As a number of works by Genieve Figgis, Julie Curtiss and other artists who use Instagram to great effect are offered in the upcoming Contemporary Art auctions, Sotheby’s Social Media Manager, Abi Tavener, speaks to artist, collector, critic and dealer Kenny Schachter about the growing role of social media in the art world.
Abi Tavener: The art world can be intimidating. We try to use Sotheby’s online channels to welcome a wider audience into our world. Do you think the audience for art is changing as we enter an ever more digital age?
Kenny Schachter: Young people have no compunction looking to what us old folk would consider unorthodox means of learning about, experiencing, and consuming art off the web. It’s easy, swift and as long as you trust the source, like Sotheby’s, it’s seamless.
Instagram has helped to launch the careers of many artists working today, including Julie Curtiss and Genieve Figgis. When Figgis’ work opened your sale (The Hoarder) it sold for ten times its auction estimate, and two of the artist’s works will be offered in our next Contemporary Art Day Auction. When did you first discover her work?
Through Instagram, like many others before me, we first encountered Figgis’ work online. I am curating an emerging art show at Felix Art Fair in LA, concurrently with Frieze, and the majority of art was sourced from Instagram. I call it the wrecking ball of art, smashing and democratizing all hierarchies in its path.
Instagram has afforded new opportunities to many emerging artists working today. Have you ever bought an artwork on Instagram, or collaborated with an artist you’ve discovered on the platform?
I have bought many works off Insta and forged relationships with artists ranging from Richard Prince and Bjarne Melgaard (both of whom I am working with now) through to artists I have never heard of, but to whose works I have instantly responded.
In recent years, we’ve seen a surge of interest in some areas of art history which had, in the past, been overlooked. Do you think social media has had a part to play in this re-evaluation?
When I started in the late 1980s the only way to convey visual information was via photographic slides and snail mail—that’s how old I am—now you can be anybody, from anywhere and get your point across; effortlessly, and more importantly for free. To the best audience extant.
How are artists responding to today’s digital environment? In this post-internet age, we’ve seen iPad drawings, selfies, and AI artworks to name just a few.
We are right smack in the middle of, or rather, we are in the nascent stages of how the internet is expanding the language of art and who speaks it and to whom, which negates the meaning of post-internet if it ever had any. How about my work for starters! I make short narrative digital videos made for the phone, that accompany my Artnet articles, lasting from five seconds to about a minute, they are created for smartphones and tell a story about the art world we work and live in with a quality that makes them unusual and unique: a sense of humour (that’s the intent anyway).
Our Old Masters team use Instagram to bring Old Master Paintings to the attention of a wider audience. As a collector yourself, has Instagram opened your eyes to any new collecting categories?
No. Though I make digital based photos and films, I am a collecting prude—a drawings and paintings person at heart.
Social media has provided a platform for criticism as well as endorsement. Do you think social media could ever have a negative impact on the art world?
Let the haters hate, to each their own. People collect art with their ears as much, if not more than, their eyes; of course, there will be those that like what others have liked before them, or collect what their friends are buying, but so it goes, it all just makes for a broader market. I’m all for it no matter why.
How do you use your Instagram profile? Is there a strategy or goal?
My kids tell me my strategy is, quite simply, an addiction: the strategy is one of not stopping! My goal is to communicate with as many like-minded (or otherwise) people as possible. And then some. I have no gallery and I work alone, Instagram is as close to a community as I get. And for better and worse, more and more of the Insta-acquaintances are reaching out for IRL encounters. With a wife and kids who rarely, if ever, listen to me, I am always up for some face-to-face time with an audience that will listen.
Instagram only started in 2010, and today it has more than a billion monthly users. Where do you see things going from here?
There is no limit, none. Until it is replaced by the next as yet unforeseen platform. What I like most is that unlike every other art-specific website with business models that are all but non-existent, Insta did not start with art and that lends a certain credibility and pureness to the pursuit.