Tate Modern Taps Instagram Sensation Amalia Ulman for Its Next Major Show

Does Instagram-based art belong in a museum?

Amalia Ulman
Photo via: @amaliaulman Instagram
Amalia Ulman. Excellences & Perfections (Instagram Update, 3rd June 2014).

Amalia Ulman, Excellences & Perfections (Instagram Update, 3rd June 2014).
Photo: Courtesy Temporary Art Review.

Should social media have a place in today’s museum landscape? The question has been raised by the controversial inclusion of Amalia Ulman’s Instagram-based work in Tate Modern’s upcoming exhibition Performing for the Camera, which examines the relationship between photography and performance.

The exhibition, at the most-visited modern and contemporary art museum in the world, brings together over 500 works spanning 150 years, and ties together academically rooted photographs of performance art as well as humorous, improvised poses, and snapshots.

The role of social media in the art historical context of photographic performance is examined via Amalia Ulman’s Instagram-based selfie project.

Should Instagram be in museums like the Tate Modern? Photo: Better Bankside

Should Instagram be in museums like the Tate Modern?
Photo: Better Bankside.

Her snaps of kittens, striped pajamas, and post-shower selfies turned out to be a performance art piece titled Excellences and Perfections. “Everything was scripted,” Ulman told the Telegraph. “I spent a month researching the whole thing. There was a beginning, a climax and an end. I dyed my hair. I changed my wardrobe. I was acting, it wasn’t me.”

Some 18 months later, her Instagram feed—with which she “wanted to prove that femininity is a construction, and not something biological or inherent to any woman”—is going to be exhibited at a major institution.

“Although Ulman used Instagram to make the work, its destination was always the gallery/museum context,” Simon Baker, Tate Modern’s senior curator of photography, told artnet News in an email.

Amalia UlmanPhoto via: @amaliaulman Instagram

Amalia Ulman.
Photo via: @amaliaulman Instagram.

“The exhibition is about performance and the many ways in which artists have used photography to record and exhibit their performative works. Ulman’s work is an example of recent practice in the same tradition,” Baker added.

Also in the exhibition are key performative works such as Yves Klein’s Anthropometrie de l’epoque blue (1960) a live painting event in which the artist used bodies of naked women and seminal 60s performances by Yayoi Kusama, Eleanor Antin, and Niki de Saint Phalle, which were documented by the important performance photographers Harry Shunk and János Kender.

Yves Klein Anthropométrie de l'Époque bleue (March 9, 1960) Photo: Yves Klein Archive

Yves Klein, Anthropométrie de l’Époque bleue (March 9, 1960).
Photo: Yves Klein Archive.

Photographic self-portraiture and its relationship to self-identity is examined with the inclusion of works by artists such as Cindy Sherman, an artist to whom Ulman is often compared.

The medium also played an important role for Andy Warhol, and Jeff Koons in their own marketing and promotional photography. However it is the inclusion of Ulman’s work that is the most divisive.

Its not the first time that Instagram has been made into art. Richard Prince controversially sold enlarged prints of other people’s Instagram posts for $100,000 at Gagosian, New York in 2014. At least Ulman is using her own photography.

Performing for the Camera” will be on view at Tate Modern, London,  from February 18 – June 12, 2016.

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