When the Spectator Becomes the Object
By Elsa Mein
26 Apr 2012
I recently visited a retrospective of Gerhard Richter, a well known brilliant German artist, in Berlin. The exhibition was spectactular. The paintings were everything from exquisit to disturbing. I thoroughly enjoyed the art presented there and very much appreciated the chance to see so many of his works at one place but there was something else that fascinated me while at the exhibition: The other visitors.
A well reputated exhibitions draws very different kinds of people. There are bored children dragged in by their parents, tourists, already quite exhausted by their self-imposed schedule of what they have to see before going home, the elderly, happy to have some entertainment or that they are still able to go to exhibitions, young artists and art students, bringing some colour into the crowd or the middle-aged, civilised and cultured person rushing through.
Some go there alone wanting to be able to set their own pace. Others go in groups discussing what they see with their friends or family. Some join the guided tours either intently listening or staring into space. Others get lost in one piece of art or prefer to slowly wander without stopping anywhere.
It can depend on the day, the hour, what kind of atmosphere is created. It can be more an atmosphere of quiet contemplation, of excitement or of rushing through. You never know until you get there.
Such an exhibition is a fascinating place to study people. You can see that art attracts very different kinds of people who enjoy art in very different ways.
That day when I myself finished my routine of how I approach art exhibitions by quickly wandering through and then returning to my favourite pieces to get lost in front of them, it was the first time I consciously took note of how fascinated I was by the whole atmosphere but also by how the other visitors reacted to the paintings. I couldn't stop myself: I didn't merely take photos of the paintings but rather of the visitors looking at the paintings or passing by. The spectators became my objet and I am sure they will be as well at my next visit to an exhibition.