Takeover or Hijack: Alberto Aguilar on @artinstitutechi Instagram

March 14, 2016 · Print This Article

guest post by Dan Gunn

Alberto Aguilar announced his Instagram takeover of the @artinstitutechi feed in a bathroom mirror selfie. He positioned the cellphone to obscure his face and captioned the post with the deadpan statement “This is a takeover. I am Alberto Aguilar. This will last one week.” With that single post already several people vowed to unfollow until “the art returned”, while others were convinced that the feed had been “hacked”, while still others lamented that selfies “degraded” the museum.

The Chicago-based artist Aguilar is the Art Institute of Chicago’s 2015-2016 Artist in Residence for Museum Education. He was chosen because education features prominently in his artistic practice through his professorship at Harold Washington College. The residency includes an on-site studio housed embedded in the Ryan Education Center, various opportunities to lecture and conduct public events and the Instagram takeover at hand. From January 11th to the 18th Aguilar regularly posted his activities within the museum and selectively interacted with the Institute’s followers. That his actions could provoke such an extraordinary response, both positive and negative points to the power of social media and the effectiveness of Aguilar’s approach.

This is a takeover. I am Alberto Aguilar. This will last one week.

A photo posted by The Art Institute of Chicago (@artinstitutechi) on

The takeover phenomenon itself comes from a marketing strategy wherein corporate brands partner with “influencers” in order to heighten their credibility and deepen their “brand engagement” with consumers. Influencers are considered influential because they are authentic and credible examples of the brand image to the brand’s target audience. In this case Aguilar is a living example of an artist in a museum that celebrates art. The Art Institute of Chicago, which declined to comment for this article saying instead in an email that they wanted to “keep the focus on Alberto’s practice and his ownership of the creative process on the Instagram project” presumably wanted the artist to perform contemporary art for the audience.

The two previous AIC social media takeovers from LA-based artists Frances Stark and Charles Ray delivered tepid posts. Charles Ray seemed largely disinterested and Frances Stark’s output was subsumed by her already voluminous social media presence. Aguilar approximated a living specimen of an artist inside the hallowed repository of mostly dead-artist’s art, like a genetically engineered T-Rex on view next to Sue at the Field Museum. Why then would people prefer to view the plaster casts when the real thing was available? The takeover and its response charts a competing trio of interests between the venerable museum, an irascible artist and the expectant Instagram audience.

rosiefomalley @artinstitutechi what kind of horseshit

For Aguilar’s part he was given the account for Instagram for a week without restrictions. The canon for Instagram artworks is still being written but his approach was unique in several ways. The most comprehensive work to date is probably by the artist Amalia Ulman who over the course of months believably transformed her feed into a record of her life as a vapid LA impresario. Photos of brunch and breast enlargement scars were all faked for a scripted 175 post drama presented as if it were her real life. The piece called, “Excellences & Perfections” functions as both feminist and social media critique unveiling the double desire to share and to craft one’s image at the same time; a.k.a. to not really share.

Alberto Aguilar instead reinforced the believability of the Instagram image by performing simple actions in the recognizable space of the museum and by responding selectively to the instructions of certain followers. He roamed the galleries opening telephone panels, propping open doors, overturning chairs, placing a half styrofoam cup in front of a Magritte, arranging a floor full of doilies in the room with the paperweights and other forms of aesthetic littering. Aguilar’s approach to objects is inflected by Minimalism, frequently using simple geometries like grids, lines and zig zags that make the actions seem deceptively matter-of-fact more akin to crossing items off a to-do list than making a drawing. This functional relationship between his activity and the resultant situation bolstered the trustworthiness of the feed at the expense of artifice.

I am @albert0aguilar. This is a takeover. I will locate secret doors beneath artworks.

A photo posted by The Art Institute of Chicago (@artinstitutechi) on

I am @albert0aguilar. This is #alexbradleycohen. This is one of my formative works. This photo was taken by @pfagundo.

A photo posted by The Art Institute of Chicago (@artinstitutechi) on

Aguilar describes this approach as “using a regulated form in a very regulated building in order to have a moment of intimacy myself in this space.” Aguilar’s language in the posts also plays to this calculated blankness. “I don’t like being overly poetic. I like when I state facts and those things act as poetry also.”

rs_gould Sweet litter. Good thing you got that MFA

Not that Aguilar’s practice doesn’t also rely on metaphor. In one of the earliest posts he and fellow artist Alex Bradley Cohen held up homemade cardboard signs that read “Trouble Maker” or “Problem Solver” as an introduction to the takeover. Other works refer to issues of accessibility by opening “doors” or creating “bridges” within the museum experience. Here the artist functioned as a surrogate museum goer, a tester of the institution by filling voids, mimicking gallery architecture and associating objects of the present with the past, culture outside the museum with culture inside and personal history with art history.

