Your Art’s Not Instagrammable Enough, and Other News


On the Shelf

Yayoi Kusama, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013.


  • Aspiring artists should judge their work by one criterion and one criterion only: Do people want to take selfies in front of this thing? If the answer is no, then it’s back to the drawing board, friend. You’d do well to make something immersive, something participatory, something that’s such an experience that it acts as a magnet on the surrounding population, much as a Six Flags or a new Shake Shack might. To make anything quieter or less immediately spectacular is to risk irrelevance. When Sarah Boxer went to see Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors” exhibition, she realized that she’d found the quintessential art show of our time—one whose value is directly correlated to its Instagramability. Boxer writes, “The fact that some folks have managed to make the scene while others get left out in the cold is integral to the excitement of participatory art. The thrill is akin to exotic travel, or getting to see Hamilton. Because not everyone who wants the experience actually gets the experience, these works, even if their intentions and messages are democratic, tend to become exclusive affairs … Why has the apprehension of art become so like theater? And why is Kusama, who never received as much attention in the 1960s as many of her contemporaries did, finally in the spotlight now? I was given a one-word answer to that question—Instagram!—and surely that is right. The Kusama show has just about everything the Happenings once had—the chance to see something extraordinary, the chance to participate, and the chance to photograph (or be photographed). But the ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibition has added one key ingredient to the mix—the chance to capture the lonely existential experience of infinity and send it to others in the form of a selfie.”
  • Speaking of spectacle: in the eighties, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) put a glam, femme spin on WrestleMania, creating a show that fused daredevil feats of strength to campy dance routines. Now Netflix is resurrecting the show—but as a sitcom, and with little input from the original cast. Gendy Alimurung caught up with that cast and found that their lives are equally tragic and exhilarating, shaped in every way by their years as wrestlers: “If the women feel proprietary about GLOW, it’s only because they gave so much of themselves to it. It was brutal work. The pay was measly, the material was campy and racist. For many, however, it was the best job they ever had … Professional wrestling is fake. But the pain was real. Virtually none of them started out as trained wrestlers. They were actors, dancers and models who answered casting calls for ‘a new sports entertainment show.’ Dee Booher, who played German villainess Matilda the Hun, recalls that after a match, ‘these girls sometimes came out with handfuls of hair.’ At her apartment in Seal Beach, Calif., in Orange County, she flips through an old photo album while sitting in a motorized wheelchair—the result of wrestling-related spinal deterioration. ‘I’d beat ’em up. Eat ’em up! It was beautiful!’ she says. ‘Here’s Spanish Red. Look at this girl. Look at how she moves. She was a dancer. Here’s Ashley. Look at those ta-tas on her’ … ‘I hope you’re getting paid enough for this,’ she recalls one of the medics telling her … The women made between $300 and $700 a week. No dental. No medical.”

  • Adam Shatz profiles the elusive Craig Taborn, a jazz musician who so eschews the public eye that his friends call him “the ghost”: “Taborn’s music, too, has an elusive aura, both in its spectral, moody textures and in its proud refusal to cater to expectations about what jazz, or even music, should be … The beauty of his art resides in large part in his ability to discover new sounds in the piano, from the keys to the strings; his playing inspires something rare in music today, a sense of wonder … He has refined a technique of using the piano’s sustain pedal and his attack in order to bring out the upper partials of a note, so that when he strikes a key, he can control the ‘cross-talk’ between two notes, throwing into relief what he calls ‘the entire shape and bloom of a note,’ from its inception to the moment when ‘it ceases to be audible and becomes imaginary’—ghostlike, you might say … Musicians often describe their work as surrender to a superior force, but Taborn does so with a self-effacing insistence that is all the more striking coming from such a virtuoso. He calls this force ‘the process,’ and his ability to give himself over to it has, in turn, made him one of the popular sidemen in jazz.”
  • Corporate media is desperate to make money from fan fiction, an art form that absconds with their beloved franchises and characters into a utopian space where the writers have total control and no one is trying to turn a profit. FANtasies, a new web series, hopes to bring the shine of officialdom to a group of hobbyists who’ve tended to avoid it. Amanda Hess writes, “a collision between the (mostly) women who create fan fiction and the entertainment world they draw on, which often seems unsure of whether to dismiss their work or capitalize on it. The series vacillates between guarding the fandom and gently teasing it, vaulting fan fiction to mainstream recognition while reinforcing its subordinate relationship to conventional creative properties. The very conception of the series illustrates the topsy-turvy power dynamics of internet culture as it comes of age. Unpaid creators feed new cultural forms that, when they get popular enough, are co-opted by big companies hoping to whip them into profits … It’s a polished series with mainstream investment starring homegrown YouTube performers who have become big deals, based on fan fiction written by other upstart internet creators who are mostly typing away in obscurity. The relationship between all those players can be so fraught that even discussing fan fiction with its real-life subjects is taboo among many such writers, as the spotlight can feel meanspirited, or just beside the point.”