Exploring That Timeless Question: Is an Art Show About the Art or the Selfies?

Yeah, sure, it looks great, but can I take a selfie in front of it?

by Galatia Puspasani
22 June 2018, 12:45pm

All photos by author 

This article originally appeared on VICE ID.

Bonang Setoaji pointed his camera at the fake clowns hanging from the ceiling. The installation, part of Yogyakarta's annual ARTJOG, by Heri Dono was titled "Enlightenment." He stared at the clowns, deep in thought, trying to find the correct angle to take a photo. But after each press of the shutter, he stared at the resulting frame dissatisfied. His friends, eager to take more selfies amongst the art, wandered off, leaving Bonang behind.

He later rejoined them at an installation by Popok Tri Wahyudi for a wefie. He stared at the art and said it wasn't all that interesting. For him, it was just a bunch of ropes braided together.

“My friends brought me here," he told me. "One of my them just arrived in Yogyakarta, and they asked me to keep them company."

This is what it's like in Indonesia's art scene today. Art shows are as much about the selfies as they are the actual art, a fact that set off a small-scale culture war between curators, art lovers, and selfie aficionados earlier this month after since-disproven claims that selfie-obsessed visitors had damaged an installation by renowned artist Yayoi Kusama at Jakarta's new MACAN museum.

MACAN staff eventually said that no artworks were damaged during the exhibition, but that didn't stop the flurry of social media opinions and think-pieces about selfie culture and museum etiquette from taking over our feeds. Is Indonesia's selfie obsession a breach of a museum code of conduct, or is it just how we consume art in 2018?

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Is an exhibition really popular if it's not trending? Does it even matter?

I hit ARTJOG with one purpose in mind: to document what it looks like to see an art show today. I'm leaving them here, without comment, to let you, the readers, decide. Is this just what we do now, or should museums remain quiet, somber places reserved for reflection about art?