As with most people who research and think about visual art and culture, I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram. On the one hand, I absolutely love the democratizing function of the platform, and the ways in which art works can have an expanded audience. Seeing images and art works from the best known artists in the world scroll alongside pictures posted by emerging artists I work with close to home is always eye-opening and alters my perspective in important ways. On the other hand, I am ever mindful of the more facile aspects of Instagram, and the damaging effects the platform can have on visual literacy and the superficial nature of a format that allows for little depth and context.
My own personal introduction to Instagram came about in 2012 when I decided to download the app to document and track images while in Europe over Christmas. I knew I would be visiting a few different cities, and several art exhibitions, so I used the tool as a way to share and disseminate images to my students and colleagues who asked to follow along on my journey. Within a few months, I was being followed by a number of art historians, artists, and art world types, and I in turn began following them. Over the years, I have evolved what I post and focus on, and have noticed in myself and others how much more carefully curated and intentional the nature of posting has become (interestingly enough, the original spirit of Instagram’s more spontaneous and unedited nature is now seen more so in the “stories” feature of the platform).
Understandably, the art world has been cautious of its embrace of Instagram, but there have been many key individuals that I have enjoyed following and watching shift and evolve over the years. The following is a mini introductory guide to the accounts I consider “must-follows,” a list that I often provide when asked where to begin with following artists and art world types on Instagram. I hope you find some inspiration as you scroll through these accounts and work on finding your own signature Instagram style in the process.
ARTISTS TO FOLLOW
One of the first artists I began following when joining Instagram was Ai Weiwei. At the time, his Twitter account had been shut down by the Chinese government and he had begun using Instagram as a way to keep connected to his followers. Over the years, Ai has used his account to share progress on his art and film projects (most notably documenting the migrants he met and worked with while filming Human Flow) and showing followers the close connection between his work and personal life. Since Instagram is all about photography, two of the best contemporary artists working in the medium, Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin, also have an important presence on the platform. Sherman, who has been on Instagram longer has been using her account to present new projects and, at times, challenge her audience with her "straight" photography, while Goldin's relatively new account showcases the best of her practice from the 1980-90's alongside new projects.
My next category of artists all have connections to street and urban art. Included here are early adopters to Instagram: Banksy, Invader, JR, and Shepard Fairey. Not surprisingly, some of the best Instagram accounts document the work of graffiti and street artists as they work clandestinely and at times anonymously. Banksy in particular gained notoriety a few years ago when he created his own NYC residency and used the platform to create a scavenger hunt of his works around the city. And finally, I include the carefully curated account of Anish Kapoor-- who uses colour blocking strategies from his art practice to build visual stories in his gallery, a primer for artists interested in using Instagram successfully-- and the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous art collective that builds its account to disseminate information and statistics related to abuses of power (sexism, racism, and corruption) in the art world.
Curators and Critics TO FOLLOW
Another great category of art world people to follow are curators and critics. Not only do they travel and see some fantastic work all over the world, they have their own personal quirks and interests that makes following them worthwhile. A few years ago, one of my favourite art critics, Jerry Saltz, began an Instagram account that essentially attempted to test the limits of the platform's rules concerning nudity and obscenity. A prolific daily poster, Saltz continues to use his account as a way to create dialogue about taste and norms in the visual representation of gender and sexuality (and he still gets banned from time to time!). I also enjoy the much followed chief curator of MoMA, Klaus Biesenbach. As one of the most important taste-makers in North American art circles, he also has a great conceptual and even ironic take with his account, posting nearly daily images of the same view from his window at work while documenting his globe trotting and exotic art travels to distant locales and artists' studios. Two other important NYC curators in a similar vein, Nancy Spector from the Guggenheim and Roxana Marcoci from MoMA, have wonderful Instagram pages that document their professional and personal lives.
art Historians and Advisors TO FOLLOW
Last but not least are the many art historians and advisors to follow on Instagram. As with artists and curators/critics, these are individuals who spent a great deal of time traveling and looking at a diverse cross-section of art all over the world. Very early on in the first months of using Instagram, I received comments and a follow from art historian Izzy Lauder-Frost, an art historian turned art advisor working in London who has gone on to create one of the most interesting accounts documenting her work with clients and auction houses in the art world. Her travels and lifestyle are fun to follow, and she provides a mix of traditional and contemporary art. Another fantastic resource and personal twist on an art historian's Instagram account is lets_talk_about_art by Dutch art historian and teacher Jurgen Vermaire. His daily picks of art works, often coinciding with his travels, are accompanied by rich descriptions and context about the artist and works. And last but not least is the viral success of the tabloidarthistory Instagram account. Run by three French and UK- based art historians, the account that features juxtaposed images of tabloid celebrity photography with traditional art works, is part of a larger research project exploring the relationship between popular culture and the practice of art history.
As you go on to follow some of these accounts, pay attention to the "who to follow" feature of Instagram that matches your current follows and tastes with other similar accounts. This has been one of the best ways I have found to discover new artists, curators, critics, and art historians on the platform.