Have smartphones/social media ruined the gallery experience?

One of the things that I could not help notice during my experience at the Yayoi Kusama exhibition in the Victoria Miro gallery was the presence of smart phones.

The exhibition involved going into several small gallery spaces with three or fewer people for less than a minute. For many people this time limit meant that they had to have their phones and cameras ready so as to capture under intense time pressure. Whilst I do admit that I too was tempted to take some photos with the intention of uploading them onto social media, after witnessing this frenzy of smartphones at the ready I questioned why it is I felt the need to join in, and be part of the swarm of outstretched arms.

There are many positives to taking photographs in art galleries such as in order to preserve the memory of the experience. Taking pictures that are then uploaded directly to social media can also help increase the online presence of less well-known artists. Whilst undoubtedly there are pros to taking photographs in galleries there are also several cons to the action.

Taking the perfect photograph, particularly one ‘suitable’ for social media requires a certain amount of concentration which can often mean that you miss intimate details in the art that the artist has spent much time slaving upon. Constantly having your phone or camera out can also have a negative effect of the experience of those around you; they did not come to an exhibit to stare at the work through your phone camera.

In the Yayoi Kusama exhibit specifically the use of camera phones actually severely damaged one of the installations. In All of the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, a mirrored room filled with black and yellow glass pumpkins, someone was taking a photograph and took a step backwards landing directly onto one of Kusama’s pumpkins resulting in a short closure of the installation. Others who had spent over an hour waiting to enter the exhibition were told that they would no longer be able to. As a result there are now numerous signs around the exhibition space telling visitors to be wary of their surroundings when they are taking photographs, which struck me as something that should in theory be unnecessary.

The same can be said for music concerts. Last week I went to see Rihanna in concert at Wembley. After queuing for six hours I ended up behind a young man who spent the entire concert Snapchatting every single one of her songs. I felt like shaking him and saying “Did you really spend sixty quid on a good Snapchat story!?”

When you next whip out your camera at an exhibition, take a moment to ask yourself why you are doing it; are you taking a picture to preserve the memory, or to upload it on social media and therefore for social gratification and to ramp up the likes?.

I’m not saying that either or both of them are wrong I just think it is worth considering, especially in something like the Yayoi Kusama exhibition which is a once in a lifetime experience, that you could be unintentionally wasting behind your hand held device.

Look at the world through your eyes, not through the camera of the latest smartphone. You’ll be happy you took a moment to take your surroundings in, not aimlessly snap away, in the long run.

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