The inclusion of his personal life was another source of audience annoyance and yet another way Aguilar aimed to disarm them. When Alberto wasn’t in the museum, he was frequently at home.

“People were annoyed about the home photos and would try to tell me what they wanted to see and what they didn’t want to see. So I thought that it would be funny to put a picture of my kids all playing [the board game] Trouble while my wife was sleeping just because I wanted my family to be recorded forever on the Art Institute’s Instagram feed. Because anybody would want to make their presence known! Right? Isn’t that what Instagram is all about? That’s also why I kept saying “This is a takeover”. Someone who was angry called it something else, they said this is a hijack!” So the next post I used that. “This is a hijack.”

The pedestrian nature of Alberto’s life, indeed that of most working artists when viewed up close, was off-putting to people who tuned into the museum’s feed for Culture with a capital “C”. The personal moments presented within his factual, monotone voice were disarming to the point of becoming intimate. The high point of this being a touching snippet of song performed on ukulele by Aguilar’s two kids on the final day. What becomes clear through reading comments is that the dissenters find Aguilar’s lowering of the Art Institute’s high cultural voice disrespectful. But why is this act disrespectful when the institution has invited him to do it?

As I prepare to exit I give you part of a song performed by Madeleine and Paolo.

A video posted by The Art Institute of Chicago (@artinstitutechi) on

andiamojoe @mimi_marg @eggwithoutyolk @artinstitutechi all that wonderful art around should be inspiring to this feed, the content is lackluster and not representative of the great works and artists within one of the greatest art museums in the world… Step it up or face a mass unfollow!

The answer, at least partially, seems to be that the Art Institute was operating outside of its understood brand identity, or were purposefully trying to expand it to encompass more contemporary art. There was a general tone in the comments of dissatisfaction, not with the idea of a takeover per se, but with the particular type of plain dealing, found-object arranging, conceptual social practice that Aguilar uses. The only charge directed at Aguilar as a person was that of self-indulgence. Presumably this was for the posts that actually contained his image, not for posting his artwork because that was at least part of the point.

robby47 Blame Andy Warhol. But compared to this, Warhol looks like freakin Rembrandt.

Aguliar’s “lazy Dadaism” as one follower put it, in turn led to charges of “pretentiousness”, where pretension is understood as thinking oneself important when in fact you aren’t. These commenters saw no value in his use of simple arrangements of recognizable material through easy to replicate gestures. As a counterfactual, it’s hard to imagine any controversy over a representational artist painting museumgoers as they tour the galleries, a kind of museum-cum-landscape.

Other moments pitted the artist’s interests more directly against that of the institution. The museum has always catered to the civic pride of Chicago through various means, including the decoration of the famed entry lions with whichever sports team is prospering at the time. Recently that has been the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. An ill-advised attempt to find common cause with fans in anticipation of a Stanley Cup playoff game resulted in an image of a Medieval knight’s helmet adorned with the Blackhawk’s logo being posted to the account. Considered alone, the Blackhawk’s logo is controversial enough, but to layer onto a stereotype of indigenous peoples an item symbolizing the systematic religious violence of the Crusades defies common sense.

Ellsworth Kelly's Red Yellow Blue White and Black over Charring Cross Bridge, London by Claude Monet. For: @razorbackcarole From: @albert0aguilar

A photo posted by The Art Institute of Chicago (@artinstitutechi) on

Aguilar at this point had been “building bridges” between separate time periods of the museum collection by holding up gift-shop postcard images in front of related artworks. Now he responded by holding up a phone with the Instagram of the knight’s helmet in front of a display of a Native American ceremonial headdress and pressed the send button. The image pits the legacy of American oppression of indigenous peoples through caricature and confiscation of property against the museum’s desire for greater mass media relevance beyond expected elite cultural circles. The reaction from the audience was swift and intense and for the first time Aguilar himself felt conflicted about his usage of the takeover.

“People were confused as to what I was trying to say. I didn’t want to offend Native American people, but that’s what started happening right away. There was this young Native American commenter who took it out of context and didn’t realize it was a takeover. He was angry at the museum for putting up this image and began swearing in his comments. So the museum’s social media manger deleted them which I was told is regular practice whenever people swear in comments. And he would come back and wonder why he was being censored on top of being offended by the image. I went to sleep and had a terrible dream that night. I woke up and decided that I was going to delete the image all together. I just didn’t feel right about it anymore, mainly because I was offending Native Americans but also because I didn’t think that it was fair to the institution that had given me this freedom.”

