The phone has become a tool for transforming how we experience art

There was a time not that long ago when you could attend an art exhibition without a camera in sight. In the era of the smartphone, that began to change. Today, most art spaces not only allow but encourage the use of smartphones so images can be shared on social media. Instagram has become not just a means for sharing the works but a tool for mediating the experience of art, sometimes in contradiction with an artist’s own feelings about his or her work.

Richard Serra’s sculpture is a prime example of this tension. Although his work pre-dates social media and digital photography by decades, his monumental forms cast from weathered steel are magnets for selfies.

In a 2015 profile for the Museum of Modern Art, Serra lamented the newfound role of smartphones in the experience of art, saying that “the virtual denies tactility.” (His stance is ironic given museums often prohibit touching Serra sculptures in spite of them being made out of industrial materials that can weather extreme elements.) And despite his aversion to our Instagram obsession and experiencing of art through lighted screens, he may not object to the extra attention it brings him and his works.

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