March 1, 2017

Instgrammable Infinity Mirrors

Ramanathan’s argument—that Instagram-obsessed crowds are ruining the museum experience for the true art-lovers—has become an increasingly common refrain among critics as more and more museums embrace experiential, immersive exhibits. DC saw its fair share of them in the past few years: “The Beach” and “Icebergs” at The National Building Museum, “SONG1″ at the Hirshhorn, and of course, “Wonder” at the Renwick Gallery, which inspired a wave of think-pieces on whether social media-friendly exhibits are “good for art.”

Meanwhile, these “Instagrammable” exhibits are attracting the most diverse group of people that the traditional art world has ever seen, bringing people into museums who might otherwise not set foot inside them. They’re also breathing new life into the museums, themselves. During its eight-month run, “Wonder” brought in about 732,000 viewers. Annual attendance before “Wonder” was about 150,000. “Something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime was a line around the block to get into an art museum,” says Nicholas Bell, the curator behind “Wonder.” The bump in attendance also means more people are likely return to the museums for less splashy shows.

Washingtonian reports on the Instagrammable exhibition Infinity Mirrors at the Renwick. The attendance figures in the last paragraph make the case for me. Art needs to be drawn from the experience of the audience. The last ticketed exhibition I attended was an exhibition of Vermeer paintings at The National Gallery of Art. It was crowded, unpleasantly so, and if it hadn't been so long ago, I'm sure I would have grabbed a selfie or posted to Instagram. And, come to think of it, I've been following DC's National Gallery, London's National Gallery, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Louvre at Instagram for some time. I'm likely ever to see only two of those. It's time these "serious" art critics realized that social media has an important role to play in keeping art vital.