EXHIBITING IN THE XXI CENTURY
Technology has been evolving towards the creation of a parallel universe, as it is in fact, the digital world. But when it comes to art, it might feel that art came late to the race of technology and for ages has been dependent on galleries, art fairs, festivals, and so on. When the pandemic started, art felt the hardest hit. Everyone got somehow sheltered in the online world. The artists, though, were mostly left disconnected.
During the last year, there were countless attempts to assemble improvised digital spaces to replace or copy real spaces, such as galleries and museums. Part of these exhibitions failed to engage the spectator. That happened due to the aim of recreating and mimicking physical events, instead of realizing the digital world speaks a different language. People behind a screen require different sensory stimuli. Nevertheless, there were some battles won.
The most common form of exhibiting was the simple documentation of the exhibition with images and texts. But there were also numerous 360-degree videos, webinars, lectures, free digital publications, and artists’ talks. Besides all the concerts, discourses, podcasts, dances, video screenings, live performances, etc, from the wide spectrum of art mediums, there were different degrees on who was the most affected. New media arts are naturally adaptable to the digital sphere. A lot of film festivals were online and to be fair: we loved it.
Other art mediums had a harder time adapting to the “new normal”. When it comes to sculpture and painting, how is it possible to make the spectator feel the texture, the brushstrokes, or the shape of a piece through a screen? What about recreating the sensory submersion that installations are able to? Or the interaction that performers have with their audience? This last year, questions like these and many more were (and still are) the core of artists, curators, and art and culture institutions’ dilemma. The quest for the artistic experience in the digital realm created a lot of new ideas and consolidated a lot of old ones. From the numerous attempts, some were very successful. Various exhibitions crossed the digital border, used new technologies, and succeeded in creating authentic artistic experiences.
The popular 3D tours approach of galleries and museums allowed visitors to have a sense of what is in those hallways and rooms. Websites like exhibbit.com made it economically accessible to design and showcase exhibitions on the web with pre-made 3D galleries. This improved version of a 360 picture of a gallery with high-resolution images, conceived the viewer to zoom in to each painting and get more perception of what the pieces are like – almost feeling the texture and brushstrokes. These virtual galleries are great for the times we live in and for geographic decentralization but, with some rare exceptions, it feels like an incomplete experience.
Famous cultural institutions created digital platforms that allowed the visitor to engage with their content. Well-conceived documentaries came to replace the knowledge absorded on the physical visits. Video and audio tours, pictures, and essays contributed to interactive online versions of those institutions. One good example is The British Museum’s “Museum of the World” with a fascinating and dynamic timeline that connects the historic objects and their explanations. Another example is the dutch Rijksmuseum and its presentation of The Night Watch painted by Rembrandt. You can zoom in to details of the high-resolution image of the painting and get audio guides that offer a complete explanation of the characters in the painting.
“SURPRISINGLY THIS RATHER WORKS” marked me as one of the best exhibitions of 2020. Curated by Anika Meier and Johann König for the König Gallery in Berlin, it shows the work of the digital artist Manuel Rossner. To enter the exhibition you will need an app that turns you into an avatar and takes you to a gaming environment of the ’90s. The line that separates gaming software and contemporary art blur, contributing to the redefinition of art and the blend of its mediums. Rossner’s exhibition is only the first of the Digital König app. Currently, you can also see “DREAMING OF ALLIGATOR HEAD” by the artist Claudia Comte, and “The WORLD WIDE WEBB” exhibition by the British artist Thomas Webb. All these exhibitions demand interaction with the art piece defying art etiquette of ‘not touching’.
Earlier this year, DJ Carl Cox caused a big impact when he announced the release of his exclusive music as digital collective drops (aka NFTs). He wasn’t the first one tokenizing versions of artwork and he will not be the last. The introduction of art as a digital asset using blockchain technology is revolutionizing the art economy and saving it from the physical world limitations.
Another highlight for me is the performative sculptures of the American artist Judy Chicago (available on the app). The sculptures adapted to the digital world in a surprisingly natural way and give us hope for alternatives to performance exhibiting. Augmented Reality came to stay and its characteristics are beyond appealing. AR is not just about a fine replica, it allows the artist to create physically impossible experiences. Besides, it also allows site-specific performances (like Judy Chicago “Smoke Sculpture”) to suddenly become geographically democratic.
The online world is revolutionizing art in all its features, starting with medium and inspiration,going all the way to the art economy and exhibiting. Unfortunately, not all art institutions were ready to adjust to the new reality in the same pioneering way. Along with many other causes, the economic differences and fundings between them are undeniably the most powerful reason. The digital world is still governed by the physical world system and its economic restrictions still limit creativity. Those restrictions are crystal clear. Nevertheless, along with the new challenges we are going through and the new technologic resources arising, an unfamiliar art age will bloom.
Some cool exhibitions going on right now:
Archive of avant garde art from 1996
Archive of “finished works and works in progress, essays, statements, audio, visuals, thoughts,…”
A Chronus Art Center (CAC) exhibition
(Berlin Art link did an amazing list of some extraordinary online exhibitions)