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Museum Attendance Is at an All-Time High, Thanks to Art Selfies

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If you went to the Rain Room, but it wasn't on Instagram, did you still go?

Do you love going to museums? Of course you do. You live for the work of Jeff Koons, Vivian Maier, and hell, you're not above an Andy Warhol soup can. LaPlaca Cohen, a cultural advertising firm, understands this. The firm just released a new survey from their Culture Track series that focuses on the ever-changing art audiences of the United States. We all like art! But how much do we actually appreciate it, voluntarily pay for it, and absorb it? I mean, the Metropolitan Museum of Art charges $25 now and doesn't even allow flash photography.

The study describes today's culture-hungry audiences as "overstimulated, cynical, overcommitted, self-focused, promiscuous, hyper-connected…but curious." With data collected from over 4,026 people in the U.S., it was found that, surprisingly, the number of Americans who attended at least one museum or theater significantly increased compared to 2011. Leading this "culturally informed" class are none other than self-absorbed, smartphone-wielding Millennials, who were the demographic that attended the most amount of cultural activities per month. The study reveals today's art consumption is all about where you find out about it — social media — and where you report on going to it — also social media. As ANIMAL notes, we are all becoming "art sluts."

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Part of this rise in museum attendance might have to do with the fact that liking high brow culture is in vogue again, artists are coming up with even more innovative exhibits that attract a wider and curious crowd — but let's be honest, this hike in museum attendance probably has a lot to do with the #artselfie. A trend discovered and curated by DIS magazine, #artselfies are Instagram shots of people in front of works of art. People smizing in front of Van Gogh, peace signs at the Guggenheim, and duck face at the Louvre. 

As writer Brian Droitcour notes on DIS, "Is art a reflection of life? Do people respond to an artwork when they see something of themselves in it? These popular explanations of art’s appeal have the dullness of cliché, yet they throw sparks when they cross wires with Instagram." Because what's a masterwork without half of our face obscuring it? The entire #artselfie trend uncovers one of newest and most fervent motivators for going to cultural events: we want to seem in the know. An inextricable part of going to museum is the brag that we went there. We want to be seen going to museums, not at the museums (don't be silly, they're full of boring people), but on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

The Culture Track survey's numbers comply with this theory. The vast majority of art attendees just want to take pictures of the art and themselves.

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We're very, very eager to share how much we like "art" and "museums" on social media and dating profiles moreso than we might actually attend these events. But for some, the attraction of taking a photo at a specific art space is pretty much the entire purpose for the event. Two notable exhibits that undoubtedly exploded due to the volume of social media posts about their openings were MoMA's Rain Room and the Kusama Infinity Room at David Zwirner. These installations, a room of rain and a room of mirrors, respectively, were perfect photo-ops for #artselfies. They spawned months worth of profile pics that were indisputably hip.

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A search for the hashtag #rainroom hits you with a deluge of well-lit silhouettes of people jumping through the MoMA. The Kusama Infinity Room is full of typical mirror selfies, only this time amplified and artsy. If museum attendance is up, it's because not only the art is cool, but we look really cool next to the art.

Like Droitcour says, we are supposed to see ourselves in art, that's the point of it. Not only are #artselfies showing how we relate to art, how much we consume it, but what cultural consumption looks like when it's allowed to get universally socialized. We might be becoming art sluts, but at least we're seeing more art. Even if it is through Instagram filter.

[h/t ANIMAL New York]

Images via DIS magazine.