Jake Levine, an entrepreneur in New York, likes the kind of art that tends to be popular on the Internet — cleverly Photoshopped pictures, and animated images like GIFs — and wanted a way to get it off his computer and onto a wall, alongside more traditional works like photographs and paintings. But how do you hang pixels on a wall?
He considered his options. Yes, digital picture frames were inexpensive and widely available, but they tended to be small and unsophisticated. And it seemed wasteful to hang a tablet or an expensive monitor on a wall — where it would be tempting to use the device for web browsing or watching movies instead of enjoying a piece of art.
Eventually, he put together a digital canvas by using an inexpensive monitor and a computer called aRaspberry Pi. The display was controlled by a simple web app that allowed him to select images online and to change them instantly, with a click.
It was promising enough that Mr. Levine decided to quit his job as the general manager of Digg, a news site, and to focus on building these screens full time.
Mr. Levine named his companyElectric Objects and raised $1.7 million through a seed round of venture financing in April to rent an office and hire employees. To generate feedback, he also used the money to build and send out a hundred prototypes to other entrepreneurs and artists. He plans to sell a polished version of his prototype for $299 later this year.
The first time I heard about the company, I wasn’t sure that the concept had broader market appeal, largely because I’m not convinced that people would want more screen devices in their homes. As someone who owns a tablet, a smartphone and a laptop, I definitely didn’t. I have even resisted buying a television. But after seeing a prototype, I was impressed by the simplicity of the machine. And if people are willing to buy stand-alone gadgets to play music, monitor their health and help manage their homes, why not purchase one for culture and art?
Mr. Levine isn’t the only entrepreneur who sees a market here. Several competitors, including Instacubeand FRM, are working on similar approaches to digital installations for the home.
Yugo Nakamura, co-founder and creative director of FRM, based in Tokyo, said he saw his digital frame as a service for creators and fans of visual culture.
“If we look to the future, screens will be seen as a dominant medium like the canvas was for centuries,” he said in an email. “It’s what we create with these tools that will be remembered most.”
He said people would be drawn to the art that the screen fosters, and not only to the device itself. The hardware is secondary to the art.
“I’m not sure if our experiment will ‘rule the future’ so to speak, but the timing seems right,” he said.
Both Mr. Levine and Mr. Nakamura plan to cultivate networks of artists who create works exclusively for the screens, which people could buy through an online store. The larger goal is not simply to reproduce famous photos and paintings, but to support a growing community of artists who create computer animations and images.
“The reason people aren’t paying for digital art is because the experience doesn’t feel viable,” Mr. Levine said. “It mostly feels like taking the offline art world and porting it online.”
Zoë Salditch, a curator who has experience working with experimental and new-media artists, is developing the network of artists at Electric Objects. She said that using screens to display interactive or digital art was quite common in the art world, but not yet among consumers.
“You see this kind of device in a hacked version in galleries all the time,” she said. But it can be difficult and expensive for art aficionados who don’t have a hardware and software background to recreate it.
“This device makes it an all-in-one,” and available at a much lower price, she said.
Ms. Salditch is working on building an “artists in residence” program through the company that supplies a stipend and a prototype of the screen to a number of digital artists, to encourage them to create pieces designed specifically for the device.
Robin Sloan, author of a futuristic novel called “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” has been playing around with an Electric Objects prototype. He says that these kinds of devices play to our current cultural fascination with image creation and sharing on sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr, but in a much more meaningful way
“The whole social Internet is built on images,” he said. “And there’s no denying that all of these systems seem to want us to consume more images, faster, all the time. Which ends up being kind of gross, I think.”
The Electric Objects device has some social features, like allowing people to see what their friends have displayed in their homes and to choose to display the same images. But it won’t allow checking email, for example.
For Mr. Sloan, who has also worked at media companies like Twitter and Current TV, the screen’s minimalist nature is what makes it so appealing: It allows only one image to be shown at a time.
“It actually insists upon a slower, more thoughtful pace” of cultural consumption, he said.
That’s exactly the kind of retro-futuristic experience that Mr. Levine hopes people will be willing to pay for.
