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How has art in the last decade been distributed?
Written by Satoshi KOGANEZAWA   
Published: August 31 2009

    If I am asked the question above at the end of 2009, I would like to answer as follows: “It has been distributed via the Internet”.

    I am writing this article with the aim of referring to the change in distribution methods of “information” on art, but this change can also be applied to other things than information. As you can find in the @Tag Boat, which is Japan’s largest class Internet gallery, it is clear that artworks are marketed and distributed in the world in the same way that clothes are displayed and sold by Internet stores. We “look at” works only through computer monitors and those who wish to purchase works can do so from home just by filling out a form on the Internet. Needless to say, there are arguments for and against such a way of purchasing, but we cannot ignore the fact that shopping on the Internet has been contributing to expanding the customer base. One important reason is that most galleries are located in urban areas, which means it is difficult for people living in rural areas to visit them, even though they may be interested in art.

    We can also consider “information” from the same perspective as above. Here, “information” comes in various forms which art magazines have been mainly responsible for disseminating, such as information on exhibitions at galleries and museums, reviews, interviews with artists, and criticism of artworks and themes. Today, at the end of the last decade, information and interaction via the Internet, which ranges from information sites managed by companies to blogs on a private level, have a great influence that no one can ignore. The following description is about blogs rather than information sites. Some well-known blogs have no less than thousands of hits per day. And it is not unusual for those who have obtained information about an exhibition from a blog to decide to visit it. In addition, the blog gives them new insights, and allows them to communicate their new knowledge. Blogs vary in quality, but give us a lot of up to date information which the authors have obtained by visiting each exhibition themselves. On such blogs, we can hear the “real” voices of public viewers which can never be found in magazines written mainly by editors or commentators (unless there are readers’ columns). Many authors give their honest opinions, which can be shown only when they are released with their online names through their blogs. In this way, as I have already mentioned in the previous paragraph regarding purchasing artworks through sites, the Internet has become as valuable an information source as magazines.

    By the way, the “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” and the “MAM Project 009: Meiro Koizumi”, which are being held at the Mori Art Museum (25/Jul/2009-08/Nov/2009), have been attracting attention because they allow viewers to take pictures in the venue under a Creative Commons License. It is extremely rare that we are allowed to take photos in museums like the Mori Art Museum, which are used mostly for presenting modern artworks, though the Tokyo National Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo permit viewers to take pictures of permanent exhibitions, and the Itabashi Art Museum allows viewers to take photos in planned exhibitions as well as regular exhibitions subject to some prohibitions as long as the exhibits photographed are owned by them.

    There are two reasons that a number of museums prohibit viewers from taking pictures. One reason concerns the preservation of exhibits and the other concerns protection of copyright of artists or the museums. There is no need to explain the former. It can easily be imagined that photographic techniques, such as using flash, may cause damage to exhibits. Regarding the latter, first of all, let me refer to the exhibitions, “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” and the “MAM Project 009: Meiro Koizumi” to consider the opinions of artists. If Ai Weiwei and Meiro Koizumi had not given their permission, viewers would not have been allowed to take photos at these exhibitions. In addition, if these two exhibitions had not been held as solo exhibitions but as group exhibitions in which two or more artists participated, it would have been difficult to get such permission for the whole exhibition. The above-describes “the intentions of museums which own exhibits”, which includes the opinions of other museums as well as the venue, all of which are the owners of the exhibits. Therefore, it would be difficult to obtain permission to take pictures from all of them, as with group exhibitions. Indeed, the Mori Art Museum allows us to take photos of these exhibitions under the condition of observing certain precautions,*1 but, as written in the notice, it is conceivable that photography may damage exhibits or interfere with other viewers' enjoyment as well as infringe copyright. So, why did the Mori Art Museum give permission for photography this time?

