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Museums want you to photobomb their art

by Collin Friesen and The Frame Staff | The Frame

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Visitors at The Broad are encouraged to take photos of the art and post them to social media. Collin Friesen for KPCC

If you’ve been to a museum lately, you may have noticed a rule change. No, you still can’t touch the exhibits, but the rule against taking pictures of the art has largely gone by the wayside. We sent non-millennial contributor Collin Friesen to find out why these sometimes-stoic intuitions have lightened up on social media. Here's his report.

Hit The Hammer Museum on Wilshire, and the people at the front desk tell you the rules right up front.

“Here are your tickets, photography is allowed just don’t use flash…”

That’s a change from the way things were just a few years ago, where angry docents would spring into action at the mere sight of a camera. Now it’s open season, and for good reason.

“The user-generated content is almost more important than the content we share, because our reach only goes so far,” says Arielle Feldman, The Hammer’s assistant manager for digital communications. She says at first, there was some resistance to the change in policy.

“There was, as you can imagine, certain people feel one way, but for the most part, the institution wants to embrace however people want to experience museums, and some people want to walk around without their phones, and other people take pictures and share with their friends.”

Meanwhile, in downtown L.A. at The Broad, visitor Inez Ortiz says one of the reasons she came was because she had seen pictures other visitors posted of the famous Infinity Mirrored Room by artist Yayoi Kusama. With her camera out, she’s trying to figure the right filter for the photo she just took of a wall sized painting. Asked what she’ll do with the picture, she had a few answers.

“My Story on Instagram, and tag The Broad, like that. It looks cool, and I want people to look to see what I’m doing today.”

A few yards away, Christopher Bow is also getting his social media on undisturbed, which isn’t always the case at other museums. He says he’s been asked to put his camera away at plenty of other museums, but that doesn’t always stop him. He then mimics how he can avoid security with a no-look hip-level camera phone picture, nicely making the point that with the proliferation of these devices, museums would be hard pressed to stop the pictures even if they wanted to.

The Broad is among the art museums encouraging visitors to photobomb.
The Broad is among the art museums encouraging visitors to photobomb. KPCC

So better to join the fire-hose of free publicity where people using Snapchat – pictures that only appear for limited time – Instagram – just photos – Facebook – come on, you know Facebook and Knurdle  – the next big thing – can be a force multiplier for a museum’s ad budget.  

(By the way, Knurdle isn’t a social media app, I just made it up, but I bet some of you thought, wow, Knurdle, I really need to get that. See how fast this goes?)

The Getty and LACMA are also promoting themselves on Snapchat, with the Getty using song lyrics and lines from movies as captions for their pictures of art works, giving viewers that pop-culture, Old Masters synergy. Seriously though, they did one from the recent horror hit "Get Out" that’s worth a look.

But riding the free social media wave can be tricky. Some artists don’t want their work shared with a pithy caption underneath or tied-in to some National Random Animal Day.

“We have had one artist say, it was a picture of a cat,” explains Arielle Feldman from the Hammer.  “They said don’t post this art work on a cat day, the art work is not about the cat.”

There are also copyright issues that pop up, especially when one gallery loans works to another. But generally, if a museum owns the art, they carve out an exemption for what they call “personal use,” which means splash it all over your multiple feeds, just don’t turn it into a poster and try to sell it.

Of course, with every opportunity comes a new challenge, and in this case, it’s how to stay current. The Broad currently has more than 200,000 Instagram followers, but remember Myspace?  

On the table now is the possibility of getting on Tumblr, which isn’t as easy as it sounds according to Marketing Manager Samantha Ayson.

“I was making the case the other day for why we should start using Tumblr…and I had to preface it by explain what Tumblr is. Tumblr is a blogging platform, and we don’t have one, so I proposed using it long form, it has a younger demo than Snapchat, so time to move on from the millennials to Gen Z.”

Yeah, I guess Snapchat is just so 2016.

For the Frame, I’m Collin Friesen.

Collin Friesen is a screenwriter and radio producer living in Los Angeles.

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