Archive for December, 2017

Art is a Backdrop for Selfies

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

A couple of days ago I finally gave in and visited the broad museum of contemporary art in downtown LA, featuring Yayoi Kusama’s popular retrospective.

The broad —as LA locals fondly call it— is the most successful manifestation I’ve encountered of the museum experience redefined as a shopping mall and amusement park for the masses. In order to keep a steady throughput, visitors were only allowed thirty seconds inside each installation, and a busy staff made sure the long lines of people kept moving at a healthy pace. In the meantime, most of the crowd was invested in finding cool spots for their selfies, both to proof they were there, and as a testament to their creativity when adding their own selves to the art (or the art to their own self image?).

Mesmerized by these behavior, I ran a quick web search on “museum selfie” and found everything from instructions on how to take the best selfie, to why you shouldn’t take any selfies at all. Online, opinions seemed to be split, but in the real world of the broad museum everybody was having the time of their lives photographing themselves against Kusama’s polka dotted infinite patterns.

An arbitrary rule allowed for picture taking everywhere except for one installation called Pumpkin Room. Why ban photos only there? Why not just ban photos altogether? It turns out the reason can be tracked to an incident where some careless visitor damaged the installation while pushing the boundaries of their own selfie-taking enterprise. Perhaps influenced by TSA safety logic, somebody decided to protect the installation from any more damage by prohibiting pictures to be taken inside it. Because once an accident had happened inside a specific installation, the TSA laws of probability dictate that future accidents will also happen at the same installation. All other installations were safe and required no protection against selfies.

Somewhere along the tour I read on one of these walls an artist statement ——let’s call it the Kusama Paradox—— claiming that the art will push audiences to let go of their sense of self and commune with the universe through the experience of infinity inside one of those mirror rooms, but what i saw was exactly the opposite. Most people at Kusama’s exhibit were granted a mere thirty seconds inside each installation that they spent framing the art as a backdrop for the promotion of their own self image in social media.

Update May 2018: I recently stumbled upon this article covering an installation exhibit in a Museum-like facility called Rabbit Town, whose only purpose is to provide its costumers with art-like backdrops where they can photograph themselves. Here is a relevant quote:

It’s a natural evolution that reflects a change in how people find value in art: If you go to a museum to find a good backdrop for a photo, that backdrop is a product. And when a piece of art becomes a popular product, the knockoffs can’t be far behind.