The pandemic forced art galleries to rethink how they could reach their audiences. For decades, it had been as simple as opening the doors to your beautiful space and letting the visitors, collectors and art lovers flock to your exhibitions. But around the world, those doors were now forcibly closed - and in many cases still are. So how do you celebrate your artists when no one can come see their art?
Many major galleries turned to new projects like podcasts - Lisson Gallery, for example - or streaming talks on platforms such as Clubhouse - like Carlos/Ishikawa. But the most popular tool by far was Instagram. It makes sense: the photo sharing social media app is almost custom-built for art, it puts the image at the forefront of any conversation its users want to have, it’s a gallery in your hand. If it’s good enough for sharing pictures of your most recent dinner, it’s probably good enough for sharing art.
The pandemic saw major galleries like Pace and White Cube embrace the platform like never before, majorly upping the amount of content posted, doing takeovers by artists and curators, as well as livestreams and talks. It’s not quite as good as seeing art in the flesh, obviously, but it’s a close second.
But some projects have taken a more head-on approach to using the platform for art. Freeze Magazine, for example, is a meme account - it creates and shares humorous, satirical images, poking constant fun at the art world for its avarice and pomposity. It’s a fun, engaging Instagram account. But it also hosts a series of Instagram exhibitions called ‘Curated Playlists’, where guests are invited to choose images of album covers for a digital exhibition, according to whatever themes the curator chooses. Curators included incredible younger artists like Christine Sun Kim and Lindsey Mendick, alongside more established names like Mira Calix and curators like Wade Wallerstein.
Even more interesting is London’s Guts Gallery, a project founded with the initial aim of curating Instagram-only exhibitions. For their first shows in 2020, they set official opening dates for one-night only exhibitions and released the images on the platform in timed intervals to mimic the feeling of attending a private view and encountering the works one by one. Unlike Freeze Magazine, Guts Gallery’s works were also for sale. Guts therefore used Instagram as a gallery in the truest sense - a way of not just celebrating art but selling it too. Guts has now gone on to host Instagram exhibitions featuring up and coming artists alongside more established names like Nan Goldin and Shezad Dawood, where the proceeds from the sales of the bigger artists’ works go to the younger artists. The future for them seems to include physical exhibitions, so they’re moving beyond the Instagram model towards becoming a more traditional art gallery, but Instagram has been essential to their early development.
The benefits to this social media approach are clear: no rent on expensive spaces and a massive potential audience. There are clear benefits for buyers too: you get to scroll through an exhibition with the ease you would scroll through a good friend’s holiday photos, while also being able to directly message both the gallery and the artists, should you be interested in collecting the art on display.
As the world opens up post-pandemic, the desire for Instagram-only exhibitions may wane, but young creatives have proved that social media platforms like Instagram are weapons that can be wielded as sharply as any other in the traditional art world.
Interviewed by: Eddy Frankel, author of ARTE Generali