Aguilar did in fact delete this post, though at the time of publication the original Blackhawk knight’s helmet post still remains.

The ingenuity of this takeover is the way that it placed the artist at the ethical intersection of several public discourses.

Who is the artist responsible to represent? For Aguilar, what began as an attempt to confront an ethnic stereotype instead ended up propagating it. The museum, for it’s part, has the difficult task of picking artists as influencers because of the legacy of avant-gardism still ingrained in contemporary art. They will be critical of their museological handlers, which both present dangers for their brand identity and simultaneously reinforces the credibility and authenticity of the influencer. Meanwhile the audience has to decode the layered experience of these images and deal with their frustrated expectations. Social media seems to give viewers a sense of propriety over the institution that is illusory. What ability does the Instagram public have to shape museum policy or image? Not much. The tradition and cultural prestige of their brand expectations had been substituted with contemporaneity and uncertainty.

“People were telling me what they wanted to see and what they didn’t want to see, they were angry. I said something like “This is a takeover. I will decide what is shown.” Then I said “I will use whatever is around me as a tool. I was referring to the physical objects around me I used as a tool for revealing and concealing but also to the camera which can serve the same function. I’m wasn’t trying to be arrogant, but the truth is that it was a takeover, I did have control but I also personally have control of what I show and don’t show of myself.”

The ironic thing is that the space of institutional (or branded) social media requires an audience, no matter how inflexible. The commenters certainly weren’t worried about the authority or appropriateness of their comments in their ill-conceived defense of the museum. The social media space requires a back and forth in which Aguilar fully engaged. He would take suggestions from the comments about what to do next actually giving the audience some ability to interact with the museum that they love. Instead of getting into a comment tit-for-tat he would perform actions just to show them that he was open to their input. And for all of the dissenters there were also people who appreciated the unique perspective on the museum that Aguilar came to offer. The masterful nature of the takeover was the way that it revealed the contours and fissures of the public’s relationship to 21st century institutions. It showed the historical problems and contemporary possibilities while insistently, even stubbornly, keeping the approach intimate and personal.


 

Dan Gunn is an artist, writer and educator living and working in Chicago. Dan writes about Chicago art, including a history of alternative and apartment spaces in conjunction with the Hyde Park Art Center’s “Artists Run Chicago” exhibition and the Artist Run Digest published by Threewalls and Green Lantern Press. Dan has written for for Bad at Sports, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Depaul Art Museum, Loyola University Museum of Art, Newcity Magazine, Proximity Magazine and ArtSlant.com. He was a contributor to Fielding Practice podcast, a collaboration between Bad at Sports and Art21.




Top 10 Weekend Picks! (9/4-9/6)

September 3, 2015 · Print This Article

The long hot summer is over. The season is beginning again. Thus, for this week and next, we shall feature a Top 10 Picks! Enjoy.

Friday 9/4/15 – 

Algorithm Gerbils at Fernwey

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Work by Alexander Valentine.

Fernwey is located at 916 N. Damen Ave. Reception 7-10pm.

FROOTS at Galerie F

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Work by Chris Uphues, Buried Diamond, and Killer Acid.

Galerie F is located at 2381 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception 6-10pm.

Tertiary Dimensions at Sector 2337

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Curated by Alexandria Eregbu with work by Aay Preston-Myint, Adam Liam Rose + Alex Zak, Amina Ross, Betsy Odom, Elijah Burgher, Gordon Hall, Katie Vota, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Margaret Bobo-Dancy, Matt Morris, Oli Rodriguez, and Rami George.

Sector 2337 is located at 2337 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception 5-8pm.

Garcia, Rios + Romero at Trunk Show

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Work by Anthony Romero, Josh Rios and Eric J. Garcia.

Trunk Show is located at 1859 W. 19th St. Reception 6-8pm.

Saturday 9/5/15 – 

What Would Barbara Do? at Defibrillator Gallery

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Curated by Joseph Ravens, Oli Rodriguez and Frederic Moffet with work by Miao Jiaxin, Zachary Harvey, Caitlin Bacon, Whitney Johnston, Charles Lum, Barbara DeGenevieve, Amber Hawk Swanson, Kean O’Brien and Isaac Leung.

Defibrillator Gallery is located at 1463 W. Chicago Ave. Reception 7-10pm.

Cohen + Ruiz at Roots and Culture

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Work by Alex Bradley Cohen and Steve Ruiz.

Roots and Culture is located at 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception 6-9pm.

Their, Their at Slow Pony Project

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Work by Local Honey.

Slow Pony Project is located at 1745 W. 18th St. Reception 6-9pm.

