Tabish Khan the @LondonArtCritic loves art and visits hundreds of exhibitions a year. But every now and then he comes across something in the art world that doesn’t meet his approval.
If you go to exhibitions today the watch words are ‘immersive’ or ‘experience’. Many visitors no longer want art on walls or artefacts in vitrines, they want an experience that is something that can’t be replicated on a screen. Given we’re now always on a screen of some kind, primarily our phones, that doesn’t seem like an unfair ask given tickets for exhibitions can exceed £20.
It’s why it’s so hard to get a ticket for the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Rooms at Tate Modern currently, while this level of popularity wasn’t seen for her larger 2012 show that also contained infinity rooms and more works.
For me, Kusama’s work has a deeper meaning behind it around self-obliteration and evoking a sense of wonder about the universe. I’m not so naïve as to believe every visitor will get the same sense of wonder, and many will simply be after the perfect mirror selfie. However, the exhibition does talk about Kusama’s philosophy and if visitors come for the selfies and take away something deeper then that’s ideal as it’s how art should be reaching people and something I strongly believe in about art being for everyone.
The flipside is there’s now experiences where the ‘exhibition’ element is side lined in favour of the selfie opportunities, as I saw at the Bob Marley experience at Saatchi Gallery. A few rooms contain memorabilia, but the rest is all about getting the perfect photo – whether it’s sitting on a swing next to his lyrics in neon or posing with a carboard guitar with one of three backdrops.
Even the room about his love of football is dominated by a goal and some table football sets and pinball machines, detracting from the photos on the wall of Marley playing the beautiful game.
I love Marley’s music but didn’t know much about the man going in, and know little more after exiting the experience. While there’s fun to be had through the games and silent disco, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for more about his life.
It feels like the message of positivity in his music, which was an important part of it, has been deemed the most relevant to the Instagram generation and so the experience focuses on that and doesn’t mention anything about his wider politics. I’m no Marley expert but I don’t think he’d be a fan of the fact you have to pay £26 for such a lightweight show, and double that for access to a VIP room.
The Bob Marley experience isn’t the only example of these style over substance exhibitions as Superblue at Burlington Gardens is an other example – though at least that isn’t really trying to be anything more than simply a fun experience, though it is pricey at £11 a ticket for what’s essentially one room. If you want a successful version of combining experience with exhibition then head to Canada Water for Titanic: The Exhibition which blends plenty of information and history with cinematic nods.
Now you may ask what’s wrong with lightweight experiences as long as people enjoy them and know what they’re getting going into them? Well, those of us steeped in the art world’s machinations may know that galleries are often rented out to exhibitions, including the Saatchi Gallery, but to the wider public they will come to galleries expecting shows of a certain calibre and willing to pay for it – only experiencing buyers regret after their visit.
I’m a big believer in experiences helping people to engage with art and history, but the former at the expense of the latter delivers a dumbed down experience that feels like the art equivalent of Love Island – you may enjoy parts of it, but you’ll feel emptier after and hate yourself for it.
For more in this series, see my thoughts on commercial as a dirty word, new galleries opening in London, video art at home, the Hockney roundel, art finds a way, art being free, Online exhibitions, Turner Prize 2019, artist’s request for feedback, the reaction to the shredded Banksy, #FriezeWeek, Blockchain hype, Finding art, Private views, Art itself, Appointment only exhibitions, Artificial Intelligence replacing artists, Everyone’s a Critic, Photo London, The Turner Prize, Art for art’s sake, Conceptual art is complicated, Condo, How performance art is presented in museums, Frieze week floozies, too much respect for an artist’s legacy, opinions not being welcome, an exhibition across three countries, tackling race and gender in art, artist-curators, art fair hype, top 5s and top 10s, our political art is terrible, gap left by Brian Sewell, how art never learned from the Simpsons, why artspeak won’t die, so-called reviews, bad reviews are bad for business, the $179m dollar headline, art fairs appealing to the masses, false opening hours, size matters and what’s wrong with video art.