FLORENCE, Italy — Who do the people other people follow, follow? That was the question put to a few of those influencers during the 35th edition of the giant men’s wear trade show Pitti Uomo, which drew 1,230 brands and nearly 25,000 visitors here over four days this week.
Depending on your perspective, Instagram is a trippy digital maze or an unnavigable sprawl. And despite the estimated 95 million photos or videos posted daily to the social media platform, it can sometimes seem like one’s account has been hijacked by algorithms that mirror the known and expected — and inhibit, rather than produce, serendipity.
But then, suddenly, Instagram manages to bewitch you all over again.
Standing Tuesday evening at the counter of Rivoire, a cafe on Piazza della Signoria, before the opening of the latest exhibition at the Gucci Garden gallery, Ksenia Chilingarova (@kchilingarova) — an exhibitor at Pitti Uomo — looked to be the embodiment of a street-style post: patterned wool coat from the rebooted Jil Sander label; quilted vintage Jil Sander skirt; Martin Margiela sneakers and a man’s nubby wool turtleneck from a secondhand store. Asked which Instagram accounts she looks to for inspiration, Ms. Chilingarova reeled off a list of contemporary fashion labels and then took a welcome detour into inspired accounts like @harrynuriev and @the.daily.splice.
The latter is the Instagram account of Adam Hale, the collage artist who takes images from free weekly magazines, the sort most people grab but quickly toss, and upcycles them into meticulously composed and slightly surrealist collages that, though they appear to be digitally created, are made with paste and an X-acto knife. Being unplanned, Mr. Hale’s images combining food and fashion, flowers and landscapes are unpredictable, which is why, as he once noted, “I think it works so well on social media.”
The @harrynuriev account belongs to the 34-year-old Russian architect and furniture designer Harry Nuriev. Raised in the Caucasus, trained in Moscow, now based in New York and one in a group of designers with the portmanteau label of global minimalists, Mr. Nuriev probably is best known for his use of unconventional materials (a chandelier made from Bic pens). And for his love of saturated colors like the pink he used to paint his New York “dacha” (read: Williamsburg apartment) or the royal blue he used to make a vinyl-and-cotton sofa before recently tumbling for red. “Colors to me are like people,” Mr. Nuriev told The New York Times in 2017. “When I fall in love, I try to make the relationship work.”
For Alex Merry, an artist commissioned by Gucci to paint the walls of the Gucci Garden gallery with allegorical panels replete with Tarot mysticism and recognizable Florentine landmarks, Instagram serves as a portal into worlds remote from her home in rural England. (“I can work at home in my slippers and then come here and it’s like landing on another planet,” Ms. Merry said this week at an opening for her installation, set in a 15th-century guild hall whose walls were once graced with Botticelli’s “Seven Virtues.”)
It also allows her to post the artwork that first brought her to the attention of Gucci curators and to maintain connections to a network of British artists and performers taking a loopy post-feminist approach to traditional English folk dance. “It’s Morris dancing, actually,” Ms. Merry said, although Morris dancing never looked quite as radically wackadoodle as it does on @boss.morris. Its members are given to posts like this one about dressing for the seasons: “We love it when we can get our neon yellow (genuine) tennis ball material ponchos out on a cold day or chilly evening. They are so cozy and can’t fail to pick up a dwindling spirit.”
For Maria Luisa Frisa, the Italian academic and curator charged with assembling exhibitions for Gucci like the current one titled “The Male — Androgynous Mind, Eclectic Body,” Instagram functions like a game of Snakes and Ladders, individual posts like rolls of the dice that move a player back and forth through time. “The game of appropriation that is fashion goes in two directions, the front and back side of the present,” Ms. Frisa said just before the Gucci gallery opening.
Mostly her scholarly work takes the upper hand in dictating what she tracks on Instagram, Ms. Frisa said. She follows players in the world of contemporary art. “Frieze and Hans Ulrich Obrist,” she said, referring to the Instagram accounts of the influential art fair (@friezeartfair) and the director of the Serpentine Galleries in London (@hansulrichobrist). The wild card in her daily Instagram feed, Ms. Frisa said, is probably @prefigured, an account created by the Australia-born, London-based curator Judith Clark, whose magpie eclecticism results in posts as diverse as a commentary on Eugene Delacroix’s drawn marginalia, fragments of 18th-century crewel work at the Bath Museum in England and a 1985 cover of John Travolta for Interview magazine.
It can sometimes happen that even those whose following choices seem unsurprising can lead you to unlikely places. With their matching pink wigs, Gucci outfits and anime faces, the Tokyo-based models and D.J.s Ami Amiaya (@amixxamiaya) and her sister, Aya Amiaya (@ayaxxamiaya), themselves resemble computer-generated Instagram avatars.
The accounts they follow, as they explained on Tuesday, include ones created by the makeup artist Pat McGrath (@patmcgrathreal) and also Tim Burton’s, although it was beyond the powers of a Gucci interpreter to explain in English which of the many accounts dedicated to the director the sisters meant. (Was it @timburtonofficial or @timburton_film or @timburtonfanpage or @timburton art or even @timburtontatoos, which features more than a thousand images of people permanently inked with images from “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands.”) The sisters also count themselves among the 3.7 million followers of the Peruvian photographer Mario Testino (@mariotestinto), an account that provided this observer with an unexpected window into expanding beauty ideals, in the form of images he created of a nude Manuh Rubi (@manuhrubi), a Brazilian model of both Rubensian beauty and proportions.
“I’m very, very picky about my Instagram,” Leonardo Bigazzi, a freelance curator, said Tuesday in the bookshop of Gucci Garden, as waiters carrying trays of prosecco or the star chef Massimo Bottura’s signature mini-burgers attempted to slice surgically through a crowd packed tighter than a rush-hour subway car. “I only follow 171 people,” Mr. Bigazzi said.
That, like Ms. Frisa, Mr. Bigazzi follows Mr. Obrist was unsurprising. But a favorite among the tightly curated roster of accounts he consults on his smartphone, Mr. Bigazzi said, is that of Jonathan Monk (@monkpictures), one of the increasing number of artists using Instagram not only to post but to create and offer art for sale.
“He has an online project where he takes restaurant meal receipts and paints on them,” Mr. Bigazzi said, referring to facsimiles in miniature of canonical works of contemporary art.
Among the recent examples of Monk-created pieces are artworks by Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, Donald Judd, Christopher Wool and Alighiero Boetti.
What makes the account catnip to the contemporary art collectors among his 6,000 followers is that each of the works is for sale at just the cost of the meal listed on the receipt, plus shipping and postage. “He sells for a lot in galleries but these you pay just what the meal cost,” Mr. Bigazzi said. “Whoever likes it first, gets it. First liked, first sold.”
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