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BERLIN — In a move bound to confuse many of his most die-hard fans, Tino Sehgal, the artist famous for crafting ‘objectless’ performances that are not allowed to be photographed or otherwise documented in any way, in many of the world’s leading galleries and museums, is now on Instagram.
The story goes like this: last year, an anonymous museum-goer was scolded by security at the Kunstmuseum in Stuttgart, where Sehgal was staging one of his most well-known, iconic works, “This is So Contemporary.”
In the performance, three “interpreters” are dressed in museum attendant uniforms and stand around in the foyer. Visitors are chosen randomly by the performers who then abruptly break into action, flinging their arms in the air, interpreting the instructions while chanting in unison: This is so contemporary, this is so contemporary …” before returning to their original stations and announcing with dancerly performative panache: “This is so contemporary! Tino Sehgal! 2005! Kunstmuseum Stuttgart!”
After the anonymous museum-goer was escorted out for repeatedly attempting to photograph the work, he was alleged to have said: “What could be less contemporary,” which apparently left a mark on Sehgal’s psyche.
“I’ve been thinking about that comment for the past year,” Sehgal said. “He’s right.”
Sehgal made a career untangling art from its relationship to economic value and social and cultural meaning. His works were once described by a leading art critic as the only work of art he had ever encountered that could cry back.
“But I’m tired of being a luddite,” Sehgal said in a direct message to Hyperallergic via his Instagram handle, @TonySeagul.
“I looked at myself and those around me honestly and thought about it deeply,” Sehgal said. “It suddenly dawned on me that all these disconnected people are really just ‘anti-social,’ which actually is anathema to my work.”
“I used to think I was part of a vanguard, my work leading to new ways of being happier in situ, more rested and, yes, more social.”
“But then I realized that all of this puerile art theory art about ‘dematerialization’ from Lucy Lippard to Dorothea von Hantelmann is actually quite useless,” Sehgal said with regret.
“Now that I’m on Instagram, I can brand my ‘constructed situations’ in ways I hadn’t thought about previously. I don’t need a gallery or museum to write obtuse press releases about my work anymore, I can just take selfies with rich people and everyone will know my work is reputable and important.”
“I understand some people — maybe a decent amount of Instagram’s 500 million daily users — will now find my work directly accessible without having to go to London, Berlin, or New York, and perhaps even become inspired to transcend their regular, normal, boring lives.”
“I want people in rural communities to take note of what I’ve done, it wasn’t easy pranking the art world into accepting chants and sing-alongs of ‘This is so contemporary’ as museum quality work.”
As a choreographer who makes dance for the museum setting, Sehgal’s latest transition into the digital space is bound to cause confusion not only amongst fans, but also among collectors and galleries who ‘own’ some of his ‘objectless’ performances.
Sehgal’s gallerist in Berlin, Esther Schipper, said in an email to Hyperallergic that she has been fielding calls all weekend from collectors and museum curators wondering what this will mean for the market value of the works in their collections.
Previously, in order to ‘acquire’ one of Sehgal’s works, collectors would enter into an oral contract with the artist, no documentation or physical contract was allowed either. “Now I have collectors and curators frantically calling me and asking me how Sehgal’s Instagram will impact the value of his existing work, which actually doesn’t even exist!” Schipper said. “It’s going to be hard selling and persuading new collectors to acquire older Sehgal works. This is a disaster,” she said, “Sehgal’s market has literally collapsed overnight.”
In response, Sehgal doubled down on his newfound online presence. “I used to think Instagram was for fakeness, humblebrags, and harassment, but it’s actually not that bad, I just read a note Hans Ulrich Obrist posted from Agnes Varda that’s actually pretty inspiring,” Sehgal said.
The note Sehgal is referring to says, in part, “Hollywood is a state of mind.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Sehgal says, “I love Instagram.”