Fifteen or 20 years from now, history will be told through Twitter comment threads and text message receipts. But for now, Philadelphia-based artist Laurence de Valmy is reimagining the artist friendships of decades past via Instagram in her series Post. Two paintings from the series will be on view in the Avant Gallery booth at Art Wynwood.
The idea is simple: What if Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, or Gustav Klimt had Instagram accounts? What hashtags would they use to get more exposure? What would their friends and critics leave as comments? Would their emoji choices reflect their aesthetics?
"Something that attracts me to Instagram is the kind of positive attitude there is on that platform," de Valmy says of her decision to adapt her personal fascination with art history into a painting series. "Facebook is more about sharing links and complaining about a lot of stuff, and Twitter is so politically associated."
Largely a self-taught artist, de Valmy learned her skills partly by reproducing paintings by past masters. Though the majority of her own work is photorealism, her return to the classics felt like a natural way to combine both her experiences on social media and the various texts and interviews she'd read over the years. She sees the project like a game of making disparate narratives and techniques fit together.
"I was reading a critique of Monet’s work, and it’s like a little catalogue," she remembers of her research for one piece. "It was, of course, the 19th Century, and the way he would write is very different from the way we would write today. So, basically, I put the 'thumbs up' [emoji] to summarize everything he said. It’s almost like we change the way we write because of social media."
Abbreviation isn't the only benefit of these paintings. There are some irreverent gems, such as David Hockney's hashtag, #IHaveThisThingWithPools, or Andy Warhol's comment under a Mark Rothko: "Gee... I love abstract art. I don't know why I never did any... It's so easy!" Moments like these make it easy to imagine these behemoths of the fine-art canon as much like the rest of us, especially as the contemporary art world begins to adapt to social media dominance.
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"Even when I was painting, let’s say, 15 years ago, you were on your own," de Valmy says. "You could communicate through email, but social media was not a big thing. To connect with other artists, you had to be physically connected. Nowadays, you can build relationships [that] start online. It can remain only online or it can become a real-life relationship. I’ve made quite a few artist friends that started through a social media connection."
What might not be apparent to the general public is how these relationships inform not only the art that's made but also the artists themselves. There's a certain novelty to imagining how Gertrude Stein might respond to Pablo Picasso's opinion of Matisse, but the underlying importance is in understanding the support that artists have provided for one another throughout generations.
"Every artist, I’m sure, has more doubts than certainties," de Valmy says. "Every day you do something that is not especially necessary to anyone. And so you’re like, Am I doing something of relevance? Am I doing something that means anything to anyone? To have the support of artist friends that can relate to those thoughts and questions is encouraging. I think it's even more important than it used to be, and it’s easier now to get it."
Art Wynwood. Thursday, February 15, through Monday, February 19, at the Art Wynwood Pavilion, 1 Herald Plaza at NE 14th Street, Miami; 800-376-5850; artwynwood.com. Tickets cost $25 to $200.