Finocchio at The Franklin

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Curated by Scott J Hunter with work by Daniel Baird, Jessica Caponigro, Alexandria Eregbu, Danny Giles, Sofia Moreno, Matt Morris, Amina Ross, Alfredo Salazar-Caro, Ivan Lozano and Dan Paz.

The Franklin is located at 3522 W. Franklin Blvd. Reception 6-10pm.

A short and pleasurable journey at Vertical Gallery

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Work by Collin van der Sluijs, Mike Perry, Cody Hudson, Daniel Frost, Hedof, Jordy van den Nieuwendijk, Amanda Marie, David Shillinglaw and more.

Vertical Gallery is located at 1016 N. Western Ave. Reception 6-10pm.

Sunday 9/6/15 – 

Warm Kitty, Soft Kitty at Hyde Park Art Center

Eliza Bennett - A Woman's Work Is Never Done - film still5

Work by D. Denenge Akpem, Eliza Bennett, Laci Coppins and Nakia Gordon, Alexandria Eregbu, Isaac Facio and Benedickt Diemer, Whitney Huber, Taylor Hokanson and Dieter Kirkwood, Cole Don Kelley, Barbara Layne, Hiro Murai for Flying Lotus, Tameka J. Norris, Betsy Odom, Scout Paré-Phillips, Jennifer Ray, Aileen Son and Fo Wilson.

Hyde Park Art Center is located at 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Reception 3-5pm.

 




EDITION #16

August 26, 2013 · Print This Article

The scene at Iceberg Projects Saturday.

Art Lovers Gravitate to Rogers Park Galleries

Rogers Park was the place to be Saturday night with killer back to back openings taking place within blocks of one another. The weather couldn’t have been better and both shows had robust turn outs. Unioned Labors at the aptly named Bike Room featured not one but three different collaborative projects from duos. Small and whimsical, this show packed a big punch. Alberto Aguilar & Alex Bradley Cohen filled the space’s hallway with a mural pieced together with delightfully bold and colorful paintings on cardboard and complimented by a playful soundtrack. Inside the gallery itself a video of Aguliar’s & Cohen workin’ it out in the Bike Room’s backyard that shared a similar soundtrack. Amanda Ross-Ho and her father, Ruyell, used one of his playful abstractions that reads “Less is Not More” to adorn one of Ross-Ho’s signature oversized t-shirts. The most somber offering, Frank Piyatec & Judith Geitchman‘s rhythmic black and white text and abstractions were arranged into a giant checkerboard.

Oren Pinhassi, Untitled, 2013.

Naama Arad, Marfa, 2013.

Rhoades Scholar, curated by New Capital‘s Chelsea Culp and Ben Foch at Iceburg Projects, was similarly sparse yet arresting featuring one piece each from young guns Murat Adash, Naama Arad, Marie Alice BrandNer-Wolfszahn, and Oren Pinhassi. Adash also staged a performance where sightseers focused attention on various objects and people in the Iceberg space during the opening. Particularly mind blowing were Arad’s and Pinhassi’s work. Pinhassi’s backpack looked like it was dipped in papier-mâché and wrapped in a chalk-covered blackboard. The mutant backpack was placed open and empty on the floor revealing that crappy red nylon that’s suppose to be water proof but never really keeps anything safe. Despite all this there was definitely something magnetic about this unassuming backpack combining school daze nostalgia with the sculptural sensibility of Rachel Harrison and Kate Ruggeri. Naama’s sumptuous oil pastel drawing also pulled on our heartstrings by pairing a technique learned in grade school with stunning use of color and line. This rug inspired work was not your grandma’s tapestry.

Work by the family Ho.

Definitely recommend going to the ends of the Red Line to check out these shows. Also recommended: beef patties from the Caribbean American Bakery on the way.


Iceberg Projects open by appointment.

The Bike Room open by appointment.

Caribbean American Bakery located at 1539 W Howard Street.

The Weatherman Report

Max Ernst, Humboldt Current, 1951-52. Oil on canvas, 36 x 61 cm. Photo: Foundation Beyeler.

The scene at Iceberg Projects Saturday.

Better Luck Next Time leads to Hilarity, Danger

Fed up with the lack of cable television at the Steuben Lodge, ACRE residents and staff took matters into their own hands last weekend recording live the first ever episode of “Better Luck Next Time,” a newlyweds-style game show for artistic duos. Hosted by Carlos Danger and Vanna Ruffino, collaborators were pitted against each other to see who’s vibin’ the hardest.

Hosts Carlos Danger and Vanna Ruffino.

