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A blurry photograph snapped during the “photo protest” at the 2010 Whitney Biennial. (anonymous photo)

A group of unidentified New York art bloggers were spotted at the 2010 Whitney Biennial press preview staging an absurd protest of a painting that was lent to the show by New York’s 303 Gallery. The work, Maureen Gallace, “August” (2009), was the unfortunate recipient of the bloggers’ wrath but the protesters told me that their action was not directed towards Gallace but her gallery, 303, which continues to maintain a strict anti-photography policy that is despised by many art bloggers.

Located in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, 303 represents a long list of artist who are —  perhaps inadvertently —  contributing to the gallery’s anti-photo policy through their silence. The artists include Doug Aitken, Laylah Ali, Rodney Graham, Mary Heilmann, Florian Maier-Aichen and others.

One of the art bloggers was overheard murmuring the words, “looks better blurry,” while another said, “that will teach them,” though what the lesson was wasn’t clear.

During the seemingly spontaneous event, the group took really bad photos of the art work, sometimes with their cellphones, and told anyone who would listen about 303’s photo prohibition. One elderly reporter was obviously frazzled after she learned of the gallery’s photo prohibition. “That’s shocking,” she replied. Another reporter seemed confused and asked,  “Is this a performance?” To which one of the bloggers responded with a giggle.

The hooligan bloggers remain at large and assured me that they will continue to stage future actions against 303 until the gallery removes its ridiculous anti-photography policy. They also told me in confidence — and with the promise that I will buy them many beers when I encounter their anonymous faces again — that the action was in honor of Barry Hoggard and James Wagner, who began protesting galleries with irrational photography policies a few years ago.

“303 should know that we’re their worst nightmare,” one of them howled before disappearing into a crowd of reporters.

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The Editors divide their time between Kinshasa, Brno, Goa, and Tikrit. They are fabulous and they will always be at the party you weren't invited to.

41 replies on “Bloggers Stage Photo Protest Against 303 Gallery at Whitney Biennial”

  1. The policy of no press photography at a gallery strikes me as shocking only because it’s in the gallery’s best interest to get more press. Also, banning photography is an aggressive stance to take. A stupid/agressive rule isn’t really reason to attack a gallery like 303, which shows a lot of great artwork. I agree with the idea behind the protest but not the needless negative energy. Has anyone approached 303 to try to change the policy? It would be interesting to hear 303’s viewpoint.

  2. Not only do they have a no-photo policy, they aggressively go after fair use of images of their artists’ works. See the e-mail sent to blogger Mark Barry over his flickr image of a work in their booth at the Armory Show in 2006. I talked with an intellectual property lawyer about this yesterday while at the Whitney Biennial preview, and he said this was an outrageous abuse of copyright law.

    This all started when we wanted to take installation photos of a Mary Heilmann show.

    Maybe James Kalm can weigh in too. He was allowed to cover Inka Essenhigh’s show there, as he is a friend of the artist, but they refused to allow him to do a video walkthrough for the Karen Kilimnik show so he taped it on the down low.

  3. I’m sure Lisa Spellman and the 303 gang is losing plenty sleep over a bunch of loser bloggers.

    Bloggers. Lol!

  4. Hey all,
    Okay, I understand the frustration caused not only by 303 but several other galleries and museums with their no photo policies . I was allowed to record at Inka’s opening and I’ve snuck in and recorded at the 303 gallery and at their booths in the fairs. It was explained (in confidence) that the no photo policy is the wish of the artists’ not particularly the gallery (?). It’s always been my policy to ignore their policy, and try to get what ever footage I can without getting busted. I also salute James and Barry as they’ve been fighting this battle for years.

    Surprisingly, since we’ve been bringing this issue to the fore, there have been major changes regarding photographing at museums. The Met and MoMA have loosened up considerably and some galleried that had long standing no photo rules are letting people shot pictures so long as they don’t use flash or disturb the other visitors.

    That said, what disturbs me about this action is the way it exploits an uninvolved artist to make a point at an inappropriate time. If you’ve got a beef with the gallery have the guts go to the gallery and confront them, don’t use some young artist’s brief moment in the spotlight to try to get attention for yourself.

    I think we’re winning the battle, but these things take time and consistent pressure. But you’ve got to apply the pressure to the right people at the right time. In the meantime I say go out and photograph away till they throw you out, then sneak back in an photograph some more. These policies will change when it becomes clear they can’t be enforced.

  5. This attack on 303 is so pathetic!

    I couldn’t stop laughing.

    Do you losers (bloggers) really think that the powerhouse that is 303 Gallery gives a fuck?

  6. I don’t really understand what’s behind the entitlement of being “allowed” to photograph everything you see. Doesn’t it really just become about image consumption and mere documentation? It’s not so much about looking anymore. Why exactly do you need to photograph it? Just because you have a blog shouldn’t mean you have the rights to any image you want. If it is indeed for a press purpose, what’s the trouble in contacting the gallery and asking for an image? Or going to the gallery’s website, and copying the image but crediting them?

    Before digital cameras and the internet, I really don’t think there was this great need to document ad infinitum.

    If this is indeed what it is being satirized, I stand corrected.

    1. As a viewer in 2010, I don’t understand why galleries have a need to control my experience of seeing and recording what I see. Why can I write whatever I want about an art work, even if it is horribly negative, and not take a photo unless someone approves of it. That type of visual control restricts experience and doesn’t contribute anything to the work. Photography by its nature is subjective and my way of seeing isn’t the same as someone else’s. It is particularly ironic that artists who rely on appropriation, collage, etc. don’t support other people interested in remixing or appropriating an image.
      An artist creates a work and puts it out into the world and people experience it different ways. I think it’s lovely that people want to take images and remember it and discuss it online. An image, even if it is bad, makes you want to see the original.

  7. As to taking photos of art displayed in galleries, please consider the possibilities of scam “artists,” who intend to digitally copy the works, reframe as prints and sell them down in China Town or the net. Haven’t you bought crap on the streets of China Town, knowing full well it is a copy and a bad one of some movie you hadn’t seen in theatres yet? The same with art. The policy is protectionist because the ownership belongs to the artist. So far as I know, artists need this protection. So get permission when they lay down the law, it will eliminate bad vibes and further hassles.

    1. That’s a rather cynical take on those who take photos of art. And you can be assured that if someone is having their art bootlegged in Chinatown then they probably don’t need the money and/or the amount that one would profit from the venture is so small that it would be rather absurd.

      The vast majority of people — I’m almost willing to say everyone — who take photos do so for their enjoyment and for documentation. I, for instance, take them so that I can write about them another time.

      Increasingly, creative people are realizing that allowing people to reproduce their work actually increases their value, and not the other way around. Also, the issue of artists who use appropriated images is doubly ironic. Why can they swipe images and remix them while others can’t?

      You can see what happened to record labels and publishers when institutions are blind to change. You can be sure that the same will eventually happen to institutions in the art world that refuse to adapt to the times.

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