Want to see what’s happening in contemporary art? See what new colors are dominating this 2014? See what your favorite designers are up to? It appears to be all unfolding on Instagram. There’s been a shift for artists, museums and art publications to break down the fourth wall of art making and embrace they’re fans and followers in new and unprecedented ways. After Facebook purchased Instagram last year for one billion dollars, everybody else has followed suit by incorporating Instagram into every experience of art (planning, making, installing, exhibiting, after-partying), and has opened a gateway to view the entirety of the art world (from the spirit-level hanging session dregs to the sleek, polished install) as we’ve never seen before.
Furthering this immersion of Instagram into museum installations and studio-progress shots, is the rise in Instagram over traditional artists websites. It seems each day a mid-to-late-career artist is turning to Instagram before a blog or website to announce any development, personal, professional, or otherwise. Artists such as Ai Wei Wei, Yoko Ono, and Paul Octavious (and the millions of others that have adopted their use of the app) have revolutionized how we interact with contemporary art, and how we receive information about art as it unfolds before our eyes.
Initially I was skeptical of Instagram’s infiltration of museums and replacement of the traditional artist website. The low-fi filters seemed like a tacky bastardization of the history of photography, a pathetic imitation of Lomography and traditional Type C printing. Apart from the dubious quality of imitating the analogue aesthetic with a smartphone, it also appeared to be a giant exercise in narcissism bread specifically for a selfie-riddled demographic who possess an unbridled neurotic case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
Instead, I think Instagram has the potential to open up how we access contemporary art, and access new audiences and viewers which we couldn’t do previously.
Easily the most redeeming feature of Instagram is it’s ability to enable people to interact with art in new ways. Instead of going to stand in front of a Van Gogh and snap a photo on your 1 megapixel digital camera, we now snap a photo and post it on Instagram. To view this exercise as redundent is cynical: it’s facilitating the spread of art across varying mediums that mean we are still looking at, and interacting with an artist (for example, Van Gogh,) who has now been dead for 124 years.
If it helps art reach a wider audience, and induces conversation about what we look at (and why), then it is a good contribution to the canon of art. To dismiss sharing through Instagram as limiting or flattening is missing the point, if anything, it’s expanding the conversation around contemporary art.
Ultimately, snapping artwork and grammin’ it means more people will view the artwork, which is always a good thing. If we can have conversations (IRL or online) about viewing art, then something is working. After Anish Kapoor’s mirror artworks went on an international tour of art galleries, Instagram was flooded with selfies viewers had taken in front of the pieces. And while this is trite and self-indulgent, it does increase the amount of eyeballs on challenging contemporary art.
As Instagram adjusts our traditional relationship with finished artworks, to be a passive viewer or spectator, it also adjusts our relationship with museums and institutions. The New Yorker often lends it’s Instagram account out to staff, artists, writers and cartoonists to capture New York through their eyes, if only for a day or two. The Brooklyn Museum, a long time champion of casual-cool installation art, has embraced Instagram to invigorate a stale relationship most museum-goers have with large tomb-like art institutions.
It’s this break in the fourth wall, in the designed surface, that is frankly refreshing. The idea of press releases and artist websites are becoming an antiquated formality. Instagram is an exciting view inside the process of an artist disturbs the traditional stereotype of the artist as a solo genius that produces completely resolved bodies of work is a rewarding insight It lends another creative agency to artists that are often flattened by press releases and website biographies written awkwardly in the third person.
As we don’t clearly know the future for Instagram after it’s buyout by Facebook, we do know that it’s changed how we interact with other artists and particularly museums in what I see as an exciting (rather than debilitating) way. If you haven’t already, check out this post for some amazing artists to follow.
[Header image: “L’Infinito by victorisbeard]