Carlos Danger valiantly and hilariously lead the unwilling contestants to reveal some of their deepest gripes with one another. Points were awarded on a somewhat unconventional basis after the audience mutinied against the show and its producers, demanding sympathetic half-points for weary contestants. Danger and Ruffino were ultimately able to win over the unruly mob and the pilot was a huge live success.

Live from the Chalet Studio.

Lucky to see this early preview, WWT? has heard that there are plans to put the show into syndication in Chicago.

Dispatch from ACRE

After Tom Friel’s poetic piece on the ACRE experience last week, we know we don’t have to tell you how awesome it is to retreat into the woods for two weeks.

“Please” and “Thank you” rumored to be in use in Steuben.

Colin Dickson’s installation on the property. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Good feelings abound.

What’s sah-rong?

When it feels so right?




Top 5 Weekend Picks! (5/4-5/6)

May 4, 2012 · Print This Article

1. GRAVEYARD at TERRAFORMER

Work by Tim Piggott, Daniel G. Baird, Michael Una, Adam Farcus, E. Aaron Ross, Thad Kellstadt, Alex Bradley Cohen, Nick Peterson, Jim Zimpel/Anna Reich, Miguel Cortez, Kevin Jennings, Edra Soto, Jake Myers, Mathew Paul Jinks, Jourdon Gullett, Brian Wadford, Jerimiah Hulsebos-Spofford, Andrew CopperSmith, Rebecca Beachy, Frank Van Duerm, and Phil Parcellano.

TERRAFORMER is located at 3216 S. Morgan St. Reception Sunday from 4-8pm.

2. Version Festival Opening Weekend in Bridgeport

SMALL Showroom Opening Party at 3219 S. Morgan St. Reception 5-10pm
Dusty Groove Records Party at 755 W 32nd St. Reception 7-9pm
Enoch’s Donuts + Kevin Heisner’s Tool Party at 755 W 32nd St. Reception 6-9pm.
Paratext Bookstore at 755 W 32nd St. Reception 6-9pm.
Bridgepop SpringPop at 3143 S Morgan St. Reception 6-9pm.
Ray Emerick Studios Opening at 3149 S. Morgan St., #1. Reception 6-10pm.
Research House for Asian Art at 3217 S Morgan St. Reception 6-9pm.

All receptions on Friday between 5pm and 10pm.

3. BLACK ARTS at Roxaboxen Exhibitions

Curated by Liz McCarthy. Work by Sarah Mosk, Caroline Carlsmith, Rebecca Beachy, Lauren Edwards, Sophia Cara Dixon, Emily, Lauren Beck, Robin Hustle, Ellen Nielsen, Meg Noe, Jenny Kendlre, Melissa Demasaukas, Alex Chitty, Megan Diddie, and Caroline Picard.

Roxaboxen Exhibitions is located at 2130 W. 21st St. Reception 7-10pm.

4. Still, yet, else, further, again, at Threewalls

Work by A. Laurie Palmer.

Threewalls is located at 119 N. Peoria St., #2C. Reception Friday from 6-9pm.

5. Salt and Truth at Catherine Edelman Gallery

Work by Shelby Lee Adams.

Catherine Edelman Gallery is located at 300 W. Superior St. Reception Friday 5-7pm.




Top 5 Weekend Picks (2/10-2/12)

February 10, 2012 · Print This Article

1. Short Court: Tropical Aesthletics at Antena

Work by  Adam Farcus, Adam Grossi, Alberto Aguilar, Alex Bradley Cohen, Angeline Evans, Brian Wadford, Caroline Carlsmith, Cory Glick, Edra Soto, EC Brown, Irene Perez, Jeriah Hildwine, Jim Papadopoulos, Kevin Jennings, Nicole Northway, Pamela Fraser, Philip von Zweck, Thad Kellstadt, and Vincent Dermody.

Antena is located at 1765 S. Laflin St. Reception Friday, 6-10pm.

2. Isaz: Ice Is Bark of Rivers at The Hills Esthetic Center

Work by Aron Gent, Nick Ostoff, and Sophia Rauch.

The Hills Esthetic Center is located at 128 N. Campbell Ave. Unit G. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.

3. Reasons to Cut Into the Earth at Johalla Projects

Work by Heidi Norton.

Johalla Projects is located at 1821 W Hubbard St, Suite 110. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.

4. THIS at Julius Caesar

Work by Fatima Haider and Lourdes Correa-Carlo.

Julius Caesar is located at 3311 W. Carroll Ave. Reception Sunday, 1-3pm.

5. Eleanor Spiess-Ferris at Printworks

Printworks is located at 311 W. Superior St., #105. Reception Friday, 5-7pm.