The Back Room: Social Media Mayhem
This week: Instagram infuriates art marketers, a second Koons family NFT launch, Michelangelo’s auction miracle, and much more.
Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy.
This week in the Back Room: Instagram infuriates art marketers, a second Koons family NFT launch, Michelangelo’s auction miracle, and much more—all in a 6-minute read (1,612 words).
Top of the Market
If you are an artist or run an art business whose usual Instagram playbook seems to be failing at a disturbing rate in 2022, you’re not alone.
Just before the new year, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced that the art industry’s most vital social-media app would move beyond photo sharing by “doubling down on its focus on video.”
Just over three months later, the consensus among small business owners and some members of the art community is that the shift is wreaking havoc on their marketing plans, bottom lines, and in some cases their very survival.
Since Instagram’s 2010 launch, leadership has kept the platform in a near-constant state of flux along two axes…
- New features (like image-editing capabilities, time-limited Story posts, and integrated shopping tools).
- Revisions to its algorithms, the behind-the-scenes coding that dictates what content will be pushed to the top of each user’s feed whenever they open the app.
A different algorithm governs each separate tab in the Instagram app, including the main newsfeed, Stories, Live video, and the latest addition, Reels—a blatant ripoff of TikTok that allows users to create and edit short videos of between 15 seconds and one minute augmented by music, timed visual effects, and more.
Execs at Insta and its parent company, Meta (fka Facebook) hoped Reels would cannibalize TikTok’s rabid fanbase at least as effectively as Instagram Stories cannibalized the user base of its (ahem) inspiration, Snapchat. But it hasn’t worked out that way.
So Instagram tweaked its algorithms to force-feed Reels to users. For the past quarter, the app has been prioritizing short-form videos over almost all other content in the main feed. Which also means accounts that leverage Reels have seen their posts served to users more aggressively than competitors who don’t.
An Instagram reshaped around Reels radically degrades what has been one of the 21st century’s most effective, egalitarian tools for artists and art businesses to build engaged audiences.
“Right now the algorithm is so disproportionately prioritizing videos that anyone who wants to use their Instagram channel as a vehicle for promotion is basically forced into making video, whether appropriate for their content or not,” one art-world marketing exec told me.
“While most artists can snap a portrait-mode photo on their iPhones and get something that looks professional,” said an art-industry social-media manager, it’s much more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to produce high-quality video (especially to Instagram’s preferred spec).
That’s a problem for all but two camps…
- The most successful, well-resourced brands in the art ecosystem.
- The small minority of artists adept at making video and/or eager to ham it up on camera during their day-to-day activities like aspiring influencers.
In-app data from small businesses in adjacent industries has been alarming. In a recent New York Times story (headlined “Food Businesses Lose Faith in Instagram After Algorithm Changes”), entrepreneurs and social-media managers relayed engagement on their non-video posts declining by anywhere from one-third to a full order of magnitude.
Instagram’s algorithmic shift is threatening artists’ and art businesses’ livelihoods to promote videos that most Instagram users don’t even want to watch in the first place. Creators who poll their audiences have consistently found that they still prefer photos and captions, per the art-world marketing exec.
A recent Vox article on this subject mentions maybe the most damning fact of all: Meta/Insta has begun paying account holders to hit monthly quotas for video views, further tilting the scales away from organic engagement.
This tactic should trigger flashbacks to 2015–16, when Facebook synced the announcement of its own infamous pivot to video with a campaign to bankroll media properties so they could actually produce the video content Facebook wanted.
Facebook later admitted that the audience data used to justify the strategy was fatally flawed. But the revelation was cold comfort to the publishers that went bust or the scores of employees laid off because their video-viewing results failed to match artificially inflated expectations.
The Bottom Line
Maybe this pivot to video will turn out differently. Regardless, Instagram’s all-in bet on Reels is forcing individual creators and art businesses of all sizes to adapt or die—or at least fade into obscurity on a marketing platform that has become essential.
It’s another example of how success in the 21st-century art world depends more on the will of a tech behemoth’s growth strategy than anything resembling organic demand or unbridled creativity. If you don’t like it, well, there’s always fliers and wheat paste.
The latest Wet Paint relays that Ludwig Koons, the son of Jeff Koons and ex-wife/”Made in Heaven” costar Ilona Staller (aka Cicciolina), launched an NFT collection called Koonimals that incorporates some of his father’s signature balloon-animal imagery. (He dished on his relationship with his parents and the custody war they fought on his behalf, too.)
The column also surveys the newest NYC gallery hotbed: the Bowery, where Helena Anrather, Magenta Plains, and Derosia (fka Bodega) will all soon follow Venus Over Manhattan and Company gallery by opening new locations.
Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- Exhibitors at miart closed plenty of sales at prices averaging €20,000 to €50,000 ($21,750 to $54,350) but encountered few younger buyers. (Artnet News Pro)
- Art Basel’s global head of VIP relations, Michèle Sandoz, will exit on June 30. Her replacement will be Irene Kim, the brand’s head of VIP relations for the Americas for the past six years. (Press release)
- Christie’s will auction the nearly 100-work collection of Doris and Thomas Ammann in two standalone sales in New York on May 9–10. The house was mum about the total estimate and guarantees, apart from the earlier-announced $200 million expectation for Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn. (Artnet News)
- Philip Guston’s Nile (1958), estimated to bring up to $30 million in the Modern evening sale at Sotheby’s New York on May 17, could break the artist’s $25.9 million auction record. (The Art Newspaper)
- The Louvre filed to block the export of the Chardin still life auctioned for a record-smashing €24.4 million ($26.8 million) at Artcurial two weeks ago. If approved, the motion would give the museum up to 30 months to raise the funds to buy the painting. (Artnet News)
- Gagosian now co-represents artist-provocateur Jordan Wolfson alongside David Zwirner and Sadie Coles H.Q. (ARTnews)
- White Cube’s next gallery will open on New York’s Upper East Side in spring 2023, while Mendes Wood DM will debut a Tribeca location this May with a survey of Brazilian artist Paulo Nazareth. (Financial Times)
- Pace added Vietnamese-French abstractionist Huong Dodinh to its roster, and Pilar Corrias added historical-revisionist painter Manuel Mathieu. (Press releases)
- SFMOMA appointed five new trustees: artists David Huffman, Tucker Nichols, and Carrie Mae Weems; private-equity titan Bill Fisher; and beauty-industry entrepreneur Katie Rodan. (Press release)
- LAXART will open its first permanent home in fall 2022 in Los Angeles’s Melrose Hill area. (Press release)
- The Getty Trust named NYU provost Katherine E. Fleming as its next president and CEO. (Artnet News)
- Customs officers in Finland impounded an estimated €42 million ($46 million) worth of art bound for Russia in accordance with E.U. sanctions. (Artnet News)
- The Russian embassy in Paris has confirmed that the Morozov collection, a priceless trove of Modern art on loan to the city’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, will be sent back to Russian museums “through the safest route.” (Artnet News)
The 87-year-old Paula Rego’s politically charged paintings are about to enjoy a double feature in Venice: as part of la biennale itself, and in a concurrent solo show at Victoria Miro’s outpost in the city. Her auction market seems to be rising in sync with the renewed curatorial attention.
- Rego’s sales at auction peaked in 2015, generating $3.4 million—thanks largely to an artist-record $1.8 million paid for The cadet and his sister (1988).
- A four-year slide under the hammer followed; her worldwide sales bottomed out at roughly $137,000 in 2019.
- After a modest uptick in 2020, Rego’s gavel-driven sales spiked back up to $2.3 million last year, when a lauded (and still-traveling) retrospective opened at Tate Britain.
For private-market prices and additional context on Rego’s recent surge, click through below.
“In memory of David, I hope to get a lot of money… I don’t need it. I am rich enough. It is a symbol. If I get a lot of money for David, it is a success for him, and for me.”
—Jean Pierre Delage, an early muse and lover of David Wojnarowicz, on his aspirations for the works he consigned to PPOW’s new exhibition, “Dear Jean Pierre: The David Wojnarowicz Correspondence.” (New York Times)
Work of the Week
Michelangelo’s A nude young man (after Masaccio) surrounded by two figures
Estimate: €30 million ($32.8 million)
Selling at: Christie’s Paris
Sale Date: May 19
Sometimes patience pays off. Three years ago, scholars upgraded this late 15th century drawing’s authorship from the circle of Michelangelo Buonarroti to the master himself. But when the owner attempted to sell the work shortly afterward, the French government used a 30-month export ban to buy time for an in-country institution to acquire it instead.
Well, the ban expired before such a deal materialized, eliminating the last barrier between the drawing and its first public sale since 1907. Christie’s will now tour the work to Hong Kong and New York before it hits the block on May 18.
“The drawing is one of the best of fewer than 10 works on paper by Michelangelo still in private hands, and will become a touchstone for every discussion of the early part of the artist’s long career,” Christie’s international head of Old Masters drawings Stijn Alsteens said.
The house claims it is “probably” Michelangelo’s earliest surviving nude study. In less than six weeks, we’ll find out conclusively whether it will become his priciest, too.
With contributions by Naomi Rea.
Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.
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