Five years ago, artist and curator Hilde Lynn Helphenstein contracted a disease that left her bedridden for a year. Still eager to engage the art world, she created the Instagram account @jerrygogosian—a portmanteau of New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz and mega-gallerist Larry Gagosian—to post extremely niche memes that only devoted art-world insiders could hope to understand. (A running gag: Zoe and Chloe, the account’s mascot “gallerinas.”) It took off, and @jerrygogosian has since amassed 113,000 followers and become one of the industry’s most biting critics and beloved shitposters. Even staffers from Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner, and Pace Gallery follow along, seemingly in on the joke.
Helphenstein’s rising profile piqued the interest of Sotheby’s, which tapped her to curate a sale of work by emerging artists recommended to her by Instagram’s Explore tab. Called “Suggested Followers: How the Algorithm Is Always Right” (Sept. 24–Oct. 3), the sale offers a direct look at how Instagram’s mysterious algorithm influences taste. “Because I’m followed by pretty much every gallery, major institution, and big collector, when I go to my ‘suggested’ or Explore pages, Instagram shows me people who are going to be rising stars,” she tells W. From there, she decided to approach artists recommended to her directly by the algorithm.
“Instagram is by far the number-one tool for exploring the emerging art world,” Helphenstein said in a statement. “From an artist’s professional infancy to their meteoric success, the algorithm is notified that you’re interested in a certain type of artist or style of work, then the AI does the work for you.” The sale features work by 20 such artists, including Ronan Day-Lewis, Sarah Thibault, Gigi Rose Gray, and Avery Wheless. Most are indeed up-and-comers, though one critic pointed out how Marc Quinn, who has enjoyed solo exhibitions at Tate Britain and the Venice Biennale, seems misplaced, but much of his work over the past few years also reflects on Instagram. Ranging in price from $11,500 to $250,000, the pieces will be available for purchase on Sotheby’s Buy Now platform.
Some may argue the Sotheby’s sale is a sign of Helphenstein selling out or satire “dying forever,” but it also reflects shifting power dynamics in how we approach criticism. @jerrygogosian is just one of several accounts gaining steam as an emerging generation of digital-savvy aesthetes gravitate toward quick-hit memes instead of overblown essays penned by seemingly out-of-touch critics. Architecture has Dank Lloyd Wright, Ryan Scavnicky, and McMansion Hell. Design has furniture dealer and self-described “meme showroom” Herman Wakefield. Fashion has polarizing watchdog Diet Prada, the industry’s “most feared Instagram account” and a content platform in its own right.
What unifies the accounts is an incisive focus on pressing issues like labor exploitation, overconsumption, poor design, and the proliferation of knockoffs within their respective industries—and starting conversations about changing the status quo. It turns out dank memes are the preferred mode of communication. “They pull from a shared visual language and can make sense even if you don’t exactly understand the context,” Alana Hope Levinson writes for Dwell. “Though the primary mode of memes and shitposts is visual humor, the function is often critique—whether it’s gently ribbing famous architects or eviscerating unfair labor practices.”
Creating biting memes seems to be what Helphenstein does best—and there’s demand to bring her witty approach to new mediums. Beyond simply amassing a six-figure following, she started attending prestigious art fairs around the world and writing about her experiences for a mailing list that charges subscribers $5 a month, which pays her bills. She’s also in the process of securing her own TV show with support from Pace Gallery president Marc Glimcher. Her ultimate goal? “I want to be the female Anthony Bourdain of the art world.”