Ask me most days what I think about Instagram, and I will tell you: a scourge. The social photo platform, and the cameraphone more generally, have produced a radical shift in the experience of art — turning virality into the principal marker of success, and laying waste to heritage sites worldwide. (Follow the viperous account @insta_wrecked, and you can gasp at images of thousands of tourists at the Trevi Fountain or Angkor Wat, all taking the same selfie.) Still, understanding art today means understanding Instagram, and in the last month it has been offering me a view of the world I cannot reach anymore: an imperfect but important means of global engagement that lets me drop into Indian museums or Nigerian photo shoots even as I keep my distance.
I don’t follow a lot of museums’ Instagram accounts — the tone is usually too promotional — though a few rise above the standard: Sir John Soane’s Museum in London offers on-target bursts of 18th-century architecture, while the small Johann Jacobs Museum in Zurich posts off-key close-ups and fragments of textiles and cargo ships. I regularly check in on artists like Camille Henrot and Amy Sillman in New York, Rosa Barba in Germany and Ana Vaz in Brazil. Much of the rest of my feed consists of Baroque and Rococo interiors and tapestries, mixed in with a few pop stars, half the French national soccer team and a strangely large number of koalas, mostly from a marsupial hospital in New South Wales I started following during the recent Australia wildfires.
Here are my five current must-follow accounts; my fellow critics have their own favorites, which you’ll discover in the weeks to come.
When this avant-garde French urban planner died in February, at 96, the world lost one of its foremost advocates for design that places human experience over architects’ egos. Happily, his estate continues to manage an Instagram account that resurfaces half a century’s worth of his colorful, intricate drawings and models, as well as heartening portraits of the master at work. In his “villes spatiales” (spatial cities), which craft public spaces out of floating boxes and interlocking rings, Friedman asserted that new models of urban life could not remain utopian fantasies; they had to be practical, affordable and in reach of us all.
Born in Norway and based in Los Angeles, this ambitious photographer takes highly controlled portraits and still lifes that mix the erotic and the austere, and that often seem to be dripping with fluids. He uses Instagram less as an exhibition format — Mr. Rodland remains devoted to showing prints in galleries, where his liquefied surfaces show best — than as an experiment in how images take on new meanings as they circulate, get copied, and attract captions and like. A few days ago he posted an exquisitely lit older image of a dismembered bouquet of flowers, newly captioned: “If you’re secretly relieved to be ordered to stay put in your carpeted cave … you may be a natural born photographer.”
In Italy last May, when I still took traveling for granted, I visited this museum in the northeastern town of Possagno — dedicated to the greatest of all neo-Classical sculptors, and housed in a light-flooded gallery renovated by the Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa. Its Instagram account features pristine close-ups of Canova’s plasters of emperors and goddesses, some milky white, others studded with nails that the artist used as he translated the models into marble. The museum is also very active on Instagram Stories, and lately the staff has been moving its programming online, under the hashtag #CanovaDaCasa.
Both born in Soweto in 1991, these photographers are two of the most promising young talents in South Africa, where together they direct the Johannesburg project space Zulu Republik. Ms. Khanyile’s raw and out-of-focus self-portraits, especially her brilliant series “Plastic Crowns,” draw as much from the family album snapshot as the rough urban glamour of postwar Japanese photography. Mr. Khumalo often makes use of double exposure in his pictures of beaches, mine dumps and motorways, which intimate the ghostly inheritances of the South African landscape.
He’s more of an aesthete than an artist, but there are few accounts smarter or sultrier than that of this Neapolitan body-worshipper. He posts Greco-Roman statuary from the city’s great Museo Archeologico Nazionale, or enticements in other European museums (like Velázquez’s stripped-off Christ, at the National Gallery in London) and Baroque splendors in the churches of southern Italy — which he then pairs with matching selfies, not always fully dressed. It’s all framed by the coarse beauty of Naples, and confirms that nothing’s sexier than the classics: marble gods, ecstatic saints, Italian sunsets, white briefs.