The 6 Most Popular Art Exhibitions on Instagram, Ever

Blame it on the "Rain Room."

Random International, Rain Room (2012). Photo: Karlie Kloss, via Instagram.

The advent of Instagram has been both a blessing and a curse for the art world—and probably for society as a whole. While it’s now easy to keep up with the global art scene from the comfort of your own home, you run the risk of feeling some major FOMO (for the blissfully uninitiated, that would be “fear of missing out”) at witnessing an impeccably filtered view of what’s going down in Miami, Venice, or Basel while you’re parked on your couch.

What’s more, some galleries and institutions have grown hungry for the free publicity that a highly Instagrammable show can provide, meaning your average art fair these days has no less than three needlessly reflective objects just begging to be immortalized with an #artselfie. After all, we seem to say to ourselves, “If you didn’t Instagram it, were you really there?”

No matter what your feelings on Instagram are, the social media tool is clearly here to stay—and has been for a couple of years. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and examine some of the works and exhibitions that helped make it a fixture in your art viewing routine. Wannabe viral artists, take note.


1. Random International’s Rain Room at MoMA
Arguably the artwork that started it all, Rain Room hijacked social media feeds everywhere for a solid eight weeks. Everyone and their mother had a picture inside the immersive installation, and many waited in line for hours to get one. You’ve likely heard of the “song of the summer,” but this was the undeniable exhibition of the summer. If you didn’t catch it, it’s slated to go on display at LACMA this November thanks to Restoration Hardware (who first acquired the piece and loaned it to MoMA in 2013), and in Singapore in 2017, thanks to collector Budi Tek.

2. Yayoi Kusama’s “I Who Have Arrived in Heaven” at David Zwirner
Kusama’s psychedelic installation at Zwirner also saw lines around the block during its six week run, but unlike Rain Room, it was also met with a measure of critical acclaim. Thee show included two Instagram-ready installations, and while plenty of pictures were taken in the room housing Love Is Calling (2013)—comprised of glowing, polka-dotted tentacles, which sprouted from the floor and ceiling—the clear favorite was Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013), or, more simply, the “Infinity” room, where a combination of water, tiny lights, and mirrors create the effect of a never ending galaxy. To make things even more exciting, the room could only accommodate about three visitors at a time, which made for super long lines, further accentuating the show’s exclusivity (and thus, ‘grammability). It’s safe to say Kusama, at the age of 84, cemented the art selfie as an official “thing.” The installation has since been exhibited at the Garage Museum and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

3. Kara Walker’s “Sugar Sphinx” at the Domino Sugar Factory
While the aforementioned show may have been a nuisance in that it really only offered one angle from which to take a selfie (thus resulting in essentially the same picture popping up on your feed again and again), Kara Walker’s “Sugar Sphinx” was problematic for an entirely different reason. The massive sugar sculpture, which was sponsored by Creative Time and erected in the (since demolished) former Domino Sugar Factory, inspired numerous visitors to upload some startling pictures of themselves engaging with the sculpture in lewd ways—including pretending to lick the sculpture’s vagina and backside or touch its nipples. Given that the installation was meant as a critique of slavery and the historical perceptions of black women, there was a fervent—and totally necessary—backlash.

4. “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective” at the Whitney Museum
A great many forces came together to make this show a social media sensation: first, the shininess of Koons’s famed gazing balls and balloon animals makes them obvious candidates. Then, there was the sheer amount of hype surrounding the retrospective itself, derived both from the fact that Koons is one of the most polarizing artists working today, and due to it being the Whitney’s last show in the Marcel Breuer Building. The seemingly endless week of “VIP” and “VVIP” previews leading up to the public opening also tickled the desires of insiders to show people that they, in fact, were among the first to see the monumental Play-Doh.

5. Richard Prince “New Portraits” at Frieze and Gagosian Gallery
How’s this for meta: Richard Prince’s controversial “New Portraits” series (you know, the ones culled from the Instagram feeds of unsuspecting models, students, and other pretty young women) has actually been Instagrammed quite a lot, both during its time at Gagosian and its run at Frieze New York. We get it. A picture of something shareable is also, in and of itself, shareable. It just kind of makes our heads spin.

6. DeWain Valentine at David Zwirner Gallery
Whether or not the craze has gotten a little out of control at this point isn’t really up for debate. So, David Zwirner has taken matters into their own hands and hired actual docents to make sure no one broke anything on their quest for the perfect picture during their recent DeWain Valentine show. Yes, docents—at a gallery. “People want to get as close as possible, so we’re part informational, part security,” docent Daniel Pillis told artnet News. To be fair, despite the fact that Valentine’s flat, circular glass sculptures were created in the 1960s and ’70s, they quench the thirst that today’s gallery-going population has for beautiful, reflective objects to take selfies with.

Related stories:

Ways of Seeing Instagram

New App Allows You to Optimize Art History’s Classic Self-Portraits for the Selfie Age

10 Tips for Promoting Yourself (and Your Art) on Instagram

“Statue Selfies” Are the Next Great Internet Art Trend

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