Finding a Lost Contemporary Art Audience

The lines of what art is have been blurred by the current state of the internet. In 2013 Brad Troemel wrote about how the dispersal of avant-garde art on the internet has created a new, accidental audience for the genre. From r/contemporaryart, to an instagram meme page featuring people misusing household appliances, an image of a contemporary art piece can find its way to even the least artistically-inclined person’s life. Artistic intention, artistic value, and artistic content matter less than they ever have before. What matters most today is artistic setting. While placing something in a museum or an art-designated website certainly won’t ensure its acceptance, those locations are safe places to lose the accidental viewers, and, more importantly, those viewer’s comments. 

Losing that audience is not necessarily a good thing. The accidental audience is, in many ways, a captive one. The more avant-garde contemporary art appears in front of them, regardless of whether or not they understand what it is, the better they are at deciphering what they see. Every successive time they accidentally see an artwork, the better they’ll be at decoding and understanding it in its appropriate context. The problem becomes what to do with these subversively trained avant-garde consumers. They don’t know that they understand the ever daunting content behind the term “contemporary art,” but they do, and they might even enjoy it.

This accidental audience is decades ahead of the museum as a concept. They are proof that one doesn’t necessarily need to walk through a reclaimed industrial space or some tacky colonnades in order to consume and appreciate art. This is an audience that is attracted to the future. Attracted to advancement. Most important, they are attracted to exclusivity and photo opportunities. The success of The Museum of Selfies is a testament to the latter, and the incredible popularity and revival of Yayoi Kusama’s Mirror Rooms in the mainstream is an example of both.

The burgeoning world of VR is the perfect shuttle to take the accidental audience and make it a purposeful audience. VR occupies the liminal spaces between present and future, entertainment and technology, and reality and fantasy. VR pieces, such as Laurie Anderson’s which are on display at MASS MoCA, bring in an audience that does not necessarily consider itself interested in contemporary art. It’s new, it’s cool, it’s fun, it’s a thing to do, and it always makes for a great snap story. Those that are attracted to this new medium consist largely of young people who have become Troemel’s accidental audience. VR work brings the accidental cyber audience into the physical museum.

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