How Instagram affected the relationship between the Art Spaces & its Visitors

No one can imagine a world without Internet and in relation to that, mobile phones in these days. Since they have already became part of our daily lives, the affects of them cannot be underestimated. When it comes to art spaces, mobile applications changed how the visitors engage with the space and the artworks within, and in return art museums and galleries shaped up accordingly. The preliminary data shows that use of mobile applications help visitors to have a deeper experience and longer stay time (Rhee and Choi 2015, 39), while others believe that these kind of applications cause visitors to have a more superficial understanding of the works in the art museums or galleries. Within the art space Instagram undoubtedly has been the most influential application. It affected the visitor’s meaning making, interpretation, self-curation, participation related to the exhibition (Rhee and Choi 2015, 39) and consequently led to a complex relationship between art spaces and its visitors, which is being reformed daily.

Instagram as a mobile application (established in 2010) simply answered the need for a platform to share photos online, after the emergence of mobile phones with high technology cameras. Basically, it allows users to manipulate the photos that they upload and merges all the steps that a mobile phone user has to go through: taking a photo, editing it, and eventually sharing it (Weilenmann, Hillman and Jungselius 2013, 1843). This single workflow, which enables users to post/share instantly, let Instagram to go beyond the photo-realism of the lens (Manovich 2016, 22) and helped it to become very popular in a short span of time. Currently, it has more than 600 million monthly, and more than 400 million daily active users (Instagram, Our Story, 2010). For the art gallery and museum visitors, Instagram as a visual sharing platform, provided an online archive to document and to share their experiences while they are in, or out of the exhibition space (Weilenmann, Hillman and Jungselius 2013, 1843), which as a process gave rise to different outcomes.

First of all the act of taking a photo in an offline space and uploading to an online one, produced a digital new space for the art museum to breathe in. The new online space, which expands with every single post, helps each user to feel free to share their own perspectives of the exhibition itself, its elements and its occupying space. This technologically obtained freedom, can also be interpreted as the democratization of the art space and objects. According to Pam Meecham, because the visitors have a great impact within the art spaces, now there is “an emphasis on the user rather than the institution” (Meecham 2013, 35). As a result it is possible to say that, thanks to Instagram and its users, traditional boundaries between art institutions and its visitors are being broken down every single day.

In this online space, the creation meaning occurs as a consequence of the hashtags, captions and comments, as well as the visuals posted. Between these elements, hashtags stand out, since they are not just being used for meaning making but also for organizing and promoting purposes. As organizers, they help to categorize images under specific words, which can be descriptive, imaginative, literal or figurative and they simply help users to engage with different communities or targeted audiences (Weilenmann, Hillman and Jungselius 2013, 1844). When it comes to art objects, every shared post increases the value of it, while every post with a hashtag helps to build upon a flow of images of that same object. Consequently many art museums and galleries started using hashtagging as an effective and free marketing tool for their online platforms.


Screen Shot 2017-04-23 at 15.15.34
“I came, I saw and I selfied” (Fei 2015) (taken from public Instagram profiles under the hashtag of #tateselfie)


For example, according to the New York Times writer Emily Palmer, in Yayoi Kusama’s latest exhibition, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden encouraged social media with a specific hashtag “#InfiniteKusama” (Palmer 2017), by referring to the Infinity Rooms that Kusama created. Since those rooms are quite ‘instagrammable’, visitors accept to spend the whole day waiting in the line to experience and take a photo inside the rooms, which reflects back to the museum’s visitor numbers as an increase. So social media usage can affect positively the number of people visiting the art institutions clearly.

While art institutions encourage the use of social media, Instagram encourages people to visit exhibitions and take photos, when they are allowed to (Instagram 2011):

“Don’t you just hate when you go to a museum and you try to take mobile photos of the incredible architecture, or a beautiful new installation (without flash, of course) and you promptly get scolded by a volunteer or security? We do too.”

That is why Instagram advises two art museums in which nobody will stop you, if you want to take photos: SFMOMA & Brooklyn Museum. Taking them as a reference point, is it possible to say that contemporary artworks are maybe more ‘instagrammable’?


Yellow versus Purple, Olafur Eliasson 2003 (taken from public Instagram profiles) TATE Modern


In the summer of 2013 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, James Turrell opened an exhibition, in which he did not want visitors to take photos, since he was dealing with light as a material and the work would be interrupted by shiny mobile phone screens. However, despite the artist’s will, visitors took lots of photos and the exhibition was a huge success on the social media (Jai 2015). It reached the highest visitor numbers of all times.

Turrell’s, Kusama’s and many more exhibitions around the world are the proofs that social media is ‘good for the business’. People participate more, reflect on the artworks that they took photos of and just to take photos, visit more! However Instagram does not prove that visitors have a deeper engagement with artworks, but at the same time should they? Yet to be discussed.

(The text that you read is the shortened and edited version of a research paper, which you can access through this link.)

Naz Ugurlu


Instagram. Museums on Instagram. November 9, 2011. (accessed April 2017).

—. Our Story. 2010. (accessed April 2017).

Fei, Jia Jia. “Art in the Age of Instagram.” Filmed August 2015. TED video, Posted March 2016.

Manovich, Lev. “Designing and Living Instagram Photography Themes, Feeds, Sequences, Branding, Faces, Bodies.” In Instagram and Contemporary Image, by Lev Manovich. 2016.

Meecham, Pam. “Socail Work: Museums, Technology and Material Culture.” In Museum Communication and Social Media: The Connected Museum, edited by Kirsten Drotner and Kim Christian Schroder, 33-53. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Palmer, Emily. “Is That Yayoi Kusama Selfie Worth the Wait.” The New York Times. March 14, 2017. (accessed April 2017).

Rhee, Boa, and Yongsoon Choi. “Using Mobile Technology for Enchancing Museum Experience: Case Studies of Museum Mobile Applications in S.Korea.” International Journal of Multimedia and Ubiquitous Engineering 10, no. 6 (2015): 39-44.

Weilenmann, Alexandra, Thomas Hillman, and Beata Jungselius. “Instagram at the Museum: Communicating the Museum Experience through Social Photo Sharing.” 2013.





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