Take a picture, itâll last longer: In defense of the Art Fair selfie

Snapshot: Visitors at this year’s Art Fair Philippines.

Take a picture, it’ll last longer: In defense of the Art Fair selfie

PLATFORMS - Arianna Mercado (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2018 - 12:00am

When I was still studying, following Art Fair Philippines week, many of my classes often began with this opener: “What did you think of the Art Fair?”

Some of my classmates, of course, talked about the works and what they found interesting. But one thing I noticed was the prevailing disapproval of the crowd Instagramming or taking selfies with the works on exhibit. I had agreed with them then. It was frustrating to see hoards of people blocking the way just to take a photo with a work that looked like it could be a good backdrop for #cultured #art. Suffice to say, we ended up having lengthy sessions unpacking how a person should respect art. But I suppose that itself raises even more questions: why do we have to “respect” art? And why are we so bent on ensuring that people don’t take selfies with it?

This year, Art Fair Philippines took an online initiative for art etiquette, especially as the crowd for the fair continues to grow. Among this campaign included some gentle reminders for visitors such as do not touch the art or be mindful about your belongings. They didn’t list that selfies are discouraged, but somehow, this secret rule always seems to creep up in discussions.

Taking selfies in front of artworks inevitably pose a threat, as works are prone to be touched or bumped. There are countless reasons for why we shouldn’t touch artwork. For the most part, the oils in our fingers cause artwork to deteriorate over time. This is why art handlers and professionals use gloves when transporting works. In the same way, a viewer can unknowingly knock over something with a bulky backpack and cause damage. But aside from standing too close to a work, what could be the logical reason for discouraging selfie takers and Instagrammers?

Our discussions in class often took a turn to talk about how art has to be looked at to be appreciated and that people should spend at least 30 seconds with a work to properly appreciate it. Lengthy stares at works somehow connote respect and all else seemed to be disrespectful. Instagramming or taking selfies with artwork thus cheapened the work, as viewers hardly spend the time to look at it as it “should be looked at,” only sparing a mere 15 seconds to take a photo with it.

It feels a little bit off base to shame or look disapprovingly at people who take selfies with works for that reason. In a way, taking photos of and with the work is a way to remember and promote it. Perhaps some are used as backgrounds for OOTDs, but in the end, most art is used as backdrop and decor in houses as well. Everyone appreciates artwork differently, and maybe some visitors aren’t doing much reading on the artist or artwork, but is the Art Fair really the place to be making an art theoretical impact on a person?

I suppose sometimes we forget that while Art Fair provides a platform to galleries and artists to exhibit in one carpark, ultimately the main goal of art fairs is to sell. This is not new; art has always been a business endeavor. For art to survive, it needs patronage. The main target demographic for art fairs is not the regular visitor (while they are welcome, of course), but collectors — people who are already interested in buying works, and presumably know a little bit about art. While the Art Fair conducts tours within the grounds, it is not primarily an educational event, and most booths don’t even provide the viewer with wall text or any curatorial framework to supplement the works.

I find that the Art Fair is a good start for people to get into art. There is continued interest in art in Manila; we can see this with the number of visitors. But I don’t think that Art Fair is the endpoint to art appreciation in the country. For me, I don’t see a reason why artists, gallerists, or fellow Art Fair goers would be upset over someone Instagramming or taking photos with their works — it’s a clear sign that they’re interested in them, at least on a surface level. And I suppose it’s a way to take the work home without having spent anything.

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Arianna Mercado is the recipient of the 2017 Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Award for Art Criticism — which is presented by the Kalaw-Ledesma Foundation Inc. [KLF], Ateneo Art Gallery [AAG], and The Philippine STAR.

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