Leveraging TikTok for Museums and Galleries

Art Gallery


Even if young people’s favorite app faces competition from Instagram, the TikTok principle dominates the Internet. While businesses are willing to buy TikTok likes to leverage it, museums and galleries have so far held back on the video platform – with one surprising exception.

If you’ve managed to steer clear of TikTok so far, just carry on as before. TikTok currently has two big problems, which makes the app no longer a problem for all those who were worried about missing the next big thing. Instagram, or rather Facebook, has proceeded as always when the competition is not bought: the feature of the competition has been copied. So now there is a new video feature called Reels on Instagram, which has so far led to beautiful moving images (landscapes) being accompanied by music and people dancing more. And now I don’t know what the bigger problem is: that now you have to watch people dancing on Instagram that you don’t really want to see dancing. Or that TikTok has a massive problem with data protection, and you should therefore delete the app immediately from the smartphone. TikTok accesses the contents of the clipboard every few seconds. An app update is already in the works, but TikTok had said that in the past.

Whatever happens to TikTok, the new feature on Instagram could change the social network. Like most recently the Stories, a Snapchat copy. Or it could lead to more museums, galleries, and actors from the art world becoming active on TikTok because the content is produced anyway. So far, videos from TikTok have also been shared on Instagram. Bill Kaulitz, for example, the singer of Tokio Hotel, proceeded like this. The fact that musicians dance, okay, that’s part of the job. But I can’t think of any plausible reason why Simon de Pury, art auctioneer and collector, would have to awkwardly wiggle around in front of the camera. Well, it’s human and it’s kind of authentic, but from a professional point of view, why? In mid-May, in the middle of lockdown, he reported on Instagram that his 9-year-old daughter had explained TikTok to him. There you could watch the two dancing, after four videos it was over. Maybe his daughter told him that he wasn’t the most talented dancer after all.

What else is going on on TikTok with regard to the art business? Not much so far. When I discover a new account, for example from a museum or an artist, and click enthusiastically, it usually appears: “No content. This user has not published any videos.” @moca: nothing. @themetmuseum: nothing. @serpentinegallery: nothing. Hans Ulrich Obrist has been the strongest conceptually so far. But his concept also shows serious art education, goodbye! So the star curator runs after animals in the park and asks them his most famous question. “Can you tell me about your unrealized project?” The answer: silence or escape. So far, a goose has tried to find an answer. What did she say? You would have to ask the goose.


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Brutal criticism of the online presence

A few days ago, the “New York Times” reported on museums on TikTok. The headline: “As Museums Get On TikTok, The Uffizi Is an Unlikely Class Clown”. And that’s why museums have been rather cautious about TikTok so far. On TikTok, the class clown wins. And that hasn’t been a quality with which you had to excel in order to be successful as a cultural institution or artist somewhere. If we remember the reactions to the new activities in the digital of museums and galleries during the lockdown, the criticism was sometimes harsh. “Desperate, half-baked and pointless” is the headline of Jörg Heiser’s brute critique. There was talk of senseless nonsense that would be spun out in live streams. Of acts of desperation. Of the half-baked. “I’m not sure that’s the way to go,” Heiser said.

One thing must not be forgotten when dealing with art education in the digital world. The target group is not colleagues who, in case of doubt, prefer to read a scientific essay or art criticism. This is especially true for TikTok. The users are very young, they dance and sing, alone and together. So what do the Uffizi Gallery do that makes them so successful? They make sculptures and paintings sing and dance. Now, of course, one could say again that this is pandering and an act of desperation. Or you can see it for what it is. Art education for an audience that otherwise does not go to museums and thus finds their first access to art and culture. Alex Marshall writes in the New York Times: “The irreverent clip is one of the numerous videos on the Uffizi TikTok account mocking its own collection of masterpieces as the museum seeks to transform its image from a dusty home for Renaissance art to a place Italian teenagers want to explore.” And then teenagers learn, for example, that art is also about things that occupy them every day. About beauty ideals and self-expression, for example.

The most difficult thing about content production for TikTok is, as the responsible employee of the Uffizi Gallery said in an interview with the “New York Times”, to strike the right note. She and her colleagues have asked younger family members and their own children for advice and help with Photoshop. So you first have to unlearn and relearn a lot and ask for advice from those whom you otherwise actually teach something yourself.

Time for more art challenges

The big thing on TikTok is challenges. Currently, however, a challenge is going through the media that is stupid and dangerous. Under the hashtag, #scaringcowchallenge be frightened, exactly, as the hashtag also says, cows. So people climb over fences on pastures, build up and run towards the cows. In the best case, the cows flee. On TikTok, the song “Kulikitaka” by Caribbean singer Toño Rosario is playing. Farmers are not amused and warn that the animals could react differently. However, museums could make use of this strength of the platform, i.e. the effect that people want to see something and participate. In April, there was a challenge on Twitter in which museums from all over the world participated. Under the hashtag #creepiestobject the scariest objects from the own collection were shown. On Instagram, the challenge #tussenkunstenquarantaine went through the roof during lockdown after institutions like Getty picked up the hashtag project of the account @tussenkunstenquarantaine. The task: is to select a well-known work of art. Collect three items from the household. Recreate the artwork.

This could certainly also be transferred to TikTok, but museums would first have to become active themselves and not only react to TikTok trends, which of course are not intended for the cultural sector. On Twitter and Instagram, everything is now working quite well. And maybe museums are faster this time because we now know that there is little point in waiting years and wondering whether it will all go away. And even if TikTok were to lose popularity, Instagram is the new feature. We can only hope that the directors don’t start dancing just because the live streams work well.