How Viral Meme-Maker @freeze_magazine aka artist Cem A took the art world by Farce

It’s not easy being a meme maker. Creating social media satire of cultural failings that still packs a punch requires a deep understanding of your subject matter, and it can be hard to stand out from the pack.

Even in the relatively small realm of parody in the art world, there is some competition from other creators. like Brad Troemel and Jerry Gogosian. (And who can forget the brief but fantastic career of Hennessy Youngman?) An artist-run Instagram account, @freeze_magazine, quickly became an art world favorite, amassing over 130,000 followers and earning recognition from big names. institutions, including the Barbican Center in London and Documenta 15 in Kassel.

Since the creation of @freeze_magazine in 2019 as a semi-anonymous profile on Instagram, the artist behind this profile, Cem A., has become a reliable source of poignant critiques on the many artists in the art world, many, hypocrisies. His work has been featured by Artnet News, the New York Timesthe art diary and Monopol review. Over the past few years, @freeze_magazine has dared to go where few others have, whether it’s exposing the alleged sexual assaults of German gallerist Johan Konig or unraveling the museum’s difficult relationship between funding public and private funding.

A meme from @freeze_magazine.

And in doing so, Cem A has earned the respect of the museum and gallery system he so often targets. The artist was selected to participate in Documenta 15 as an artist and assistant curator, and earlier this year @freeze_magazine had its first UK exhibition at the Barbican.

This week, a new exhibition opens in Istanbul at the Versus Art Project commercial gallery, from September 15 to October 23. @freeze_magazine inviting collaborators to construct texts that parody the often obtuse discourse that pervades the art world.

“I invited friends working in the field basically to act like themselves. I couldn’t quite imagine what their response texts would look like,” Cem A recently told Artnet News on Zoom. “Some people wrote texts from scratch, others copied and pasted from real exhibition texts or used text generators.The resulting texts range from academic-sounding to utter absurdity.

The exhibition presents these texts and associated memes in a white cube space designed to function as a sort of proto-reading room, the artist said. This collaborative approach is the hallmark of @freeze_magazine, and its exhibitions are like laboratories for research and creation of memes.

At London’s Barbican, for example, @freeze_magazine took over digital displays throughout the building, inserting messages like a Gen-Z version of Lawrence Weiner. One, for example, made the ironically mundane observation: “Perhaps the real art is the friends we make along the way.”

A meme from @freeze_magazine related to the new Istanbul show.

Cem A’s work for Documenta 15, meanwhile, is inspired by the act of harvesting, which includes creating memes and conducting research throughout the 100-day exhibition. His work is collected and archived, along with memes and research from Safdar Ahmed, Nino Bulling, Keleketla! Library and Dan Perjovschi, by members of the Arts Collaboratory.

So what makes today’s memes so different, so appealing? A key element seems being the simplicity of the text-on-image format, which lends itself particularly well to the age of Instagram, when viewers quickly scan their social media feeds. A meme can also be created in seconds, on the toilet or on the bus, making it an ideal medium for timely and relevant criticism.

What is clear from the trajectory of @freeze_magazine is that memes have become an authentic genre in the art world.

A meme from @freeze_magazine.

But can artists make money creating them? Well, yes, there are different models. Brad Troemel runs a Patreon page, as does fellow artist and Twitch streamer Joshua Citarella, and Instagram allows content creators to leverage brand sponsorships, paid posts and other forms of engagement. For @freeze_magazine, the model seems more calibrated to work with public institutions and obtain orders for site-specific interventions.

The @freeze_magazine exhibition in Istanbul will be available for purchase as an installation, but according to the artist, it’s less about money and more about working with others in a creative and collaborative way.

“My experiences working at Documenta encouraged me to form TKTKTK and work with collaborators,” Cem said. “The art world can be so competitive and bitter. The collaborative nature of memes naturally extended to IRL projects.

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