Spent an extremely agreeable afternoon yesterday in town with friends. Saw the Ernesto Neto + The New Decor exhibitions at the Hayward gallery, and was struck but the difference between the two of them, in that one permitted photography, and one didn’t. Now, I know that the Neto was intended to be very interactive, but it struck me that the families were all at that one – it was well populated with kids playing, and lots of parents taking photos. They weren’t the only ones, I hasten to note – there were loads of people there taking photos. I know there are people who look on the prevalence of cameras at artistic events as a plague, but I think it’s great (within the bounds of not spoiling the enjoyment of others) – I see people with cameras out as a sign that people are building memories, or making art in response – that what they’re looking at is something they consider it important to remember, or something they want to respond to. The Neto space was one where people were playful. It was ace.

Meanwhile, The New Decor did not permit photos, and staff swarmed towards those they thought might be taking photos crying injunctions against such behaviour. There were a few kids going through here with their families, but even surrounded by lots of really very interesting design/sculpture/stuff, they didn’t seem half as interested or engaged. Now, obviously, this wasn’t entirely, or even mostly the fault of the prohibition on photography, but I’m sure it didn’t help. The whole space was much more serious, despite the fact that the ideas it was working with were equally, if not more, playful, yet the exhibition was clearly sending out signals that this was not an appropriate space to build emotional memories, or to respond to art as you saw fit.

I understand (I don’t like, but I understand) the prohibition against photography of paintings, or other photos. Copyright blah blah etc. But these were 3D objects – a photo is an intrinsically different thing, and I fail to see how it can violate the copyright of a 3D object.

I understand that unlike Neto, they didn’t want people actually climbing on the art, but that doesn’t mean that could have allowed a bit more interactivity with the work – they might have been able to get the kids (and indeed, some of the adults) much more engaged.

(The photo is not of the exhibition, it’s of the temporary fountains on the South Bank. It seemed thematically appropriate.)

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