“One second I’m a Koons, then suddenly the Koons is me. Pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture, in me.”
Lady Gaga famously sang those lyrics in her single “Applause,” the first single from her fearless album, ARTPOP. Those lyrics may also work just as nicely as a tag line for rising art influencer, Benny Or.
Benny has become one of the most well known Instagram accounts connecting an internet audience with the wonders of the art world. Capturing powerful shows and art works from around the world, Benny has quickly amassed a significant following while defining his style. With a bit of existential appeal, the photos almost always consist of an art viewer and art object.
This lends to a voyeuristic experience and perhaps forges a new audience for art: those watching, those watching. We catch up with Benny here in an interview for RAIN on how he got started in this peculiar part of the internet and his affection for art.
Your art Instagram account @bennyor has been garnering a lot of attention lately. Can you tell us about your social media presence and how it got started? How long has it been?
It all started 4 years ago. At the time I was working as an associate at a production design studio in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Despite the high-profile projects, I was starved for inspiration so I started taking myself to art museums and galleries in the neighboring cities. The blog was a way for me to document and share my findings. It began to really pick up organically when I moved to New York City in 2016.
What does it mean to be called an art influencer?
My goal is to influence everyone to go experience art by sharing what’s out there in museums, galleries and on the streets. There’s a real excitement and joy in exploring the art world and I want to empower others to experience that.
Do you think there is a serious younger “Instagram” interest in fine art that exists beyond pretty pictures?
Absolutely! There was a time when it wasn’t cool to like art but kids are different these days. Nerds are the new jocks. There’s a social currency in being cultured and it all comes down to how we connect with them. If the method is through pretty pictures, that’s fine but the intentions need to be in the right place.
A study made in 2001 by Jeffrey and Lisa Smith at the Metropolitan Museum of Art discovered that the average time spent on a piece is 17 seconds. Do you feel the experience on Instagram is a memorable one? Should art be memorable?
No, Instagram is not a memorable experience, but the museum experience mirrors that. Nobody remembers every single work in a museum. Instead, they remember the few that they truly connect with. Those moments are the ones that matter.
Is art blogging your full-time gig?
Nope! It really is a passion project. I am currently a creative director at an entertainment production studio called Fireplay in Brooklyn. It’s a small company so my day to day varies a lot from designing props for an Olympic ceremony to coming up with concepts for a concert tour. Stadiums and arenas are my playgrounds and it’s a lot of fun.
Do you see crossovers between your work as a creative director and as an art influencer?
Absolutely, combining the art world with the entertainment world is something that I actively strive to do. Entertainment has an audience and reach that the art world could never dream of and my intention as a creative director is very much about making those connections.
Can you tell us more about your background and how you got to where you are today?
My background growing up was in music and theatre and I studied architecture in college where I quickly realized that I was less interested in buildings and more drawn towards the storytelling aspects of environmental design. From then on, I focused all my internships towards studios with a focus on the performing arts. Fortunately, my skill sets as an architect translated seamlessly into production design and with a bit of persistence and luck, I found my way into the world of live entertainment.
It seems you juggle a lot of roles, how would you define yourself?
Ultimately, I’m an artist. I’m currently focused on my mission to make art accessible through entertainment, but the long-term goal is to focus on my own art practice. There’s a lot that I want to do, but right now my energy is focused on using entertainment to expose more people to art.
What is it you hope your viewers walk away with?
The understanding that art is for everybody and that they feel inspired and empowered to go and participate in the dialogue themselves. There’s a lot of great stuff out there waiting to be discovered and experienced – the majority of which is free!