I am on a campaign to unfollow. In the same way waistlines expanded during the pandemic from overindulging on comfort foods, my Instagram account became bloated. Some of the accounts I followed provided need-to-know coverage of Covid-19, protests, elections and insurrections. Recently, however, I’ve been on a decluttering spree.
I’m also limiting my time and exposure to social media. Watching a documentary like “The Social Dilemma” (2020), which details the way social networks ensnare and addict us — or any of Adam Curtis’s recent documentaries — facilitates that motivation. Nonetheless, in its best moments Instagram still functions as a portal to the inspiring and the miraculous and offers a passage to spaces and places I might never be able to enter anyway. Here are some of the indispensable accounts on my feed.
One of the great museums in Europe also provides one of the nicest ways to while away your insomnia at 4 a.m. in New York. I’ve seen lectures (in Spanish, but hey, why not) inside the Prado in Madrid on the museum’s live feed. The Prado, of course, has an incredible collection of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, as well as Goya’s “Black Paintings” from the 1820s, rendered in oil on plaster (and later transferred to canvas) on the walls of a house he inhabited while recovering from a serious illness. One of the most extraordinary posts I’ve ever encountered, however, captures the stars of flamenco dancing in front of the masterpieces by Velázquez and Goya. This is a performance that would be impossible to witness live, and it provides an incredible wildness, nuance and depth to both Spanish art and culture.
New York Public Library Picture Collection
Books are not the only objects held by the New York Public Library. The library’s Picture Collection is an archive of more than 1 million original photographs, prints, posters, postcards and illustrations from books, magazines and newspapers. These are classified into over 12,000 subject headings. The Instagram account delves into these folders, showcasing fascinating and enigmatic images of food, gardens, topiary and more. For New York history, a recent post shows you an 1883 photograph of the construction of the skeleton and plaster surface of the Statue of Liberty’s left arm and hand in the Paris studio of Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. Another post focuses on bird nests, shown in beautiful illustrations, including one that looks like a steel-wool nest.
Art Handler Magazine
The people who package, ship and install art in galleries and museums make up a platoon of talented and smart workers who are often invisible or ignored. Art Handler magazine is an outlet that celebrates the “day-to-day grind that makes possible art’s rarefied and glamorous scene.” The online-accessible magazine discusses everything from compensation to freelance labor to annoying art-speak. (“I would love to see ‘heighth’ banished from the art world,” Pete Ortel, a Los Angeles art handler, says in a recent Art Handler article. “‘Heighth’ is not even a word.”) On Instagram, there are running jokes about forklift certification, making art with power tools and daredevil construction techniques. But there are urgent issues here, from the art handler as precarious worker to safety in the workplace.
Ancient Art Archive
Started by the National Geographic photographer Stephen Alvarez, the Ancient Art Archive journeys to caves, mesas, buttes and other sites around the world, documenting the paintings and marks made by our ancient ancestors. A recent post features curious and beautiful carvings and paintings, including a petroglyph maze and a two-headed snake etched into the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. Another one ventures into the Chauvet Cave in France, and shows delicate renderings of horses. The cave, which holds one of the greatest collection of Upper Paleolithic art — like a prehistoric museum — has drawings that have been dated back 36,000 years. Kind of stunning that you can see them on Instagram.
Brent Hayes Edwards
Brent Hayes Edwards is a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, and his feed is an extension of his scholarship — but also a creative outlet. During the lockdown, Edwards started making quarantine collages, which he described on the feed as “old-fashioned cutting and pasting,” and he is rather good at it. One depicts the old reading room at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, with Edwards sitting among great musicians and scholars. Another shows Black marching bands wielding their trombones and tubas. Edwards’s work has already been featured on the Instagram feed Black Collagists (@blackcollagists). On that occasion he wrote, “Collage is an art of intervals” referring to the juxtapositions of time and space presented by the different images. However, collage shortens those distances, and so “its implications are ‘profoundly social,’ as [Romare] Bearden once counseled that all African-American artists must strive to be.”
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