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Visual arts

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MONA curator collects more than 600 Facebook faces of those traditionally unseen

Photo courtesy: Museum of New Art
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Published 10/6/2010

This Friday, the release the latest film from David Fincher (Fight Club), The Social Network — "the Facebook movie" — an adaptation of Ben Mezrich's 2009 nonfiction novel The Accidental Billionaires, marks a cinematic phenomenon of sorts. Face it, Facebook's history is as fascinating as it is young. " 

On Saturday, a very different multimedia take on Facebook is opening with The Facebook Show, at Detroit's Museum of New Art (MONA). 

Featuring the profile pictures of more than 600 art-worldists in curator Jef Bourgeau's friend list, The Facebook Show examines what Bourgeau calls the "beneficial catastrophe of Facebook." For better or worse, it has made the world a smaller place.

Until last January, Bourgeau wasn't a Facebook user. When the New York-based artist Cara Phillips was in town for a solo show at MONA and met Bourgeau in person she inquired, as we do now, if he was on Facebook. She was stunned to find he wasn't, and her amazement amazed him. "She said all the galleries and museums and the people who work at them were largely all on Facebook and used it to network," recalls Bourgeau. "She said I should be on it too." 

With some skepticism, he created a profile and began to click through the pages, photos and profiles of his friends, many of whom play some sort of role in art communities. 

He was intrigued by their profile photo decisions. 

"For several reasons, I was never a fan of Art News, and what I really disliked was that they'd always put the face of the artist on the cover instead of the art," Bourgeau says. "That seemed more of a promotional gimmick. I never liked the idea of seeing the artist's face on the cover of anything, as their first impression. But when it came to Facebook, the artists themselves choose how they want project their own image, instead of some gallery or magazine. I thought that was pretty interesting."

With the permission of his friends, Bourgeau collected his favorite profile pictures. Then he befriended artists who were friends with his friends, and asked for permission to save a copy of their profile photos. He collected close and fringe friends, local and international artists, from Bryant Tillman, Kristin Beaver, Jerry Vile, Amanda Faye Cain and Beverly Fre$h, to Derrick May, Matthew Barney, Olaf Breuning, Damien Hirst and Marco Coraggio. Coraggio is making the trip from his home in Salerno, Italy to Detroit for the opening. 

"What pushed me to cover over 4,680 miles and 10 hours of flight just to enjoy witnessing the pleasure and pride of seeing my work?" Coraggio reiterates. "Simply a strong sense of curiosity and desire for knowledge." 

Sure, it's proof that at least 600 people maintain a general likeness for Bourgeau, but what will The Facebook Show really show us? Could any of these images stand alone on a gallery wall, or must they rely on each other? Will artists such as Coraggio attend en masse to see themselves, yet learn that their virtual neighbor on the gallery wall is standing just behind them? If so, will they meet? Is this a popularity contest? Will artists be vain enough to judge their photos as more or less interesting than others? If so, could that change the way they use Facebook? 

Whether it's a voyeuristic party or an inspired technological deconstruction, there's one facet of the show we are sure of: Someone is going to "like" it on Facebook.


The Facebook Show opens with a reception Oct. 2, from 6 to 10 p.m., and runs through Oct. 30 at the Museum of New Art; 7 N. Saginaw St., Pontiac; 248-210-7560; detroitmona.com. Opening at the same time is New Media, Sex, and Culture in the 21st Century, with more than 50 artists exploring femininity, masculinity, desire, pleasure, pornography and other topics.

Travis R. Wright is arts and culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to twright@metrotimes.com.

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