Is Everyone on Instagram an Artist?

Kevin Systrom speaks with Simon de Pury and Klaus Biesenbach for ‘Instagram as an Artistic Medium’

An incredulous grumble emerged from the capacity crowd of art world luminaries at yesterday’s panel discussion at Art Basel Miami Beach when legendary auctioneer and art dealer, Simon de Pury, announced that “every user of Instagram is basically an artist.” Sensing the collective skepticism, the ever charismatic but never squeamish de Pury doubled down on his argument: “what has happened with Instagram is that every single person has become an artist.”

Klaus Biesenbach, Director of MoMA PS1 — known to those outside the art world as that German dude with white hair who rips lots of selfies with James Franco and Lana Del Rey, and James Franco and pictures of Lana Del Rey, and takes pictures with and of James Franco and Lana Del Rey in the Rockaways — was quick to refute de Pury’s controversial point. “I actually disagree with Simon [de Pury]. We are not artists. Not every single person who Instagrams is an artist. I think every single person who uses Instagram communicates, and I think that’s a huge difference.”

Now we officially had a debate on our hands at Art Basel Miami Beach — the hot heart of the art world in December.

We wondered whether Kevin Systrom would take sides. Is he the sort of CEO who jumps into the fray a million miles away from his home court in Silicon Valley?

Well, the man who built one of the fastest growing social networks of all time did not disappoint. He deftly synthesized what de Pury and Biesenbach had said into an elegant compromise position that the more theoretically inclined members of the audience immediately recognized as the ultimate Hegelian move. “I want to bridge what you [de Pury] said and what you [Biesenbach] said — I believe that everyone  is an artist on Instagram in their own way, but what does art do? It communicates. It communicates an emotion. It communicates a thought.”

But what do you think? Is everyone on Instagram an artist? Or do you have to do more than just rip a selfie or ‘gram your outfit of the day to join the ranks of Rembrandt and Picasso?

Celebrating MoMA PS1’s Klaus Biesenbach with ‘Cocktails and Curators’

By Sabrina Y. Smith

Amani Olu and Larry Ossei-Mensah, the founders of The Medium Group and Cocktails and Curators celebrated last night the legendary Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1 and chief curator at large of the Museum of Modern Art.

The event was hosted by Spike Jonze and Diana Picasso and was held at The Standard Hotel in Miami.

This is the third Cocktails and Curators the Medium team organizes. The previous two awards were given earlier this year to Paola Antonelli (curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art) and Mary Ceruti (executive director and chief curator of the Sculpture Center).

Olu and Ossei-Mensah are both writers and curators who started this venture a year ago, with the goal to spotlight and celebrate influential curators and create an art environment that is approachable, light and fun.

Klaus Biesenbach, who had just returned from completing a project in Berlin at KW Institute for Contemporary Art of Christoph Schlingensief’s work, made a pit stop in Miami before taking off again for Brazil to install Expo 1. He was in a jovial mood, happily joking around and entertaining friends – a surprising twist to what may seem like such a serious man. Yet he made it clear both through his behavior and speech that neither he (nor life) is to be taken too seriously. In many ways, he seems to share the same motto as the event’s sponsor: “This is Living: Celebrate it.” He’s a visionary curator that can win your mind with art, and your heart with his personality.

Cocktails and Curators Honoring Klaus BiesenbachJean Marc Merine and Klaus Biesenbach

Cocktails and Curators Honoring Klaus BiesenbachDiana Picasso and Glenn O’Brein

Cocktails and Curators Honoring Klaus BiesenbachDiana Picasso and Spike Jonze 

Cocktails and Curators Honoring Klaus BiesenbachKlaus Biesenbach

Cocktails and Curators Honoring Klaus BiesenbachKorakrit Arunanondchai and Angela Godin 

Spike Jonze%2c Diana Picasso%2c Klaus Biesenbach%2c Larry Ossei-Mensah%2c Korakrit Arunanondchai%2c Amani Olu

Antony Hegarty Gets Synesthetic for Swanlights

Antony Hegarty is one of those artists that America produces but never seems to quite know what to do with. Technically born in England, yes, Hegarty grew up in America, and it’s where his music, under the name Antony and the Johnsons, became more-or-less famous for its ethereal, emotional nature, and the way repeated phrases grow new tendrils of meaning through repetition and Hegarty’s evocative, ghostly, undulating voice. He’s a darling in England, where his 2005 album I Am a Bird Now won the Mercury Prize, a sort of combination Grammy and MacArthur Genius Grant. But, when I told my usually-in-the-know friends I was going to see a one-time-only piece from Antony commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art, I got mostly blank stares. Hegarty’s work can be hard to access — it has no hooks, no beats, usually not even a proper chorus or verse. That is not his mission. Instead, he broadcasts directly to a listener’s heart using his powerful, ghostly voice over simple arrangements.

It was fitting, then, that the show (concert? event? installation?) Swanlights mostly featured Hegarty singing alone on the stage at Radio City Music Hall, a tiny figure at first silhouetted behind a screen, then alone under the stage’s impossibly towering curve save for some playful lasers which danced around him and a sort of pixelated paper asteroid which hung over his head and was slowly pulled apart over the course of the show’s two or so hours.

The show also featured stunningly emotive arrangements for a 60-piece orchestra by Nico Muhly, lasers designed by Chris Levine that could expand into vast green and purple clouds or dance like tiny fairies, and the aforementioned asteroid created by Carl Robertshaw, which I am sure served a metaphorical purpose which escapes me. The night took its name and themes of poetic environmental alarm from Hegarty’s most recent album, but it featured songs from all four of his releases. Originally planned to take place in MoMA’s towering atrium, a space which has hosted similar multimedia events from artists like Pipilotti Rist and Marina Abramovic (Doug Aitken’s work was similar in spirit, but also grew beyond the atrium), the addition of the orchestra made it too big – it had to find another home.

Despite moving a few blocks downtown, the work is “in the same vein,” as the above pieces, explained Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator at Large of MoMA and Director of MoMA PS1, and the man who’s been working with Hegarty for three years to make Swanlights a reality. “I am interested in this idea, what you would call in German synästhesie. This idea of the unity of what you see and what you hear and what you experience. So of course, I’m also very interested in Antony.”

If anything involving a two-hour orchestral laser show at one of New York’s most monumental theatres by one of the world’s greatest modern art museums can be said to be odd, then the origins of this project are indeed extremely odd.

“A couple of years ago, I visited an artist upstate, and Antony and I just ended up being the two people who travelled together,” Biesenbach explains. “And while being with this artist upstate — the artist actually was Marina Abramovic — [Antony] found this huge branch of a tree. He took it with him to the city, and I remember how he we got it into the train. Then I saw a little poem he made, and I kind of recognized that tree branch in it, and then I saw that drawing in Swanlights, where there’s a little introduction book. First I see it in a poem, and then I recognize the branch somewhere in a drawing, and in the end it ends up in his music. I think I’m fascinated by this [method of] really looking at the whole world and very holistically making something out of this that is otherworldly, perhaps because that is what he is.”

This movement — tree branch to poem to drawing to song — solidified Biesenbach’s instincts that Hegarty was on the same synesthetic mission as him. Indeed, sitting in the audience of Radio City, with lights changing from tiny pinpricks to vast color fields as Hegarty’s voice seemed to momentarily latch onto and ride the swell of the orchestra before pushing off and soaring above it, it was easy to see that Biesenbach’s instincts were correct.

“I’m intrigued that there is no difference between his opinions, his daily experience, no gap between who he is and what he does,” Biesenbach continues. “So he is really a true artist. Which is pretty fascinating, I think.”