A Museum That Wants You to Take Selfies
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this museum is Instagram- and Facebook-friendly.
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
In the Philippines’ newest museum, kids let loose and run wild through halls upon halls of famous European artwork. And selfie sticks, duck faces and sorority squats are encouraged in this two-story warehouse. No, it’s not your typical locale to quietly ponder great works of art. But here, art isn’t just for show. Rather, it’s all fun and games.
Art in Island is an interactive art museum with massive floor-to-ceiling murals that not only surround its 2,500 weekly museum-goers with the world’s most renowned masterpieces, but also incorporate them in reimagined, more playful versions. Unlike Paris’ Musée du Louvre and New York’s MoMA, the latest Manila-based art hangout has patrons literally stepping out of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, or deftly catching a pass from Michelangelo’s gray-bearded, basketball-wielding God. Want to snip a ringlet from Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus? Grab some clippers. Need to hitch a ride with Alexander von Wagner’s ferocious horses? Your chariot awaits. “Well, not exactly,” says Niña Aliga, a graphic designer at Art in Island. But the museum’s all-out use of optical illusions and trick art makes it look like they are. “You complete the picture,” explains Aliga. It’s a provocative type of art, but without all the stodgy spectators and uptight security guards.
… everyday people become the creative virtuosos and photographers who “complete” the museum’s 100-plus illusions.
According to the place’s masterminds, Manila’s off-kilter museum flies in the face of the traditional “look, don’t touch” model that prim and proper art directors have long touted. Instead of ubiquitous “no talking” and “no photography” signs, Art in Island’s “Be Part of the Art” maxim is plastered everywhere, from the giant sea turtles at the front entrance to the moving projection of Mona Lisa bidding you ciao at the end. Combine the Philippines’ selfie craze and a sizzling contemporary art scene, and you’ve got an exhibition where everyday people become the creative virtuosos and photographers who “complete” the museum’s 100-plus illusions.
Last March, a round of world-class museums from the Smithsonian to the Metropolitan Museum of Art banned the selfie stick. But who says you’ve got to take art “seriously,” says Aliga, who hands me a hazelnut latte in a smiley-face cup with a cotton candy Afro from the museum’s in-house cafe. “Here, the grown-up parents have more fun than the kids,” she explains. A few paces away, a giddy mom snaps a picture of her son catching a loose heel from the pink-clad dame in Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing.
But some art critics have already turned up their noses at the altered art. Museums are spaces for deep reflection and high cultural value, free of long queues of selfie-takers who cram the paintings, says Hanz Gapayao, a museum scholar in Manila. For him, Art in Island functions more like an “amusement park” than a museum. It’s “not aimed at educating the public; it merely entertains,” Gapayao adds.
After all, what would the greats like Dalí and Picasso think? But even so, their eccentric bodies of work are perfect examples of the countless ways we create and experience art — even if it means polishing up the selfie sticks and pearly whites.