Jakarta. A director at Jakarta's Museum MACAN said none of Yayoi Kusama's artworks were damaged by visitors touching, moving or taking selfies with them, despite someone partially rubbing out one of her famous polka dots.
The Jakarta Globe previously ran an article that sparked a lot of debate about selfie-taking and damaged artworks at Museum MACAN.
However, during a meeting with museum director Aaron Seeto on May 24, he confirmed that no artworks had been damaged.
"I can confirm that no artworks had been damaged by visitors to the museum. What was reported was actually inaccurate and the images were posted by a volunteer, not a staff member," he said.
He added that the photos, which he described as inaccurate and out of context, were not authorized by the museum.
The previous story, published on May 18, was based on a series of photos Amanda Aulia, a part-time staff member at Museum MACAN, posted on her Instagram account @amansaulia on May 17, showing damage to Kusama's artworks.
"Unfortunately, I am not going to respond to the motives of another person, especially in distributing something that was not authorized by the museum," Seeto said.
He went through some photos and explained the condition of the artworks.
Seeto said the partially erased polka dot was actually a replaceable sticker and that the museum had expected a huge turnout, so there was scheduled maintenance to replace those stickers.
"So the stickers in the image that was reported were actually replaceable, and that image was taken before our maintenance teams were able to go through," he said.
Regarding one of the silver balls in "Narcissus Garden," Seeto said it had been "dislodged" but that the artwork was not damaged.
Entang Wiharso's plexiglass paintings in the Children's Artspace on the other hand, are allowed to be touched.
"In the children's art space, Entang's artwork is actually designed for young children to understand how artists create. So there are components kids may touch and again, from time to time we have to maintain the artwork. They are allowed to touch that work, so from time to time, we only need to change it," he said.
He reiterated that the images that went viral on social media were taken and distributed by the volunteer before the scheduled maintenance could take place.
"I have a conservator on board. We do a daily review of the exhibition. We all have the planning in place, the planning is part of the design of the exhibition and the images you have seen are all of works that have interactive elements. And we know that we have processes to maintain the artworks and these images were taken before our team was able to maintain the artwork."
Did Influencers Cause Trouble?
The Jakarta Globe's article originally featured two photos of Instagram influencers seen mistreating the artwork.
One was seen sitting on the kitchen counter in "Obliteration Room." When writing the article, Museum MACAN communications officer Nina Hidayat told the Globe that sitting is only allowed in the chairs, because going to the room "is like visiting someone's house."
Seeto expressed a similar sentiment.
"They are able to sit on certain parts of the installation. We prefer people not to sit on the counters, but again, the artwork was not damaged."
The other photo depicted a man leaning on one of Kusama's pieces titled "Dots Obsessions." The owner of the photo, who goes by the name Abi Shihab, clarified that he was not leaning on the artwork, as it is made from soft material and cannot support his weight.
He said he used his feet to support his body, and the lighting made it look like there was no distance between him and the artwork.
However, Seeto declined to specifically comment on this picture.
"Of course there are things people can't do and they are instructed not to do. Touching a certain element is not permitted and from time to time, people touch it and we prefer that they don't. From time to time, people do touch artwork and we prefer that they do not and there are rules and guidelines in place for people to not to touch the works.
"I can't comment on the picture and I think my response is very clear that no artworks were damaged here. Our team and visitors are also instructed on how to behave inside the museum but I am not commenting on the image," he said.
Seeto said influencers do not get preferential treatment but prior to the public opening of the exhibition, there had been several previews to which members of the media, sponsors, influencers and MACAN Society members were invited. However, there are no different rules regarding their interaction with the artworks.
"During the preview days, we had all kinds of interested people coming to the exhibition. There were artists – young artists, established artists – curators, architects, fashion designers, media people, so that the assumption that only influencers attended the exhibition is not actually the full picture," he said.
He added that after an exhibition opened to the public, the museum welcomed people from all backgrounds. On weekends, they mostly dealt with families. The museum also hosted a sponsored school visit on the day of the interview.
Since the museum is open to everyone of any age, Seeto said there are protocols in place to protect artworks, such as selling timed tickets to limit visitor traffic, having 24-hour security, making sure that children are accompanied by adults, and only allowing phone cameras, except for accredited media.
"All of the exhibition design has been thought through very carefully to ensure that the flow of the audience past the artworks that allow participation is managed in a particular way," Seeto said.
Writing by Dhania Sarahtika