Pictures At An Exhibition

Interaction Through Robert Irwin's installation at Art Basel, Unlimited 2015 © Jan Oberg 2015
Interaction Through Robert Irwin’s installation at Art Basel, Unlimited 2015 © Jan Oberg 2015

I’m an art “consumer” and love to go seeing exhibitions, fairs, studios and museums. I don’t know when it began but I suddenly got the idea that all of what is going on in these spaces is interesting – not just the art works on show.

I began to explore whether it would be possible to see them as interiors, or stages, where a lot of interaction and “acting” was taking place – with me as an observer but also still a participant.

Exhibitions – big international fairs in particular – are shows in shows: people dress up, play the roles (sometimes) as elite connoisseurs – or are there to show off, be seen and interact with each other. They take pictures of the works with their smart phones – indeed, it seems now to be the dominating way to perceive art – and I take pictures of them doing just that.

Gallery booths can be seen as theatrical stages. Installations sometimes cry for people to participate, walk around in the set, explore what is behind a curtain or door. Bodies move around and provide constantly changing “installations” – sculptural settings or narratives.

We live in a time when art people seemingly are looking more for getting an experience like in a theme park than, perhaps, sitting down in silence and contemplate what is the meaning of the art piece or art as such and what it tells us about our society and our times.

Visitors consume – sometimes in very fast, scanning ways – so much so that you wonder whether they ever really see the art work in front of them, not to speak of try to understand it in a deeper way.

One gets the feeling that the seeing experience is turned into a movie-like zooming in and out. Fast! Faster! And on to the next!

Like you can be fascinated by street photography – which is also a bit voyeuristic – or landscapes, I think one can get indeed very curious about what is really going on when people meet art works of various kinds and in diverse milieus.

That is why I have taken a lot of pictures over the years at exhibtions and perceived them as theatre-like stages – rather than of the art works being exhibited.

I call these sketchy attempts Pictures At An Exhibition  – yes, the title is stolen from Mussorgski’s fine piece of music. I have uploaded them, not on my photo homepage – at least not yet – but at my platforms at Pinterest and Instagram. I am curious to see how people there react to this exploration.

And if you have been a visitors or gallery owner at, say, Art Basel or the Biennale in Venice, you may find yourself there!

Can pictures of such art-ificial settings become art beyond documentation?

Great artists like Eric Fischl, Thomas Struth and David Hockney seem to say “Yes”.

The idea of depicting people who watch art in various settings is nothing new, I haven’t invented a thing.

But I think the exploration is socially and culturally intriguing. And I believe images of those settings can become art pieces in and of themselves too. At least sometimes.

Five more reasons why I am spending quite some energy on this:

  1. The element of chance, of bodies moving in an out of my composition or angle (and not knowing they do).
  2. Object-subject: It’s quite bewildering when you are in the midst of a crowded show and you are both a part of the visitor group and try to understand it as an object outside your own presence.
  3. It tells us about our time – how the smart phones are changing everything – including how we see the world.
  4. The essential character of these milieus as temporary, as arranged, as being intensive for the duration of the exhibit and then dissolving, disappearing, never ever to be seen again. In short, by taking pictures there you preserve some bits of exhibition history.
  5. Documentation – like any other photo, if you looked at these picture 30 years from now (say 2050), you’d have some interesting views of what was on show there back in 2015, how we dressed, (inter)acted on the art stage and which kinds of art, artists and galleries were in focus.

There is, thus, an element of documentation in all this – at the same time as it is an ongoing on-the-spot exploration which I don’t intend to be documentary.

I exploit the opportunities and sometimes want to make it very clear that it’s not predominantly about documenting an exhibition and its visitors. I interpret these spaces as any other object, say street photography.

That’s why I allow myself to sometimes play with these raw shots and turn them into something else – like in these three examples:

“At An Exhibition With Dad” © Jan Oberg 2015
Untitled At Exhibition © Jan Oberg 2015
Untitled At Exhibition © Jan Oberg 2015
“Two Men At Exhibition” © Jan Oberg 2015

Welcome to many more Pictures At An Exhibition at Pinterest and Instagram

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