Hashtag Abstract: How The Digital Era Is Changing Art Appreciation

BY Harper's Bazaar Art / Oct 22 2015 / 18:38 PM

From Collector to Curator, Kamiar Maleki explores the digital era and its power in changing the way we view and appreciate art through his first curated exhibition, 'Hashtag Abstract'. Felicity Stokes meets Maleki and discusses the role that the internet now plays in visual art

Hashtag Abstract: How The Digital Era Is Changing Art Appreciation
Hashtag Abstract: How The Digital Era Is Changing Art Appreciation
Hashtag Abstract: How The Digital Era Is Changing Art Appreciation
Hashtag Abstract: How The Digital Era Is Changing Art Appreciation
Hashtag Abstract: How The Digital Era Is Changing Art Appreciation
Kamiar Maleki
Hashtag Abstract: How The Digital Era Is Changing Art Appreciation
Hashtag Abstract: How The Digital Era Is Changing Art Appreciation
Hashtag Abstract: How The Digital Era Is Changing Art Appreciation

The internet age has dramatically evolved the way in which we view, appreciate and collect art. In our day-to-day lives we are surrounded by a constant stream of images, offering various new ways to interact with art. Iranian London-based collector Kamiar Maleki’s first exhibition Hashtag Abstract not only comments on the transition taking place regarding the viewing and collecting of art, but also discusses how trends emerge organically. With a background that spans many years of experience within the Contemporary art world through his family’s collecting and patronage, this exhibition aims to bridge Maleki’s love of art with his desire to create and curate in today’s increasingly technologized world.

The theme of Hashtag Abstract is centred around how art collecting has changed during the digital revoltution. What prompted your usage of this theme?

Thanks to Instagram, Facebook and social platforms, art has become much more accessible to view, research and purchase.  You don’t necessarily have to visit a gallery or an auction room to buy art anymore. I recently bought my first piece of art online; first seeing it on Instagram, and then purchasing, without even seeing it in person. This experience was the inspiration for the show.

The show’s title Hashtag Abstract references the fast-moving phenomenon of the digital era and the impact of social media on art; how these new platforms have enabled mass viewing, sharing, commenting – and ultimately critiquing.

How did you select the artists?

I believe these artists have great futures ahead of them. Three out of the four exhibited hadn’t had UK gallery shows before and I wanted to introduce them to a London-based, international audience.

Kasper Sonne was the first artist I bought through Instagram and it was very important to me that he was involved. He uses industrial paint applied with a roller on the canvas to create a perfect surface. He then pours layers of chemicals over the canvas that cause the paint to react and the colors to change, creating a striking visual effect. By mixing in different chemicals and materials he uses a different way to bring abstraction to light. His new volcanic ash paintings are timeless.

Oliver Clegg is an artist whose work I have known for many years. He is at heart a figurative painter who works with different materials as a backdrop. For Hashtag Abstract, he created a new body of work and embraced the title of the show by taking figures as a starting point with abstraction arriving later on. His work is as pleasing to view in person as it is online. Clegg’s works are currently on show at the Venice Biennale.

Christopher Kuhn searches for a balance between the traditional gesture and geometric schools of Abstraction. For this show he believed the canvas would be viewed as a flat screen TV or iPad – merging the traditional form of painting with the technology of the day.

Richard Hoglund’s work uses language and mark-making as a starting point, turning linear forms into melodic abstract compositions. Using materials such as shells he collected on the banks of the Mississippi, marble dust, pulverized bone, lead, tin, copper, silver and gold, he creates a sense of tone, timbre, time, mood, depth, color, prescience and history. Charles Saatchi bought two of his works from the show.

How do you think art should be explored during the Internet Age?

Art should be explored in every age; its importance is based on how well it interprets the moment. In my opinion, the art world has been late to respond to the Internet. While there have been articles discussing ‘Post-Internet’ art, we are now seeing art and shows responding to or connecting to apps like Instagram.  Social media, in particular Instagram, but also other platforms too – has solidified the power of the image as a tool for engagement. The internet is thus beginning to influence and affect art. It would be futile to ignore this change.

This is the first generation of artists who are considering the impact of social media on their practice. Do they wish to connect with their audience digitally? If so, how does their work translate online?

The Internet Age has changed the way we view and consume artwork.  As I mentioned, social media has allowed individuals to become critics – shifting the balance of power. No longer can the old guard dictate people’s appreciation.

Galleries are developing apps to show prospective collectors work. Auction houses let you buy works live from your smartphone. Museums have become much more aware of the impact of their digital footprint. Overall, the art world is becoming more digitally enhanced.

I would like to be clear on one important point: I do not think the digital sphere should or could replace the physical experience of seeing art in the flesh or visiting a gallery. However, the digital space can create fantastic tools for engaging with an artwork, exhibitions, institutions, artists; it is an addition not a replacement. Relationships with people and galleries are priceless and this can only be achieved by visiting fairs, galleries, museums and biennales. 

Does social media have an impact on your own personal collection, and what you decide to collect?

Historically, I would spend weekends visiting studios and galleries, hunting for new artists and ideas.  It is rewarding, but hard work.  What has changed is that I can access large numbers of people remotely, and then decide having seen artist’s work where to visit in person. Meaning, I see more of what I like. Social media is a mechanism that helps me see the artists who I really want to see. But let’s not forget this journey started with galleries emailing jpegs of pictures – this is just the next step.

You’re a collector recently turned art curator. What has spurred your interest in curating art exhibitions?

I am first and foremost a collector; curating is the result of this experience and ultimately the public version of a long held private passion. I am working with new artists showing works that are not mine; I am promoting them and not my own personal collection. When you buy for yourself you buy with instinct and I have enjoyed sharing my taste with a broader audience and the inevitable debate that comes with the territory. Hashtag Abstract is my first show I look forward to furthering the debate via #hashtagabstract #kamiarmaleki #ronchinigallery @kammaleki @ronchinigallery

What advice would you give anyone thinking about working as a curator?

Give it a go!  If you have a strong vision and a belief in the artists you’re working with then just try. Art is about taking risks and pushing boundaries. Some of my favorite art experiences have been small and non-commercial. We are often too quick to judge success simply by what sells.

Hashtag Abstract at Ronchini Gallery, in Mayfair, London ran until 29 August www.ronchinigallery.com