The World Art Foundations (WAF) went to the meeting organised by Talking Galleries at the Pompidou Center the last 25th of May. The Spanish group Talking Galleries brings together gallerists, art critics and art professionals every year to attend a series of lectures and debates on current issues affecting the art world. The two themes chosen for this edition were digital communication and the determining (and new) role of foundations in artistic life. It was only natural for the WAF to join this event.

The morning’s debate was moderated by Farah Nayeri of The New York Times and was dedicated to the communication revolution of Instagram within the artistic scene. The panel of guests was rich and varied as it involved players from very different backgrounds. There was Mattis Curth, director of the Artland app that connects private collectors and artists, JiaJia Fei, head of digital communication at the Jewish Museum in New York, and Alain Quemin, sociologist and professor at Paris 8. All agreed to say that the extremely visual nature of the Instagram app is the element that allowed it to become one of the most popular platform among young or even confirmed creators. Remember that the Instagram accounts of Damien Hirst or Ai Weiwei have more than 400k subscribers, a web popularity that enable them to manage their communication on their own.

The question was, therefore, to explore whether if this “Instagram craze” is the source of new visual codes that artists and museums must follow. It was Alain Quemin who brought the most scientific keys to understand the language of this recent trend, he pointed out that the images that are most likely to receive “likes” are those that tended to be the most emphatic. Overload of colours and monumentality are the key factors in the success of an artistic publication on the social media. The unrestrained search for visual impact is at the root of a phenomenon that JiaJia Fei very aptly described as the “Like Economy”. The woman knows what she is talking about, now in charge of the communication of the Jewish Museum, she previously held the same position at the Guggenheim Museum and made Instagram accounts of these two institutions leading communication tools.

The race for likes is therefore not only a necessity for the communication of artists and museums but also for the players of the art market: The number of likes per publication being the guarantee of the expansion of a customer base. Artland, the application launched by the Danish entrepreneur Mattis Curth, bases most of its communication on the application. The prospective of artists as well as the communication among the collectors community is done through this new Mecca of the artistic image.

We are therefore far from the time when mobile pictures were banned in museums. Today, the art institutions have become fully aware that rejecting the digital realm would be suicidal. The question that has not been asked and that will hopefully give rise to future debates is whether or not the race for visual impact to get likes is not likely to change the artistic production itself … Hard to resist the temptation of the spectacular when the whole world witnesses the compatibility between the Instagram format and the aesthetics of a Damien Hirst. In this digital art world, what place for a conceptual or a minimalist artist? The latter may indeed be left out of this craze. It is therefore the responsibility of every player of the art world, including art critics and curators, to find innovative ways to maintain a diversity within contemporary artistic expressions.

The second part of the day was less lively but no less interesting. Giorgina Adam, journalist for the Art Newspaper and the Financial Times, arbitrated an exchange between Astrid Welters, Head of programmes at the Prada Foundation, Martin Bethenod, director of the Pinault Foundation and François Quintin, director of the Lafayettes Anticipations.

The exchange focused on foundations as a new vector of dynamism on the contemporary art scene. Indeed, the creation of large-scale foundation like the Vuitton Foundation and the Pinault Foundation allowed Paris to secure its position as one of the great capitals for contemporary art. Martin Bethenod and Astrid Welter each presented at length the magnificent facilities available to their institutions. The public was introduced exclusively to a few shots inside the Bourse du commerce, the future space of the Pinault Foundation in Paris entirely refurbished by Tadao Ando. The inauguration of the Bourse du commerce will be the return to Paris of the Pinault collection after the failure of the installation on the île Seguin a decade ago. This event constitutes the definitive acceptance in the French and European museum landscape of the private art foundation as a central player for the curatorial world and the discovery of new talents. Martin Bethenod pointed out that his institution had represented more than 300 artists, thus contradicting the critics who see the Pinault Foundation as an echo chamber for the leading figures of the art market. The French director wanted to show that his team knew how to take risks and wasn’t restrained to bankable artists only. If the process of acceptance of art foundations by more traditional institutions seems to have been long in France, it is not the case in Italy. Astrid Welters recalled that all major Italian cities had a private art foundation in their cultural landscape. For the city of Milan for instance, the Prada Foundation is the only collection of contemporary art.

If the afternoon conference was full of information regarding the history of these prestigious institutions, it is regrettable however that the public could not ask questions to these long-awaited speakers. It would have been interesting to know how far these private art foundations were able to work together or if they were intending to plan and apply policies that went beyond the strict framework of their name development. Many questions that we will have to keep for next year… Everything comes to those who wait!

Francisco Amaru Lozano