Arts, Venue

Museums on TikTok: undermining their reputations or moving with the times?

Many have been quick to comment on the presence of the World’s most famous and well-respected art institutions on new Gen-Z favourite platform, TikTok. Some household names including The Met, The Uffizi Gallery, Prado in Madrid and Paris’s Grand Palais have gained notable followings on the new social media sensation.

The Uffizi has been identified by some to be TikTok’s newest “class clown” within its arts-orientated peer group. The world-renowned museum has been entertaining fans by dubbing comedic exchanges over short snippets of animated works of fine art.

The gallery has also attempted to keep up with the app’s trends. In one video, portraits of the Italian bourgeois Medici family children have their heads enlarged and appear to dance to rapper and singer Auntie Hammy’s viral single, Pew Pew Pew. In another instance, a video of the Roman Carrara marble of Farnese Hercules is put to Leonard Cohen’s infamously flirtatious song, I’m Your Man.

The Met, upon creating their own account with TikTok, launched a number of TikTok “challenges”, including the #salutetoclassics challenge, which encouraged users to imitate an artwork for the chance to win an all-expenses paid trip to New York.

On the museum’s move to the new social media platform, Kenneth Weine, Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at The Met, said “as a global cultural institution, The Met’s mission is to engage audiences with art from our collection of over 1.5 million objects spanning over 5,000 years of human history – and there is no better place to do such than one of the world’s fastest-growing social media communities.”

However, the museums’ turn to the new platform has not been without heavy criticism. Critic Alexander Adams published an article slating museums for their presence on TikTok. Adams said, “pretending to be cool, and using pop culture to try to woo the young, betrays the values [museums] should defend.” Adams described the Uffizi’s publicity department and administrators as “tone deaf” and compared its TikTok account to a nightclub, falsely “flashy, tawdry and full of action”. Furthermore, Adams said that the museum’s failure to represent culture “in all its complexity” fails the younger generation.

Despite slams such as Adams’, it seems that the younger demographic is all for museums’ modern approach to changes in marketing and outreach, and it appears to be a smart move for business. The majority of TikTok users are under the age of 34, with the target demographic reportedly being 13-21, an oft-considered “hard-to-reach” group for art institutions. While TikTok’s exact number of users has not been disclosed, the app has over 1 billion downloads, which makes for a huge pool of prospective new museum visitors. Additionally, as Covid continues to keep many visitors away, this new platform presence is garnering and maintaining interest in galleries and museums in an unprecedented manner.

While appealing to a younger generation comes with its pitfalls and its criticisms, it appears to be an advantageous move by arts giants such as The Met and The Uffizi, who are capitalising on the audience of the world’s leading short-video app. Some critics may despise institutions’ apparent move beyond the world of “high culture”, but it seems that Adams might just be the one shy to society’s “complexity”, with all its flashy and bawdy accoutrements.


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Bea Prutton

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January 2022
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