Art Exhibitions Are Not Photo Studios

Submitted by viravira on 17 August 2018   •  Opinion

My first involvement in an art exhibition was as an ‘artist’. My Drawing teacher in high school chose my work to be one of the exhibited ones in a student art exhibition. Until years followed, I rarely went to an art exhibition other than the ones in my campus when I studied design. I don’t remember why I wasn’t intrigued to visit art galleries much. Maybe because I was surrounded by artworks in the campus anyway, or I was a lousy design student, or art galleries were too intimidating and seemed boring.


art gallery jakarta
“Spektrum Hendra Gunawan” exhibition at Ciputra Artpreneur gallery, August 2018.


Now I quite enjoy going to art exhibitions in galleries or museums. I think, I started liking it since my trips to Singapore, where I would go to museums with way more advanced and creative displays. For an MTV watcher like me, or used to be, sometimes I needed a more contemporary and unconventional display to draw me into the artworks. Then I started to try appreciate the content of the museums in Indonesia. The Antonio Blanco Museum in Ubud, Bali, was one of the few good ones that I found. For the cultural and historic ones, I really liked Ullen Sentalu in Yogyakarta and Museum Malang Tempo Doeloe in East Java.

I don’t remember since when and how, but I notice the enthusiasm toward art has increased among Indonesians, and not only those with artsy background. Art and design exhibitions became the ‘it’ event to attend. And with the booming of social media, the enthusiasm grew even more. People go to the exhibitions and publish it on their social media.

This is a good thing.

Or is it?

art exhibition jakarta
Jaka and Asti made sure there was no queue behind them when taking photos at Yayoi Kusama exhibition in MACAN Museum.
ghibli exhibition
Ghibli exhibition in Jakarta, 2017. Some exhibits are made for interactivity.


I have nothing against broadcasting your visits to art exhibitions on social media. Yes, it could be simply shallow of wanting to look cultured. But it also means you share information to others who might not have known about the event. It might even influence others to go, enjoy and appreciate the arts.

However. How can you appreciate an artwork when other visitors don’t stop taking pictures of each other IN FRONT and IN THE CENTER of the artwork over and over until (I wish) they turn to stone? How can you observe the artwork and try to see what the artist is trying to convey when, in front of it, people TAKE SELFIES FROM 1,000 ANGLES trying to look like Kendal Jenner when they’re obviously not?

art gallery kunstkring
Mumun admiring a Chinese painting on an opening night at Tugu Kunstkring gallery.


Upon my visits to MACAN Museum, I found it hard to view the artworks without some people getting in my way. The first visit was of Indonesian and world maestros’ paintings, like Andy Warhol and Basquiat. The second one was of Yayoi Kusama. I would be totally fine if they only took a photo once or twice. I would patiently wait. But no, they were shamelessly taking selfies and pretend-candids, as if nobody else was waiting to view the paintings fully or to take photos of the paintings without being photobombed. I once complained to the museum staff about why they didn’t warn people to take photos too long in front of an artwork. She said, she did that once and then she got reprimanded by her superintendent, telling her to let people be. I am disappointed.

A similar experience I had at the annual exhibition Art Jakarta. Some visitors would come dressing all stylish and hipster-looking, more eccentric than the participating artists, and then took pictures of themselves over and over again in front of the artworks.

Did they think artworks were like backdrops in a photo studio?


art jakarta pacific place
Art Jakarta exhibition, taken in 2017.


I think it would be fine if there was nobody else or very few people visiting the museum/gallery. But if it’s obvious that others were waiting, please go be narcissistic somewhere else, maybe in the restroom or at the graveyard in the middle of the night.

Maybe it’s better to prohibit taking pictures in a gallery once and for all.

I visited a few exhibitions at the National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta, in peak hours and in slow hours. There, they don’t allow any camera other than phone camera to carry inside, and as I remember, most visitors didn’t go crazy with taking pictures of themselves.

national gallery of indonesia
“Archer”, a statue from 1919, exhibited in National Gallery of Indonesia.


From these examples, I can say that the galleries or museums are also responsible for the (in)convenience of visitors in viewing the exhibitions.

But meanwhile, let’s use our common sense. An art museum/gallery is a place to display artworks for people to see, admire, appreciate or even critique, which requires viewing the artworks fully. When you’re standing too long in front of it only to take vanity photos, you are sabotaging the right of others to do what they’re supposed to do in an art museum/gallery.

Let’s not sabotage other people’s chance to enjoy arts in an art museum/gallery. If you really have to take a selfie, do it really fast or do it somewhere else.

tugu kunstkring gallery
Me, also at Tugu Kunstkring gallery, in a different exhibition on an opening night.
australia embassy jakarta
The Aboriginal work exhibition at Australian Embassy in Jakarta sometime in 2017.
MACAN Museum Jakarta
Remember to enjoy (and perhaps try to interpret) the artworks, because that’s kinda what a gallery is for.




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2 years ago

instagram kill space/tourist spot

2 years ago
Reply to  snydez

It’s actually making instagram spots, possibly killing the natural beauty.