Like, Totally

Screenshot of David Rimanelli’s Instagram feed.

MY INSTAGRAM IS BUMMING ME OUT. Early one morning last week, I posted a great van Dyck of Catherine Howard, Lady d’Aubigny; an hour later I foolishly posted a slutty but funny Polke, Modern Art, 1968, which will be in the Modern’s upcoming retrospective. Duh: People liked away at the Polke, and Lady d’Aubigny, while holding her own, isn’t thriving as vibrantly as I believe she ought to—she’s entitled to many likes, as many as Polke IMHO. This brings up a matter that any self-conscious Instagrammer is keenly aware of: Posting an image within close temporal proximity of another image “divides” the likes and weakens the post. Often, however, posting one image triggers me to post more—I am a confessed Instagram-aholic; my paraphilia is pictophilia—and my non-strategic Instagram heart feels, “Hey it’s INSTA I’m posting whatever I want as many as I want, all the time, fuck all, fuck you, etc.”

Certain Instagrammers send out insta-packets, for instance the siren of Fulton Ryder, Fabiola Alondra, who always imparts three thematically linked image-bundles (pyramids, say, satanic/Druidic circles, snake handlers, etc.—it works she’s got a zillion followers). And then there’s the insta-aholic, most splendidly or at least repletely and powerfully represented by Miss Alondra’s employer, Richard Prince (@richardprince4). “How does he make all that art?,” I ask myself, as his image feed comes in great tidal bursts. He seems to have scaled back a bit, but sometimes @richardprince4 would post what looked like twenty pictures in rapid succession. He seems to spend half the day immersed in Instagram, but then again perhaps—as with most celebrities—an assistant is delegated to manage his insta-brand.

I confess I refuse to follow anyone who doesn’t follow me—Richard was the exception, but then he started following me, and liking and commenting too. I was transported. Bill Powers told me that, at a Christopher Wool panel at the Guggenheim, Richard referred to my Instagrams of Ellsworth Kelly. He told me this more than once as if to highlight my ascendancy and insta-power. And as for those I do follow, I “like” ALL of their pictures: That is my politics of following. Of course I miss a few—even I take breaks from Instagram, short ones—and occasionally I hesitate before liking a picture posted by one of those whom I follow because… I really dislike it.

Screenshot of  Jeísa Chiminazzo’s Instagram feed.

But if I’ve such a strong insta-brand, why do I still have a mere 2,380 followers? It’s confounding and, in a bizarre way, maybe even insulting. (I’m easy to take offense, alas.) Lots of people I know have 5,000, 10K, 40K followers. (Richard who is way more famous than me, fine; Jeísa Chiminazzo who’s got a zillion followers—granted in Brazil and Monaco mostly—FINE.) And I can’t go out into Society without EVERY conversation somehow quickly turning to my fucking Instagram and how brilliant it is. It’s wretched, misery, I hate it. Offering what he thought were words of consolation, a friend said, “If you’ve got 2,000 followers that’s basically the same thing as 10,000.” But no I say, and given this fellow’s own sketchy life, I don’t exactly trust his judgment either.

I first discovered Instagram via Facebook, where I was beholden to certain young avatars of chic like Tom Guinness and Rachel Chandler Guinness. Rachel posted pictures of herself at Ascot; she also caught the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in a delightfully off-guard {??} moment. Tom would post photos of people (himself, his wife) looking dependably alluring with a touch of daft, usually via Instagram. I did not know what Instagram was let alone how it worked, but having grown very dissatisfied by the overly over Facebook became curious. Under the spell of the Guinesses, I downloaded the app and sailed into a new world—and shortly thereafter deleted my Facebook account, which for various reasons had become troublesome to me. Instagram is a less miserable way of being miserable than Facebook. It’s streamlined, buffered, you could say etiolated. Unlike FB, Instagram doesn’t lend itself to those who wish to “friend” you only to hate on you, and certainly stalking is much harder not to say impossible.

Now, 2,631 posts later, I’m looking back at my Instagram début, the first ones, and the picture they paint doesn’t accord at all with my recollections of my day-to-day life at the time. The first image though presages my future: a postcard from the National Gallery, London, of Gerrit van Honthorst’s Saint Sebastian, which had been tacked to my bedroom door for fifteen years. My comment: “Whatever.” The second one is a stunningly hideous self-portrait (I abjure the neologism “selfie”) with the comment “I have no idea what I’m doung.” The third, a window in my apartment that looks out on a bricked-up window, captioned “Dreamt I was suffocating. Took pic”. The fifth, my computer screen, the wallpaper a detail of a 1948 de Kooning almost obliterated with jpegs—many of them the soil that grew future Instagrams. And the sixth: a picture taken in the dark—I do this a lot but so too do a lot of people—a black box with the comment “Hi.” You’d think I was living an updated Notes from Underground, and maybe I was, but I recall this period as one of intense professional and social activity and my calendar from the time proves it.

