Museum Selfies

Why is it forbidden to take pictures from this wall, while must of this material can be found on the internet for free?
Why is it forbidden to take pictures from this wall, while must of this material can be found on the internet for free?

Museums have been guardians of works of art for centuries. They have created state of the art rooms to keep works of art in optimal conditions: temperature, relative humidity, light, seismic meters… They don’t allow flashlights because of the damage that UV rays can cause to works of art.

When photography was mainly made in film and the light sensitivity of the film was low, it was necessary the use of flashlight in interiors, and must of the museums did not allow admission with cameras or charged an extra for the use of them but always avoiding the use of flashlights in order to protect valuable items.

That policy has been good for preservation of works of art, if we think in delicate script rolls, paper gravures, and middle age and renaissance painting and illustrations.

What about installations, and other types of contemporary art? Do they need the same treatment? Sometimes they don’t allow taking pictures not because of preservation issues but because of copyrights: the same rules that were designed for music and movies now is in museums and the bigger the institution that holds the copyrights the harder to take pictures of a piece: bureaucracy. How an amateur photography can affect the income of a visual artist or a gallery? On the contrary: it can promote them.

I have been volunteering at my city’s gallery for the last year and one of my duties is to watch the exhibition rooms and to ask people to avoid the use of cameras, even low quality cameras from cheap cellphones. I must say that I don’t like this policy, but those had been the rules from the beginning.

In my last shift as a guardian, I had to limit the entrance to an installation because it was built with cheap materials and the structure was made in such a lousy way that it could not support more than three people at a time, definitely it was not designed to attract multitudes, but there was another problem with this structure: you also cannot take pictures of this useless stuff. Why? I don’t know, I’m trying to figure out. Maybe because it is part of the policies of the gallery, maybe it’s an obscure and hidden law that has been part of the building and nobody has bothered to change it.

I don’t know how a picture in your phone or even a post in Facebook or Tweeter can affect in any way the copyrights of this kind of stuff. If you ask me about the quality of this piece I will answer that is a piece of scrap that nobody will remember it next year; but I’m not going to be the one to judge the pieces that were selected by “specialists” and “experienced” curators in my city’s gallery, and I will let time to judge this new art and see if it survives the next century.

In this era of social networking, it would be worth the use of these tools to promote galleries and museums between friends for free instead of cut visitors’ wings and give them an invitation to never-come-again.

So I decided not to bother visitors about taking pictures and let them on their own to decide if it’s worth to post a souvenir of their visit to the gallery or not. That precise act will also let us know which works of arts are worth and which object is just a joke by some specialists called “artists”, “curators” and “gallery directors”. I’m inviting every spectator to do the same and post their favorite works arts at local galleries in Facebook or any other social network, it will benefit everybody and will attract more people to visit museums and art galleries; and in the process it will upset some guardians, curators, institutions and gallery staff.

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