In Catalonia, art galleries produce around 600 exhibitions a year. In other words, 75% of the art exhibition in the whole of Catalonia.

The newspapers talk about exhibitions, of course, but they mean the ones that take place in museums, foundations and other institutional centres. But that’s hardly surprising: the big institutions, both public and private, plough a lot of money into press advertising. The galleries, on the other hand, in their immense dignity, are on another level, and have very different spending priorities.

Sala Parés, Barcelona.

A friend complained to me that in Mirador de les Arts, the exhibition reviews did not include the entry price to the museums and foundations.  This is someone who is on a very sticky wicket in terms of work (who isn’t these days?) and who enjoys visiting exhibition with his son, and so often cannot afford the eight- or ten-euro entrance fee.

He’s right. Of course, he is.  But my advice would be to find out if there is a day in any of the museums when entrance is free. There are quite a few, such as Saturday afternoons from 4-8pm at the MACBA or Sundays from 3pm at the MUHBA in the Plaça del Rei.

And also, to visit galleries. Not all of them open on Saturdays, which is the best day to see art, but there is no charge and shows are top rate.

In Barcelona alone there are almost 90 art galleries, most of them members of either the Guild of Art Galleries of Catalonia, or the association Art Barcelona.

Art galleries offer a free public culture service.

Gallery owners are business people who take a risk on their heritage in a difficult and very specific market. They are gallery owners either by calling, family tradition, or both. Some of the businesses are very simple, profitable and safe. The gallery owner lives from art sales, but they also offer a free public cultural service, open to everyone.  And if, in the current climate, they have to earn their crust traveling to so many international fairs that they spend more nights away than in their homes, they are quite prepared to do it. By promoting art from Catalonia they can kill two birds with one stone.

But gallery owners are not any old kind of shopkeeper: they create a project and they have to remain faithful to it. That means promoting a particular and coherent line represented by a series of artists who have something in common. Some represent urban art, some painting-painting, some have specialised in local historical avant-garde, or modernism, and there are also those who expertly mix exquisite pieces hundreds of years old with other more recent creations. Finally, there are those who opt for the most spectacular option of the very latest tendencies or those who give a voice to creators who are more critical of social and economic injustices.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since 13 March 1877 when the Marquis of Peñaplata, accompanied by his cavalry and a military band, opened the first exhibition hall on the peninsula: Sala Parés. The Sala Parés has not moved from its original location and we can visit it more or less exactly the same as our great grandparents did. On the other hand many art spaces on which our own particular art history is based have disappeared. Names such as the Galeries Laietanes, the Sala Dalmau, the two Syra, the Sala Gaspar, René Métras, Ciento, and any others. But that’s life! New galleries which reflect our times have also appeared and we can discover them if we take a walk around.

If you do not have the means, the space or any desire to buy a work of art, that doesn’t need to stop you visiting the galleries. To make life easy, in Barcelona you could start around the streets of Consell de Cent and Enric Granados, or Trafalgar. You can find all the information in the paper editions of Art Gallery Guide or BonArt. Have a good gallery crawl!