    In Japan, traditionally, it is unusual to be allowed to take pictures in museums, so generally we do not intend to take photos when visiting. Therefore, I suppose the most probable reason for permitting photography under such circumstances would be that the museum expected there to be some kind of advertising effect, rather than hoping simply that photography would provide viewers with good memories. In addition to the increasing use of digital cameras and sophisticated cellular phones with built-in cameras, the communization of the Internet, and furthermore, the popularity of blogs and SNS have contributed significantly to altering the way of distributing information over recent years. As shown vividly by the magazine, “ART iT” (2003-2009), which changed its form into that of a website completely after ending its existence as a magazine, the Internet has a great advantage in instantaneousness and cost-effectiveness, and is different to paper media which needs a certain amount of time and expense to complete its whole creating process from coverage to publication. Furthermore, the Internet has made it easier to hand down information as an archive and it allows readers to communicate with each other. Therefore, as I have mentioned above, it can be said that art information which is distributed in today’s world has the feature of including strangers’ real “voices” which can be heard on the Internet, similar to the way in which, up to now we might visit exhibitions, motivated by “word of mouth”. In fact, if we search for “アイ・ウェイウェイ (Ai Weiwei)” on blogs, we can find a number of articles accompanied by images.*2 Via the Internet, we can enjoy seeing images of exhibitions, which normally can never be seen unless we visit the exhibitions ourselves. Here, let me give you an easier-to-understand example regarding the advertising effects of allowing viewers to take pictures in venues. In the exhibition entitled “Special Exhibition: Precursor of the Inka Empire - The Golden Capital of SICAN”, which is being held at the National Museum of Nature and Science, “One-day Blog Reporters” are being recruited on the official website. After your application is certified, you are allowed to visit the exhibition for free, take photos there, and receive original goods.*3 Needless to say, reporters are required to post the contents of the exhibition on their blogs after visiting it. Therefore, it can be considered that the organizer of this exhibition decided to conduct this plan with the expectation that permitting photography would have a certain level of advertising benefits.

    However, I think there may be problems caused by distributing information on exhibitions together with images of exhibits and venues, though such a method of circulation has been allowed by organizers. Personally, I do not like to see what is on display in venues beforehand; instead, I would rather such images were not shown to me before my visit. Therefore, in principle, I dare not access sites and blogs which “show” me exhibits and exhibition sites in advance, though I know that they are popular among the public. The reason is simple. Viewing such sites and blogs would halve significantly my expectations of the exhibition I intended to visit. Of course, there are enormous differences between “looking at” exhibits on the Internet and at the exhibition venue itself. But that also means there is no need to “look at” them on the Internet beforehand. “Looking at” creations through monitors is just a pseudo-event. Thus, I need to search for information about exhibitions on the Internet only when I am required to provide it after visiting them.

    Since I provide reviews and other topics for the “web magazine covering Japanese contemporary art”, KALONSNET, the following may lead some readers to misinterpret what I mean, but basically I write articles with the aim of giving information about exhibitions to people who will need it in the future, rather than urging readers to visit exhibitions. The people who will require such information may be those living in fifty years or a hundred years time. So, for me, it is not a significant problem that my articles are often posted on the website after the end of an exhibition. Today, we can find a great deal of information on the Internet. This is the very reason why we should show appropriate information via the Internet, and this is not always proportional to the instantaneous effects. (Here, let me point out that the above is not based on KALONSNET’s principles but on my own perspective.)

    In fact, in the case of the exhibitions now being held at the Mori Art Museum, there is no clear mention that the museum allows photography with the aim of advertising, but it is difficult to believe that the permission has been given so that viewers can create their own memories. In addition, it is also true that such a method of attracting viewers is currently popular with museums. This reminds me that my supervisor remarked to me that today we have to select the most important subjects from large amounts of information, while when the Internet did not exist we needed the skill to track down individual pieces of information. In short, the Internet has changed the way of collecting information. The change will be accelerated through the broader distribution not only of personal computers but also of smart phones such as the iPhone. For better or worse, we are surrounded by an overabundance of information. I suppose giving permission for photography in exhibitions, which has been tried by the Mori Art Museum this time, reflects one of the features of our time – enabling access to more information. These days, we have to cultivate our ability to distinguish the important from the trivial in the flood of information which is constantly increasing in our daily life.

On the Mori Art Museum’s website, there is a notice regarding photography in the “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” and the “MAM Project 009” as follows:
(There are also examples of the Creative Commons License and symbols, but I have omitted them here.)
Notice Regarding Photography in the Galleries
When taking photographs:
- Do not touch the works of art.
- Do not interfere with other visitors' enjoyment of the museum.
- Do not use flash lighting.
- Do not use tripods.
- Do not film the works.
When using photographs taken of the exhibitions:
- Photographs may be used for non-commercial purposes only. Photographs may not be used for commercial purposes.
- Photographs may not be altered in any way.
- The conditions above are licensed under the Creative Commons License. When uploading photographs for blogs or any other photo-sharing services, please make sure to display the below symbols and phrases with the photograph.
- If photographs that include other museum visitors are made public, they may infringe on that person's right of portrait.
Doing a Google blog search for “アイ・ウェイウェイ (Ai Weiwei)”, you can see the following result. Many articles include a number of photos which were taken of the exhibition, most of which are accompanied by symbols of the Creative Commons License. This shows that the above-mentioned notice seems to be relatively well observed.
TBS “Special Exhibition: Precursor of the Inka Empire - The Golden Capital of SICAN”
Last Updated on October 28 2015

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