Instagram Museums?

By Ali Bush ‘19

What is a museum supposed to do? Educate? Entertain? Promote the art of dead white men? It’s a slippery question that becomes even more unknowable as new “Instagram museums” pop up in cities around the US. Spaces like the Museum of Ice Cream in Los Angeles and Color Factory in San Francisco, provide visitors a perfectly lit and meticulously decorated space that produces pristine Instagram pictures. Some marketed as museums, and other just as “experiences,” these spaces of bright colors and aesthetically pleasing graphics have bred anger and excitement in the art world, which is confusing because most of these spaces are not and do not claim to be art.

With pools of colorful sprinkles and brightly painted walls, these “Instagram museums” or “selfie factories” are designed for posing for a camera. Although a handful have of these spaces employed artists to help create these experiences, their design and conception seem to be mostly anonymous, and not credited to any specific artists, but rather to boards of directors and managers. And with many of these “selfie factories,” the end experience is buying a product like ice cream or makeup.

Thus, the Instagram museum is more of an entertainment experience or a social media playground than a museum. Cleverly, Instagram museum developers took note of the crowds of people taking photoshoots in museums and waiting to take pictures in front of Claes Oldenburg sculptures and Roy Lichtenstein paintings. They have simply responded to this demand for aesthetically pleasing photoshoot spaces.

However, calling these spaces “Instagram museums” is misleading because museums hold the responsibility of educating the public. However, museums can perhaps seem lofty, overly academic, and inaccessible to many people. Thus, the “Instagram museum” is a reaction to the stuffiness that still lingers in museums. But the overwhelming use of quotation marks around “Instagram museum” in this article illustrates the ambiguity of it all. Who is to definitively say what art is? While I argue that these spaces are not museums, I cannot say that they are not at all artistic.

It is the sickeningly sweet homogenizing of aesthetics that these spaces promote that is frustrating. The shallow themes these spaces employ like food and color have little substance, and are trendy, but not meaningful. These trendy locales also reflect just how important it is to know how to represent a virtual version of yourself on social media. Having access to these spaces that are perfectly arranged settings enhances a profile, while people without the knowledge of or access to these built-for-selfies places have “worse” Instagram profiles. These spaces homogenize what is aesthetically pleasing, what a good Instagram post looks like, and the aesthetic we should all aspire to.

Overall, I think that no matter where we are, be it the Met or the Museum of Ice Cream, we could all find more meaningful experiences if we take a moment to engage more deeply with the life around us, rather than engage with it via a screen.

Image Credit: Viva Lifestyle and Travel