Is social media ruining art?

Katie-Mia Diamandi 18 November 2021

Since May, my Instagram feed has been filled with posts of the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Rooms exhibition at the Tate Modern. Aside from making me desperately hunt for tickets, these posts made me question whether all of these influencers were actually interested in the installation and the meanings behind it, or whether these flocks of people were simply following a wider trend of hunting down the most aesthetic places to fill their profiles.

The exhibition opened in May this year, and tickets are sold out until March 2022. Kusama’s work looks like a still from a science fiction movie. With floating lights completely immersing the viewer, one feels as if they are floating in a galaxy, reliving the dreams of our childhood.

Kusama did not simply stumble across this concept of incorporating mirrors and artwork. Kusama made her first Infinity Mirror Room in 1965 and has since returned to the subject multiple times throughout her artistic career. Yet why has this exhibition in particular gripped the attention of the public? Perhaps it is the sheer unparalleled beauty of the installation. On a more cynical level, it may be the convenient central location of the exhibition which enables the conveniency of an influencer photo-op. This might explain the hordes of social media figureheads promoting the exhibition and stimulating a culture of using the beauty of art to serve as a plinth to hold the weight of social media fame.

If this is the case, the true meanings behind the artwork are entirely undermined. The connotations of repetition and endlessness hold great emotional significance to the artist. From childhood, Kusama has suffered from severe anxiety-stimulated episodes involving hallucinations which she has described as ‘dissolution and accumulation. Proliferation and fragmentation. The feeling of myself obliterating’. What one may have viewed as one of the most beautiful installations to date has now adopted a sad undertone of meaning; this beauty that is associated with mental health challenges, however, provide us with the uplifting message that by overcoming personal challenge a more colourful, bright life may be lived. These endless reflections of light also double as endless reflections of ourselves, and so we are forced to compare our reflection with the light and shadow of our surroundings in the exhibition, a microcosm of one of the many challenges experienced in the face of mental health issues.

The notion that social media has transformed these milestones of the artistic timeline into mere opportunities to take an aesthetic photo is somewhat saddening. If art is viewed in this way by the generation of social media, then all of the preceding matrices of artistic appreciation are in decline. A gallery is no longer a gallery, but a mere site for a photoshoot. This also contributes to the wider debate of respect for the artist. When one considers the intensely personal meaning behind the Infinity Mirror Rooms, it feels disrespectful to disregard such an intimate element of Kusama’s life and only take the installation at face value.