Screenshots of David Rimanelli’s Instagram feed.

I follow only eighty-five people. As for why eighty-five, well actually that’s too many for me—I want to LOSE some of these. The small number speaks to a certain Instagram snobbery, the desire to have many followers but follow very few—I am far from alone in this, this is what most people I would hazard desire. My Instagram really is mostly ALL ABOUT ME. At most half of that eighty-five consists of people whose pictures I actually find interesting. There are friends and friends of friends who are sort of my friends but some of these are “courtesies,” I don’t follow them for image-content. Then there are some people—few—that I follow that I don’t even know but whose pictures are good. Then there are random people who will possibly be unfollowed (but some randoms have been there from the outset of my Voyage so I keep them). And then there are the people one meets and in the midst of some hideous conversation about Instagram they say “FOLLOW ME!” Sometimes I cave. Other times, I just say there’s a cap at eighty-five.

Of course there are certain people who follow WAY MORE people than follow them. They are the Insta-voyeurs as opposed to the Insta-exhibitionists/bitches (e.g., yours truly). For example, a certain young lady of quality, from whom I learn about @eli_miz and @itslavishbitch (check these out yourself; they are sick), among many others. She also keeps tabs on what looks like Global Society, from Como to New Delhi. Why does this matter? Because most people on Instagram, wherever and whoever they are, want to tell the world “My life is lavish bitch!” Hence the tedium of Instagram, and really why one needn’t follow many, to my mind, as well as the pleasure one takes in those who take care with their Instagrams and provide pleasure, wit, dare I say even knowledge.

I have a predilection for eighteenth-century through Modernist art: Images from this era often get as much love as that felicitous whore Polke. I post a lot of French, from Quentin de la Tour to Rouault, always, every week it seems. Some Picassos, a passel of Matisses, and I promise you no Pierre Huyghe or Cyprien Gaillard. Why devote much attention to contemporary art when so many do so; it’s redundant. Occasionally I pick something up from a gallery website—say a Ken Price work-on-paper from Mr. Marks. I enjoy the British, from Lady d’Aubigny and Sir Peter Lely, Stubbs, Blake, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney, Hoppner, Ramsay, et al. And maybe my biggest insta-collection: Joseph Mallord William Turner. And then Victorians, lots of Pre-Raphaelites, creepy and fun stuff (e.g., George Frederic Watts, or Henry Scott Tuke for Victorian homoeroticism). I post a lot academic painting too, which supports my fervent conviction that the important Salon art of the nineteenth century is VASTLY more interesting than almost anything done today—anything that we who toil in the contemporary art world are supposed to be interested in and perhaps really are. The Artforum Instagram provides superb coverage of what’s going on in the global art world, but even so I find most of it pales compared to the riches stored in the vaults of Tate Britain.

Who got the most likes in my insta-histoire? Curiously, not Polke, though yes he does reliably well. No, Meredith Frampton’s Portrait of a Young Woman, 1935, is the winner so far with 213; Félix Vallotton’s Seated Female Nude, 1897, is a close runner-up with 210. But I post a lot of works on paper, and these too often do exceedingly well: German Expressionist woodcuts, Vuillard drypoints, Redon pastels, etc. The less-lovable-than-Sigmar dude (viz., Richter) got 169 likes for a photolithograph from 1968 that makes so much of the hot young artists of today who unconsciously imitate it look risible, and depressing.

Screenshots of David Rimanelli’s Instagram feed.

Yes, the melancholia. That’s very deep with Instagram. Perhaps it reflects my boredom with my own time, such as it is. I am disappointed with most right-now contemporary art, and I find in these images from the past a formal vivacity and power, and symbolic and emotional depth, and an unstrategized strangeness lacking in the current scene—my day-to-day scene. But at the same time Instagram is, really, just a hobby. I do it because I enjoy it. Seeking out certain images and not obvious ones takes more work, but it’s work that gives pleasure, to me, and evidently to many others.

I wonder, then, what drives these others to their likes. George Romney’s portrait of Lady Altamont (1788) received 136 in the course of but one day, whereas van Dyck’s Lady d’Aubigny (c. 1638) has crept up arduously to eighty-four. Lady Altamont (née Lady Louisa Catherine Howe) is almost a contemporary beauty, her composure secure in its loveliness, her hair and dress seemingly ready to be photographed by Patrick Demarchelier. Catherine Howard, Lady d’Aubigny, is obviously of that Howard dynasty that provided Henry VIII with two of his spouses—the least fortunate ones, her namesake the fifth wife, who was first cousin to the likewise second wife, Anne Boleyn. Her cheeks are plump, her eyes wary, her red gown falls low over pale reticent flesh. What a difference 150 years makes, and Lady Catherine’s appeal is that of reserve. Instagram favors the quick read, but I encourage you go back in time to Lady Catherine, and add your like to her destiny.

David Rimanelli is a contributing editor to Artforum.