Tabish Khan the @LondonArtCritic loves art and visits hundreds of exhibitions a year. But every now and then he comes across something in the art world that doesn’t meet his approval.
We’ve all seen stories of horrifically inappropriate selfies or photographs, with people mindlessly posing in Chernobyl or on the tracks leading into Auschwitz. While people posing with artworks in galleries and museums isn’t anything new, it’s usually done in good taste and to promote the exhibition in question – and I’ve been known to indulge in it myself.
However, as I was leaving the brilliant ‘In the black fantastic’ exhibition at Hayward Gallery I turned around to take one last glance at the show, and I saw someone having their photograph taken in front of a work – not an abnormal sight at a major art exhibition. But in this case the person in question was a young blonde white woman taking centre stage in a show that’s all about centring black voices, and that felt deeply inappropriate. A quick location search on Instagram highlights that she clearly isn’t the only person who has done the same.
Now while I didn’t get to speak to her, as I was rushing to another exhibition, I imagine she didn’t realise how inappropriate her snap was. She was doing what a lot of people on social media do, where they treat art like a tropical beach – a nice backdrop for a feed that’s largely about themselves.
When an exhibition is about bringing under-represented voices to the fore, posing in front of work moves from harmless narcissism to offensive. What’s worrying is the obliviousness of the behaviour, after all to address a problem people need to realise there is one in the first place — and the difficulty is that some people won’t realise why this is problematic.
As for how to address this issue I wonder if there needs to be signage at the entrance of the exhibition that marks out the intent of the show and for people to keep that in mind when taking photos, selfies in particular? I’ve seen signs at the entrance of exhibitions which show hashtags and how to post about the show on social media, so this could replace such signs.
Now I’m not convinced signage will fully address this issue, after all those oblivious of the context of selfies are often oblivious of other things including signs, but at least it should give some visitors pause for thought.
For more in this series, see my thoughts on it’s air conditioned, why everyone is wrong about NFTs, poor press releases, experience as art, commercial as a dirty word, new galleries opening in London, video art at home, the Hockney roundel, art finds a way, art being free, Online exhibitions, Turner Prize 2019, artist’s request for feedback, the reaction to the shredded Banksy, #FriezeWeek, Blockchain hype, Finding art, Private views, Art itself, Appointment only exhibitions, Artificial Intelligence replacing artists, Everyone’s a Critic, Photo London, The Turner Prize, Art for art’s sake, Conceptual art is complicated, Condo, How performance art is presented in museums, Frieze week floozies, too much respect for an artist’s legacy, opinions not being welcome, an exhibition across three countries, tackling race and gender in art, artist-curators, art fair hype, top 5s and top 10s, our political art is terrible, gap left by Brian Sewell, how art never learned from the Simpsons, why artspeak won’t die, so-called reviews, bad reviews are bad for business, the $179m dollar headline, art fairs appealing to the masses, false opening hours, size matters and what’s wrong with video art.