What Happens When Museums Go #Empty

Big players on Instagram were invited to an exclusive after-hours event at the Museum of Arts and Design.

Instagrammer Kim Swift (@_kimswift_) poses with Richard Estes's Staten Island Ferry Arriving in Manhattan (2012) at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Kim Swift (@_kimswift_).
Instagrammer Kim Swift (@_kimswift_) poses with Richard Estes's Staten Island Ferry Arriving in Manhattan (2012) at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Kim Swift (@_kimswift_).

Last night, as rain gently fell over Manhattan, artnet News was treated to an after hours tour of the Museum of Arts and Design, courtesy of Instagram and its popular #empty museum series.

It’s an art lover’s Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler–fueled childhood fantasy: the chance to have free reign at a museum late into the night, without the hustle and bustle of crowds and tourists.

Polly Apfelbaum, Handweavers Pattern Book (2014), in "Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today" at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Polly Apfelbaum, Handweavers Pattern Book (2014), in “Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today” at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Sarah Cascone.

After getting its start at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the spring of 2014, the #empty trend has spread to museums all over the world, including as far away as the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), in Hobart, Tasmania.

The idea is that by inviting a few select Instagrammers to roam the galleries after hours, the museum can showcase its exhibitions on social media while offering a unique experience to participants.

Allyee Whaley (@emotionalallyee), Alex Simons (@alexjsimons), Gabe Reyes (@whozthatboy), and Christopher Garbushian (@endlessvacations) on the Museum of Arts and Design staircase. Photo: Faran Krentcil (@farankrentcil).

Allyee Whaley (@emotionalallyee), Alex Simons (@alexjsimons), Gabe Reyes (@whozthatboy), and Christopher Garbushian (@endlessvacations) on the Museum of Arts and Design staircase. Photo: Faran Krentcil (@farankrentcil).

After taking part in an #empty event, artnet News clearly understands their insidery appeal.

The evening began on the museum’s fifth floor, in the “Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today” exhibition. After a quick intro from the show’s curator, Jennifer Scanlan, the Instagrammers were told to wander at will. Also in play were photorealistic paintings in “Richard Estes: Painting New York City,” and the surprisingly personality-filled mannequins of “Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin.”

Instagrammers Molly Gottschalk @mollysttschalk, Elena Oboleva @elenaoboleva, and JiaJia Fei (@vajiajia) Ralph Pucci exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design.Photo: Alex Simons (@alexjsimons).

Instagrammers Molly Gottschalk @mollysttschalk, Elena Oboleva @elenaoboleva, and JiaJia Fei (@vajiajia) at the Ralph Pucci exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Alex Simons (@alexjsimons).

The 40-odd Instagram influencers in attendance included JiaJia Fei, the Guggenheim‘s associate director of digital marketing (52,278 followers), Artsy associate editor Molly Gottschalk (@mollygottschalk, 91,000 followers), ELLE.com editor-at-large Faran Krentcil (@farankrentcil, 5,414 followers), and Diya Vij, digital communications manager of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (@diyavij, 725 followers).

Instagrammer Allyee Whaley (@emotionalallyee) takes a selfie in front of Vuokko Eskolin Nurmesniemi's <em>Untitled (circle dress)</em> (circa 1964) in the "Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today" exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design.<br /> Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Instagrammer Allyee Whaley (@emotionalallyee) takes a selfie in front of Vuokko Eskolin Nurmesniemi’s Untitled (circle dress), c. 1964, in the “Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today” exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Even without knowing how high-powered the other Instagram users were, it was easy to get swept away in the photo-taking frenzy, looking at the art not for art’s sake, but with an eye toward how to create the most captivating, social media–friendly image. (Luckily, selfie sticks were permitted.)

The view from the top of the Museum of Arts and Design.<br /> Photo: Josie Keefe (@beastfeast).

The view from the top of the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Josie Keefe (@beastfeast).

One Instagram user, who proclaimed his feed to be “all about the selfie,” modestly described his over 2,000 followers to be “not that many,” hinting at the pressure that hardcore Instagram users must feel to appeal to the masses.

artnet News wasn’t sure how well Estes‘s striking cityscapes would lend themselves to Instagram, but the results included some rather convincing selfie illusions. We also appreciated that the exhibition included an Estes self portrait, a painting of the Staten Island Ferry, which depicts the artist’s reflection in the ferry window, taking the photograph on which the painting is based.

With only an hour in the galleries before being served cocktails in the museum’s restaurant, attendees had precious little time to enjoy such subtleties, instead rushing from floor to floor, frantically hashtagging #MADmuseum and #MADempty (previously used primarily by Instagrammers moving into new apartments).

Instagrammers Andrew Yang (@yangabang) and Alex Ghinger (@alexghinger) pose with Richard Estes's <em>Brooklyn Bridge</em> (1993) at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: yangabang, via Instagram.

Instagrammers Andrew Yang (@yangabang) and Alex Ghinger (@alexghinger) pose with Richard Estes’s Brooklyn Bridge (1993) at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: yangabang, via Instagram.

Altogether, the #empty event, while undeniably enjoyable, seemed less about the art and more about the experience, cool kids showing off their exclusive access to art and culture. After all, isn’t Instagram largely about envy?

Instagrammer Matthew Wilkas (@mwilkas) in front of Hella Jongerius's <em>Knots & Beads Curtain</em>, 2015 from the exhibition "Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today" Photo: Victor Jeffreys (@VICTORJEFFREYSII).

Instagrammer Matthew Wilkas (@mwilkas) in front of Hella Jongerius’s Knots & Beads Curtain, 2015 from the exhibition “Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today.” Photo: Victor Jeffreys (@VICTORJEFFREYSII).

Ruth Asawa sculptures in "Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today" at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Ruth Asawa sculptures in “Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today” at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Instagrammer Allyee Whaley (@emotionalallyee) takes a selfie in front of Vuokko Eskolin Nurmesniemi's <em>Untitled (circle dress)</em> (circa 1964) in the "Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today" exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design.<br /> Photo: Allyee Whaley (@emotionalallyee).

Instagrammer Allyee Whaley (@emotionalallyee) takes a selfie in front of Vuokko Eskolin Nurmesniemi’s Untitled (circle dress) (circa 1964) in the “Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today” exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Allyee Whaley (@emotionalallyee).

Ralph Pucci exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: JiaJia Fei (@vajiajia).

Ralph Pucci exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: JiaJia Fei (@vajiajia).

"Pathmakers" exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design.<br>Photo: Faran Krentcil (@farankrentcil).

“Pathmakers” exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Faran Krentcil (@farankrentcil).

Ralph Pucci exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design.<br>Photo: JiaJia Fei (@vajiajia).

Ralph Pucci exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: JiaJia Fei (@vajiajia).

Richard Estes, <em>The Woolworth Building</em>, the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Richard Estes, The Woolworth Building, the Museum of Arts and Design. Photo: Sarah Cascone.


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