The Artist Behind the Art World’s Most Viral Memes

This week, Cem A., the artist behind @freeze_magazine, joins Ben Davis on the podcast.

A meme by @Freeze_Magazine, aka artist Cem A. Courtesy of the artist.

If you like art and are on Instagram, then you probably know the account @freeze_magazine—that’s freeze spelled with an E, like “help me, I’m freezing,” not with an I, like the popular art magazine and art fair. It’s certainly not the first art meme account, but with now more than 160,000 followers, freeze_magazine has gained a particularly large audience by turning the lens of internet humor on the foibles of the art world.

Sometimes it pokes fun at inscrutable art speak, or vents relatable artist insecurities. Other times it uses the meme format to more cutting effect, criticizing the poor treatment of artists and workers who are at the lower rungs of the art world hierarchy. Importantly, in the years since the account blew up, the creator behind it, who goes by Cem A., has done something fairly unlikely. He’s made the jump from meme-making to real-world exhibition making, based on his unique Instagram voice.

“If you just have this good guy-bad guy dynamic in a meme, it’s not really funny. It’s more about creating something in between that shows different aspects” Cem says. “Beyond that, the one function of a meme is to just say, that ‘the emperor has no clothes on’ when that needs to be said.”

Cem has been tapped by high profile institutions, including the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark and the Barbican in London to realize IRL projects that toe the line between digital culture, museum outreach, and conceptual art, in clever ways.

Though best-known for a funny and witty internet persona, Cem has some quite serious things to say about what it means to use memes as a venue for criticism, as well as what it means to take memes seriously as a creative form of their own, and the strange evolving relationship between social media and art institutions.

 

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