A new form of art museum is popping up in major cities all over America. Dubbed the Instagram Museums, these spaces display immersive art displays in themed rooms, designed to produce the perfect Instagram selfie or boomerang. Hearing this, the obnoxious humanities student in me wants to rant about how the idea of tailoring art to Instagram cheapens it to a merely aesthetic object, devoid of meaning or history, and how the popularity of these new museums threatens more traditional art museums. But I’ll try to resist that for the moment.
Museum of Feeling
I do believe there is genuine artistic merit in these new museums. For one thing, the idea of having artistic instillations that use an entire rom as a space is by no means a new concept. Installation art started in the 1960s, and famous installation artists pioneered this art form to challenge ideas of what art was, through bringing a theatricality of participation to art galleries. For example, Olafur Eliasson used coloured glass and mirrors to produce light that changed depending on your location in the room, encouraging the viewer to move throughout. Yayoi Kusama created her famous “Infinity Rooms” in 1965. Despite the rooms being designed long before even the Internet, there were so many Instagrams of them when they were put on display by the Hirshhorn Museum in 2017, that the museum saw membership rates increase by 6,566%. Installation art is most interested in producing an interactive experience with the viewer. As installation artist Ilya Kabakov said; “The main actor in the total installation, the main centre toward which everything is addressed, for which everything is intended, is the viewer.”
Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Room
Arguably Instagram simply offers an extension of the viewers’ agency, not only is the viewer free walk through the art, but with Instagram, they choose how to frame it. It’s art that reproduces itself in endless variation. Just go on the Instagram tags for ‘Museum of Feelings’, ‘Museum of Icecream’, ‘The Dream Machine’, and ‘Color Factory’ for examples of the same room captured from different angles, with different lighting, or different filters.
But, photo-taking fundamentally changes the nature of your art experience. These museums market themselves in providing immersive experiences, like the Museum of Feelings’ website, which talks about “people interact[ing] with each other and the installation to turn everyday emotions into live art.” But ultimately, if you’re going with the intention of taking photos to post on Instagram, you’re subconsciously taking part in a different experience altogether. You’re not necessarily experiencing the exhibition, but the possible anxiety of self-presentation; the pressure of getting that perfect shot you paid $40 for (the price of entry into the Instagram-style Museum of Icecream). This is actually supported by a recent experiment carried out by Professor Alixandra Barasch at NYU, which studied how groups rated enjoyment of a day at an art gallery based on whether they were tasked with taking pictures for social media or not.
Museum of Icecream
These ‘Instagram Museums’ aren’t actually museums. They don’t curate anything lasting, and even though the items inside them can be considered art, they are not the ultimate focus. They are simply the playground and inspiration for the digital ‘Museum’ of Instagram itself and the individual, highly curated, collection that forms each person’s account.