"Art is not Dead": An Existential Art Crisis
At WPP Stream in October, I was asked to invite some art exhibitions that would help the debates going on during the day. The team provided me with an amazing title - “Director of Art” - and asked me to curate some work that would get people thinking.
Of course, I would have loved to bring an exhibition of old masters or impressionists to the conference, but you have to bear in mind that this conference in set in a wonderful hotel in Marathon, in Greece, and the exhibitions would be held in the meeting/lobby area of the event.
This opportunity sparked an idea - how about we bring some of the art+tech innovations that are making the art world uncomfortable, in order to raise a bit of debate? Curating an existential art crisis.
The first proposition: how about we bring along a Van Gogh and a Monet to this hotel in Marathon? We wouldn’t be able to bring the original works, but we brought along the “Verus Art” prints, which have been produced in collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada. Especially from a short distance, the 3D printed paintings look like the real thing. Arius Technology in Vancouver, who have been developing Verus Art over the past few years, is at the forefront of what can be done using these new techniques.
In my opinion, although the paintings looked just like the real thing, you’d still want to see the original after seeing these replicas. Currently, the resolution of the high-res 3D scanning is still better than the resolution of the high-res 3D printing. Could this change one day? Could we ever get to replicas that take away from the aura of the original?
The second exhibition we brought was a small show of works by Robbie Barrat, who is a pioneer of the Art + AI scene. Robbie is one of those rare artists who really, really understands algorithms and technology, and is pushing the boundaries of what is possible technologically. But further than that, he also has the ability to think about the work from a zoomed-out point of view.
Last year, he had a show at Caroline Vossen’s Avant Gallery in collaboration with a painter called Ronan Barrot. You can read more about it on the Artnome blog here. We selected some of the work from this show to take to Greece. It’s amazing that Barrat and Barrot have are eponymous bar one vowel because their art is completely different. Barrot is a traditionalist, painting with brushes on canvas. Barrot is the new generation, painting with pixels and source code.
One of Barrat’s works in Greece made an attendee to the conference say to me: “Art is not Dead.” It was really impactful to realise that art created by an artist together with a computer can make someone who is sceptical about contemporary art believe again. It’s so difficult to explain why the work “Peeping Skull” is so emotional and impactful. It is simply a painting created on a screen, that you can view inside a box. But it’s more than that. The infinite nature of the variations and compositions produced by a Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) really makes us question instincts about conservation, experimentation, creativity and culture. What does that one image mean, seen by only one person, if you will never be able to capture it again? Should we try to conserve it, or let it go?
Interestingly, there was also a debate/panel discussion at the conference about whether AI could ever be creative. I think a lot of the discussion went above people's heads - but by looking at work by artists like Robbie Barrat, it becomes a lot more clear. The WPP Stream organisers loved the exhibitions, and there will be further iterations on the theme at some of their other events in 2019 and 2020. It was a great collaboration, but even more impactful to hear what technologists felt about these selections of work.