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For better or for worse, visual art seems to be having a populist moment. On the “better” side of that opposition is the fact that more people are taking the time to think about and engage with art; on the “worse” side is that for a number of those people, engaging with art means using it as a backdrop.
This has in the past led to some intriguingly awkward situations, as when artist Marc Adelman compiled images of men posing at Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe for their profile pictures on gay dating websites. A new blog, Tinder Guys Posing with Art, is basically a less controversial version of that: the images are drawn from the dating app Tinder and show men posing with art. There is Tiago imitating “The Scream,” Jessen posing with a Banksy, John pretending to hold up Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate.” Although I’m not sure about the decision to include the men’s names and ages (which I’ve cropped out here), the concept is sort of brilliant: it lays bare the many endearing and awkward and corny ways we interact with art. It also seems to confirm (as if it were ever in doubt) art’s social cachet, not just among the rich, but among everyday people who want to impress other everyday people. Look, an art-inflected profile picture on a dating website says, I know about culture, but in a playful way. I’ve got interesting interests. The blog, which was created by artist Sally Glass, also includes a separate, full photo of the glimpsed artwork underneath each entry, listing its artist, title, and date — a small attempt, it seems, to make up for the lack of information with the profile pics and the general relegating of art to neato status.
On the other end of the spectrum, one would think, is the act of actually looking at art. But in that scenario, too, art can function as a background against which to juxtapose a foregrounded subject. Enter Women Looking at Art, also a blog with a self-descriptive title (and the same Tumblr theme as Tinder Guys … ), this one created by art historian and writer Chloe Wyma. The majority of these photos are stock images, and in most of them the art becomes a way of framing the women — who, without the agency expressed by by the Tinder users, turn from subjects into objects. It turns out a photograph of a woman looking at art is the perfect opportunity to highlight her great butt and her sexy high heels — did you know?! But don’t worry, the art-viewing woman is also thoughtful, resting her chin in one hand to contemplate the impressive wash of blue paint before her as she holds her all-important shopping bags in the other. Women are multifaceted. They can look at art and look good doing it.