During my stay in Finland, I managed to visit the HAM (Helsinki Art Museum) and see Yayoi Kusama’s solo show at some point. The exhibition was recommended by a friend and I have seen many pictures of the show on social media already. I knew very little of Kusama at that point since I have only seen documentation of her early performances during a photography exhibition at the TATE. Even now I would not consider myself as an expert on her body of work either.
The main reason why I am writing this comment is an online article published on Dazed Digital (original article here) that I came across with this morning. During a show in LA a visitor broke one of Kusama’s squash sculptures while trying to take the perfect picture in her infinity room – which led to a ban for photography in general proposed by the artist herself.
While I do agree that damaging an art piece is highly disrespectful and also very stupid if you did it for the sake of a private picture, I got very surprised by the comments to the Facebook post of Dazed and Confused Magazine (here). I should have been aware that reading user comments on Facebook is upsetting in the first place but here we are.
Many users made nasty and patronizing comments about how people like that specific visitor are not approaching art the right way. One person stated:
“ART IS MEANT TO BE EXPERIENCED NOT A FUCKING BACKDROP TO YOUR INSECURITIES!”
I know that I am overthinking things right now since I doubt that any of the users ever cared for Art education or communication of Art (Kunstvermittlung). After spending my weekend at Hamburger Bahnhof and discussing ways to approach art with children I perplex on how conservative admires of contemporary art can be.
What is wrong with taking a selfie?
So, first of all, I want to make clear that I think the act of mindlessly taking pictures is annoying as well. Rather than looking with your own eyes, people choose to quickly take a picture instead. Got it. Agree. However, should we not be thankful that the people made it into the museum in the first place? Who gives you the right to tell others how to look at or experience art?
The idea that art is solely for the self-proclaimed intellectuals and excluding people who do not fulfil their standards is making me sick. Does this mean I am not supposed to see the show because among different aspects I enjoyed the aesthetics of Kusama’s work the most?
While my own personal approach on art might be more similar to one of the intellectuals I do have many friends who are not familiar with or used to the museum space. For them taking a selfie in front of a famous painting is their way to enjoy the visit and I am glad they have fun.
The idea that there are a right and a wrong way to approach art is based on the fact that each and every person perceives the surrounding in the same way, which is bullshit on so many levels. Every visitor is an individual and has their own way of dealing with the exhibition. Children will probably deal with these yellow glowing squashes differently and enjoy other aspects than an art student. Neither of their approaches is better or worse.
“those people are useless!
they don’t fucking know that her artworks are the result of a real anguish pain she used to experience since she was young..
just stop the use of phones inside”
If standing in the infinity room taking a selfie makes me aware of the beauty and atmosphere of this installation, why should I not take my phone inside? If being a cool backdrop is all I can take from that artwork, what is so bad about it? At least I did make it to the exhibition and I did support the museum and artist. What exactly is making your approach better than mine?
As an art student myself I can say that most of the people will not understand your art piece the way you see it anyway. Knowing the biography of the artist and the circumstances of a piece will help you appreciate it but I doubt that your interpretation is exactly what the artist meant. Therefore it is not more valid or justified than any other interpretation.
“Makes you wonder, what people actually go to exhibitions for… The selfie/image, or for the exhibitions itself.”
“Neither. It’s all for attention. Even being at that location is for attention. There is no interest in anything else but vanity.”
Patronizing comments of the self-proclaimed intellectuals are a sign of the problematic class-thinking, believing that some people are worth more than others. It is very ironic that admirers of Kusama, an artist who embraced diversity and had troubles with conservative values herself, cling to such an outdated concept. But then again, we live in a time where street art is placed in museums and former criticizers of capitalism such as Yayoi Kusama herself are now working with the fashion industry.