Claude Monet’s signature in the Dulwich Picture Gallery visitors’ book
From Paper Monument:
By now, commercial galleries know to make an artist’s CV, press clippings, and images readily available for download by prospective collectors and critics alike. Email blasts and rich media campaigns have all but replaced snail-mailed press releases. “You Are Your Analytics” is a slogan as likely to be spotted on the t-shirt of a code monkey in Silicon Valley as exhorted earnestly by the public-relations firms tasked with soldiering flagging arts organizations through dark economic times.
Indeed, “social networking” has evolved from a quotation-marked neologism bandied about suspiciously by the mainstream media into a tried-and-true method of disseminating information instantly and widely. As companies capitalize on the phenomenon, social media strategists and similarly titled wunderkinds spend their days pushing products across the digital divide, one status update at a time. If any sector has arrived late to the Web, it is the art world. Those in doubt need only log on to Twitter to observe that tweens and senators alike have mastered the form, while cultural institutions still struggle awkwardly to find their “voice” in 140 characters or less. Yet progress has been relatively swift: Twitter feeds, Facebook fan pages, and blog entries have gained traction as powerful marketing tools that do double-duty as sites of instant public engagement.
For a field categorically invested in objects and spaces, making the most of the internet’s possibilities has taken time and concentrated effort. Yet coaxing a disembodied, online audience into the gallery isn’t an easy task; much is lost in the space-time continuum between the virtual and physical worlds. As it is used now, the gallery book is an emblem of that passage, where smudged graphite and mottled ink stand as physical testaments to a single month—maybe two, if it’s the summer season—or even a breakneck weekend: I spotted them everywhere at last year’s Armory Show, where such conspicuous displays accompanied dealers’ shifty eyes and nervous titters. Like its distant cousins, wedding and funeral guest albums, the gallery book serves as an attendance record. Weddings and funerals are largely private rituals: warm wishes are left for the happy couple, notes of condolence for those suffering a loss. In the gallery, however, these modest gestures of goodwill are transformed into a subtle, yet very public spectacle—a “Who’s Who” roll call of any given Saturday in New York: “The gang’s all here, and here’s the proof.”