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Trend Museums around the globe attract increasing numbers of visitors who long to see, to experience and to expand their knowledge. And social media has become a full-scale broadcasting channel for the Museums and their visitors: they publish what they have seen, what they have learned – and what they looked like in the process. This concerns Catrin Lorch of the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

More and more people have taken to posing in Museums – in front of the Mona Lisa or modern sculptures. They post their photos on the Internet. How is this changing our perception of art?

she discusses the Twitter-initiated phenomenon #MuseumSelfie day.

“Can you do better?” asks the BBC’s website, showing a photograph of the Mona Lisa. A third of the photo, however, is taken up by a blonde man in a checked sweatshirt who stands squarely in the foreground, smiling genially. It is #MuseumSelfie day on Twitter, the microblogging service. The phenomenon is not new, to the extent that there is already a day for it. More and more people are standing in front of art in Museums, stretching their arms out as far as they can, and taking a picture of themselves with their smartphones. The art in the background is usually not only in plain view, but is also often humorously incorporated into the photo. Who exactly it was that declared last Wednesday to be #MuseumSelfie day could not be established, but Twitter was soon awash with snapshots of stuffed animals in front of columned entrances. People captured their reflections in the glass of display cases or, like one girl at the Art Institute of Chicago, made a piece of golden art float like a crown over her hair. Another positioned a shimmering gold Brancusi head over her shoulders. Selfies with paintings in the background were particularly profuse. A few stood in front of landscapes but most people competed directly with other portraits, leaving the old faces looking even more pallid in their lace collars. Art history and art criticism have extended the range of their critical eye to include contemporary visual media for a long time now – but rarely have they come across worlds as irreconcilable as those on display in the many photos. On the other hand, whoever encounters school classes in Museum halls today knows that wherever iPhones and Samsungs are forbidden, children would rather chain themselves to the gates with their phone chargers. If you expect galleries to be constructed in a user-friendly way, you should be wondering what exactly the case for suppressing communication in Museums is – where in a few years data glasses will no doubt document everything anyway. And it would probably now appear absurd to a whole generation to uncouple itself, ironically in its leisure time, from the data stream that it uses all day. Why in Museums of all places, where there is supposedly so much to see and discuss that can be uploaded to the information superhighway? In any case, it has been a long time since the 4 | SC Exhibitions Magazine 2014

by Catrin Lorch Photo: Yulia Mayorova / Shutterstock

“I Was There”

first image that one encountered at a Museum was the crossed out camera icon. Most German institutions allow photography in their collections; it only remains prohibited in special exhibitions, which mainly display pieces on loan – or where the artists are obstructive. While David Hockney insisted that even journalists sign complicated contracts a few years ago at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the younger generation is more inviting. The British artist Phil Collins, who recently built caravans fitted with screens there, wants as many visitors as possible to photograph and film them. Restrictions are imposed only

where the art is at risk – at the Museum Brandhorst in Munich there has been a ban on photography ever since someone knocked over Katharina Fritsch’s display stand full of Madonnas while taking a picture. The Frankfurt Städel Museum, on the other hand, maintains an avant-garde stance. Just hours before the start of #MuseumSelfie day, Director Max Hollein expounded on future prospects on a panel at Munich’s Digital-Life-Design Conference entitled “From Museum to Playstations”. There will be free wireless LAN access for all visitors at Hollein’s institution from the middle

of the year. “In the future, it will be possible for visitors to share their impressions, experiences or favourite works in the Museum itself via social networks,” he stated in the announcement. In addition, the Museum will open an Instagram account “so that the graphic medium becomes even more involved in communication with visitors”. The Kunsthalle Schirn, also directed by Hollein, scored a success last autumn by enabling visitors to the exhibition “Street Art Brazil” to post pictures via a hashtag and become part of a real-time photo wall in the foyer. It maintains its own channel on YouTube and smartphones and tablets are

welcome in the Städel Museum; only flash bulbs and tripods are not allowed past the door. Old photographic technology with artificial light and spindly equipment is dangerous for canvases and sculptures.

What are the photos about? “In pre-digital times, the artwork was the subject. Now it’s the visitors,” says a critic The model for the new openness in Germany for all things technological could have been a campaign by the New York Metropolitan Museum, which some years ago overwrote advertisements with the slogan “It’s Time We Met” and showed pictures of visitors who had photographed themselves in the Met. This could be interpreted as a direct invitation to upload your own lifestream to the parallel world of the Internet surrounded by Raphaels and Picassos just as casually as when wandering through a pedestrian zone in which some marketing promotion is taking place. American Museums don’t just have fewer reservations – for a while now, they have been counting on Museums becoming destinations where the emphasis is less on education and more about the treasure trove of paintings. The Metropolitan Museum now receives 6.5 million visitors a year and is thus the most important tourist destination in New York, a fact which the marketing strategists at European Museums will not have overlooked. Does Museum education benefit from this or just PR? The psychologist Linda Henkel, from Connecticut, has recently shown that students in Museums remember the pictures that they are not allowed to photograph better. For Eric Gibson, a writer for The New Criterion, it is not only individuals’ memory that is endangered, but Museums that open themselves up to selfies are damaged as a whole. People who send out self-portraits from the exhibition hall are no longer concerned about the art, he writes in a piece entitled “The Overexposed Museum”. “In pre-digital times, the work of art was the subject. Now it’s the visitors; the work of art is secondary.” The statement of such a souvenir photo is no longer “I have seen”, rather it is the

purely touristic “I was there”. And sure enough, especially around prominent paintings such as the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris, there are those who jostle in the waiting line only to spin around at the moment in which they are closest to the Gioconda and point the camera at themselves. Jan van Eyck, Raphael, Michelangelo and Dürer are merely arbitrary attractions to this audience, no different from the Eiffel Tower or the White House outside, writes Gibson, and for this very reason it is enough for these globetrotters to stop and contemplate art only for as long as they would any other milestone. This displeases Gibson on principle: like it or not, part and parcel of viewing art is that you actually look at the art and concentrate on it. Museums themselves, writes Gibson, have to insist that it is not just about the work, but also about a cultural practice that they have to instil in their visitors. In a concert hall or on the theatre stage one is likewise confronted with not only the performance, but, at the same time, with the etiquette too; how to behave from the seats to the stalls. Coughers should really leave, confectionary wrappers must not rustle and mobile phones have to be switched off. Museums “are also the guardians of something else: the experience of art. This is not pre-existing and cannot be taken for granted. It is the result of certain conditions imposed by an institution.” Can the Museum industry, which would rather focus on increasing visitor curves, be at all capable of that much antiquated reason on the occasions when it fixes its gaze on itself? The duration of visits – on average between ten and ninety minutes – is not included in these figures. New Museums such as the MAXXI in Rome, designed by veteran airport architect Zaha Hadid, have the flow of a quickly organized transit area. In the future, Max Hollein wants to draw a strict line separating concentrated silence in Museums and the expansion of the digital interface. “I’m very conservative. Smartphones should not be played with next to the paintings. But online we have the opportunity to go far beyond the physical limitations of the building.” All the same, Museums that go online can finally form a picture of their visitors. On Twitter. This article was first published at Süddeutsche Zeitung.

SC Exhibitions Magazine 2014 | 5

SC Exhibitions magazine 2014  

The very first edition of the annual SC Exhibitions magazine is out now. We are publishing it to tell you about our work and to connect wi...

SC Exhibitions magazine 2014  

The very first edition of the annual SC Exhibitions magazine is out now. We are publishing it to tell you about our work and to connect wi...