DIVERSIFYING ART SHARING: Instagram curators and the future of exhibition-making in the wake of Frieze London

Text by Hannah Nussbaum

Featuring a heavily stylized and plasticized body of contemporary art, with an emphasis on visceral textures, impossible colors, and objects and images that all somehow feel like bodies,@love.watts is one of a handful of new digital curators using Instagram to stage globalized, accessible, and instantaneous art fairs. With over a million followers, love.watts has significant power. As an artist, to be given a shout out on love.watts is to be connected to vast pool of collectors and curators eyes, who have moved to Instagram to not only find new work, but also to make purchases or barter vis a vis DMs.

untitled-1 untitled-2

When a market evolves towards more of a digital presence, something is inevitably gained, and something inevitably lost. With the translation of the art market to a digital space, there is certainly a greater degree of access granted. People previously unable to experience or partake in the often insular contemporary art world are now privy to its ideas. Emerging artists have a more feasible avenue towards gaining recognition – one not so reliant on contacts or expensive academic badges.

And this new model of art sharing enlivens the vague post-nineties claim that art has become borderless and genre-less. With intellectual and aesthetic leakage an inevitable aftermath of immediate access to the portfolios of thousands of artists, ideas are more rapidly transmitted. They evolve and are re-appropriated more swiftly. They are de- and re- contextualised in ways that give rise to new work entirely (read: meme art). There is also a more fundamentally sped up process by which utopian, bizarre or non-normative aesthetic proposals can be digested and perhaps accepted by the wider public.

But it’s also worth thinking about the ways in which the digital curator – specifically the Instagram curator – has produced or encouraged a flattening of work. There is certainly a sense of sameness to much of the work on the love.watts feed ( see here ) , probably because it has all been reduced to small squares, color corrected, and meticulously framed. The images feel a bit like folded shirts at a boutique with impossibly good lighting. There is a junk food quality – a shininess that begs questions about what the art looks like, and what its intentions are, without the wrapping of an Instagram filter and format.

It’s not just the digital curator implicit in this flattening. Artists themselves certainly have new considerations they must take into account when making a piece: how will this image or object translate into a tiny square, and how instantaneous will its gratification be to scrolling eyes? And then there’s the question of art images being rapidly picked up and used by the “creative economy:” the process of sub-cultural ideas or images being commodified is at a kinetic pitch. Surely the Instagram curator has only fostered this process.

These considerations are all set up nicely against the backdrop of last week’s Frieze art fair, one of the worlds most cutting-edge contemporary art events, staged (live) annually since 2003 in Londons Regents Park. The primary purpose of Frieze is certainly to sell work — millions of dollars worth of work, flipped from the hip and moneyed to the hip and moneyed. It draws an elite network of galleries, critics, curators, collectors, dealers, and artists. The contrast to the love.watts feed (which incidentally exhibits some of the same work) is obvious. While one is accessible, the other sells out weeks in advance, and functions as a sort of see-and-be-seen event that is in certain ways less about art, and more about making investments and enacting sophistication.

If love.watts perhaps flattens work, Frieze does quite the opposite. Over the past decade, the event has distinguished itself through staging immersive spectacles, performances and installations, effectively collapsing the event – and its design and layout – with the art itself being sold. Last week, the participating galleries combined to form a mosaic of installations, where curating and sales became a mode of art-making outside of and above, but indentured to, the art itself.

An intriguing example: the most recent Frieze fair saw its toilettes transformed into an art intervention, with artist Julie Verhoeven performing an ambiguously gendered, disorderly looking washroom attendant who dutifully served bemused fair-goers in the garishly decorated washrooms. Certainly no amount of editing or captioning could translate such a work to the walls of an Instagram square.

All this said, it seems totally futile to make any dire or certain statements about the future of curating or exhibition making in 2016. As new spaces open up for art sharing, older ones will certainly fill gaps. Information lost in one space will be translated elsewhere. Surely there is no cap on how much art can be shared, and with what tactics.