“How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You’re holding on to the past but jazz is about the future”.
In Justin Hurwitz’ La La Land, John Legend’s character warns Sebastian that his efforts to save jazz, however commendable, are futile. In order to survive, the genre must reinvent itself. The solution? As the jazz musicians take to the stage, audiences are greeted with a new form of music, where the classic sounds of trumpet and saxophone clash with something much more modern, electronic, pop-esque.
In the world of visual art, the rise of experiential exhibitions is reminiscent of this strange fusion between jazz and EDM. As the digital world seeps into gallery walls, I find myself constantly challenging former notions I’ve held about the nature of museums. It is not the presence of ‘new’ art that I find surprising – institutions like the MoMA are no stranger to art of the recent century. Rather, it’s the fact that museums are looking less and less like the curated galleries I’m accustomed to, and more like visual playgrounds.
More so, it’s that stereotypes of the everyday museum-goer are quickly being torn down. Today’s museums attract people from all (and predominantly younger) walks of life. This should be a good thing – right? Are the long lines and social media buzz not indicative of the revival of The Museum?
Like Legend, I do understand that art must evolve – especially in a culture of ‘come and go’, change has become ubiquitous in an environment that expects it of its inhabitants. ‘Disruption’ is now a buzzword thrown around across all industries, from art to technology.
Yet, there are important things lost when museums are translated into the language of today. Last summer, I returned to what was one of my favorite exhibitions in Singapore: Yayoi Kusama’s Life is a Heart of a Rainbow. As I stepped into one of Kusama’s revered Infinity Rooms, I found myself interacting with the piece through my phone – limited to just one minute inside the installation, I scrambled to take as many photos as I could, convincing myself that the permanence of each image could make up for my fleeting time inside Kusama’s Room. In the age of 29Rooms, Color Factory and The Museum of Ice Dream, this desire to document has become instinctive; they call it ‘Art in the Age of Instagram’. Our primary mission is no longer to connect, investigate, question – sometimes, our only mission is to post another photo on our feed.
As art continues to evolve, I find myself thinking about the balance between art of the old and new, of works that invoke contemplation or works that promote the commodification of art. And to be clear, this phenomena is nothing new, nor this is is not a challenge to these new institutions; rather, it is a challenge to re-evaluate the ways in which we interact with these exhibitions. However Instagrammable the moment may be, it is a challenge to simply be more present.