alcohol percentage and availability of the wine, so you’ll have to wait for the critical write-ups to find out what the world (or at least Jerry Saltz) really thinks.

6. When art world cool meets art girl chic, the result is a “surprisingly fabulous combustion that no one saw coming”

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Carrie might have been describing the “power lesbians” turning heads in Charlotte’s gallery when she quipped, “they seemed to have everything: great shoes, killer eyewear and the secrets to invisible makeup,” but the line works just as well for all fabulous women of the art world, sexual preferences aside. When you’re setting out to climb the art world totem pole from the very bottom, it takes grit, motivation and a supernatural talent for spotting designer dresses at the flea market to make yourself a somebody out of a nobody. That’s why every elegant, poised woman who’s made it in the art world, lesbian or not, has had years of preparation to sculpt her into the impeccable creature she is today—killer eyewear and invisible makeup are just the olive in her vodka martini.

Text by Katya Lopatko

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