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The Insta-museums

  • Instagram is the new exhibition space breathing life into the relationship between the artist and the audience.
  • Over the past couple of years, Instagram is being used extensively by artists, institutions, collectors and gallerists to network and make connections across borders and demographics

‘There Was A Sky Before’ by Sitaram Swain
‘There Was A Sky Before’ by Sitaram Swain

For Mumbai-based Saloni Doshi, director, Space118, a few minutes of quietude before diving into the frenzy of the day means going through her Instagram feed. These moments allow her to stay connected with exhibitions across the world and, at times, reveal interesting work by hitherto unknown artists as well (Space118 offers studio spaces and month-long residencies to artists). “Until now, I had only discovered artists at fairs, biennales and at final year displays of art schools," she says. “But recently, I came across the work of artist Sitaram Swain on the Insta page of Delhi-based gallery Art District XIII." His unique rendition of clouds in cement fascinated her, after which she started following him on the image-sharing platform. “He is my Insta discovery," she says.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a rise in Instagram’s influence within the art world. It’s being used extensively by artists, institutions, collectors and gallerists to network and make connections across borders and demographics.

It is also being used to reach out to a section of the audience which earlier perceived the art space as intimidating. On Instagram, curators and artists are speaking in a language that this demographic connects with. “People are finding it easier to approach us. It also offers easy access to those who might not have my personal contact details," says Bhavna Kakar, founder, Delhi-based gallery Latitude28 and Take On Art magazine.

It is a view shared by Jagdip Jagpal, director, India Art Fair, who feels Instagram offers an opportunity to see art in a way which was not available earlier in the public sphere. The fair uses Instagram as a tool of outreach, making its page a one-stop-shop of information on exciting South Asianartists and shows taking place in the country and beyond. “It is a perfect companion to our website, where you can read more about those visuals and videos that you see on Instagram," she says.

'Transformation’ by Mahbubur Rahman. Photo: Blueprint12
'Transformation’ by Mahbubur Rahman. Photo: Blueprint12

It has also made the world a lot smaller for artists, who are now revelling in the open, democratic space that Instagram offers. Through the platform with 500 million+ daily active users, they can showcase the length and breadth of their practice, curating their page in a manner that they want. “Artists are spreading their wings across the world. For instance, I may be showing in Scotland and Dubai. But my Instagram page allows people, who can’t be physically present for my exhibition to see my work," says Swain, an Odisha-based installation artist who was Glenfiddich’s Emerging Artist of the Year 2017. He also uses his page as a space for experimentation, where he can offer a glimpse of his process. “My art depends on my immediate surroundings. Hence, I take loads of photos and post them on Instagram. It helps people understand how I am looking at things, and then interpreting them in my work," he adds.

For many, the appeal lies in the interactive nature of the platform. It’s not a one-sided visual soliloquy delivered by an artist or curator—rather, it takes the shape of an intimate conversation, replete with personal stories and anecdotes. “And also, because of the hashtags, you end up learning and discovering so much—interesting formats, artists and styles," says Anubhav Nath of Delhi’s Ojas Art Gallery.

Instagram is also slowly emerging as a new space for buying and selling art. According to a 2015 Artsy survey of collectors on Instagram, an incredible 51.5% had purchased works from artists they had originally discovered on Instagram. Artsy is an online resource for art collecting and education. “These is business conversion happening. It’s not like we are putting up prices of the artworks. But because art and Instagram are both visual mediums, they tend to draw people closer, who end up making enquiries then and there about the stuff they like," says Nath. In fact, recently a collector saw a work on the Instagram page of Ojas Art and wanted to commission a work to the artist immediately. The India Art Fair page too gets a fair share of queries, which are then passed on to galleries.

“Last year, in September, I put up all the works from the Space118 open studio on Instagram. The good thing was that a lot of it got sold on WhatsApp, after being viewed on Instagram. The bad thing was that a chunk of people didn’t turn up to see it physically," says Doshi. She ended up getting messages from buyers in Bangkok, Dubai, Hong Kong and Mumbai. In fact, all the works by artist Aaiushi Beniwal got sold, thanks to Instagram. “In 10 years of Space118, I have never had a sale such as this. Two things worked for us: the affordable price points and the trust in us as a platform," she says.

Mandira Lamba of BluePrint12, Delhi, was also witness to the potential of the platform while she was showing Mahbubur Rahman’s Transformation, at the Modern Art Museum, Shanghai. She uploaded an image of it on Instagram as well. “Within an hour of the show opening, someone saw my post, messaged on Instagram and the work got sold. Imagine the web of connections: the artist is in Bangladesh, the show is in Shanghai, the gallery is based in Delhi!" says Lamba. Latitude28 has also got several queries regarding the works showed as part of its recent show, Babur Ki Gai.

However, many feel the biggest advantage is the element of transparency Instagram has brought to the art market. According to Kolkata-based photographer Ronny Sen, the app has burnt all traditional bridges between the viewer and the creator. There is now a direct interaction, which is extremely liberating. “It’s also really good for artists who don’t have a gallery representation. It combines a fun element with a commercial aspect as well," says Kakar.

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