Magnan Metz Gallery is pleased to announce its summer exhibition Destination Unknown. On view June 27-July 25, 2014, with an opening reception on Thursday, June 26th from 6-8 pm.
In the spirit and tradition of summertime wanderlust Destination Unknown is a group exhibition that features work sculpted from each of the artist’s unique travels. A compilation that comes together to form a temporal dialog via a selection of interdisciplinary media ascribing meaning through literal, imaginary and theoretical platforms.
As the tour begins the aqueous concept of home is addressed. In his piece Home, Miler Lagos transforms a singular water tower into retreat that rests upon an azure bed of water and sky. Continuing onto painterly waves of glossy pigment, viewers experience the choppy waters of Puerto Rican born Sofia Maldonado’s Youkali II. Drawing from her roots, the traditional tropical landscape is transformed into moody pools of color. Japanese artist Maya Onoda captures a moment of reflection in the delicate forms of Lobster. Inspired by her everyday life Onoda uses string, watercolor, and coffee to create a multi-dimensional surface punctuated by sewn detail.
Leading the dialog into new territory is digital media artist Anne Spalter. Her video Sky of Dubai takes visitors on a hallucinatory bird’s eye tour with a mesmerizing series of kaleidoscopic patterns. Furthering the sense of cerebral disorientation is Arrechea’s video Atardecer, or Sunset with distant helicopters buzzing around a palm tree against a setting sun is an invitation to contemplate the cause and effect of surveillance in an anonymous landscape of suspicion.
Destination Unknown is a trip through the places we recognize past and present, awakening a nostalgia that invites viewers on an imaginary journey devoid of long lines, security checks and endless miles of asphalt.
James Case Leal
Wenyon & Gamble
For more information or images, please contact the gallery at email@example.com
Former MCAD prof Roman Verostko, 85, is an internationally known pioneer in creative coding, generative and algorist art (which most of us call "computer art"), a one time Benedictine monk/priest in his South Minneapolis studio.
Long before most people had even heard of algorithms, Roman Verostko was writing them to program drawing machines.
A former Benedictine priest and professor emeritus at the MinneapolisCollege of Art and Design (MCAD), Verostko, 84, is internationally known as a pioneer in code-generated imagery, or algorithmic art as he calls it. Pens and brushes attached to his machines draw diaphanous veils of floating color onto paper and sketch seemingly hollow tubes that undulate like exotic life forms. Or create tangles of multicolored lines that suggest bizarre insects. Or brush ink gracefully across the page like calligraphic writing in an unknown language.
A fusion of human intelligence and mechanical precision, the drawings also involve the “Magic Hand of Chance,” as Verostko calls a computer-generated light show he invented in 1982. That early endeavor will be revived and projected all night onto a wall at MCAD as part of Saturday night’s Northern Spark celebration.
He will also discuss his work Friday at the sold-out Eyeo festival, a creative-coding and data-design event that is attracting more than 700 young aficionados from 14 countries to the Twin Cities for a four-day meet-up at Walker Art Center.
Though primitive by comparison with today’s computer graphics, Verostko’s “Magic Hand” has the virtue of being able to run for days without repeating itself because he incorporated chance into the program.
An upgrade of the program generated fresh designs for a week across the 300-foot-long facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2011. In the original version, nautilus shell designs spiral outward into colorful, ever-changing abstractions that give way to nonsense poetry and Zen-like observations, all thanks to a 32 kb program written in the computer language BASIC for a first-generation IBM PC.
“The code works within powerful rules,” Verostko said. “It goes through filters that are my preferences, but within those parameters it is always allowed to do as it wishes, or do whatever the dice rolls.”
He wrote his first code in punch cards at Control Data in the late 1960s and spent the summer of 1970 at MIT studying “the humanization of new technologies” with a grant from the Bush Foundation. “But my real coding work began with the first personal computers, the Apples we had in ’78 and the IBM that came out in August 1981,” he said recently.
He still writes in BASIC and uses his first program, much modified and expanded, to generate drawings that have been featured in more than 30 exhibitions in the past 15 years from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to shows in Rome, Berlin, Istanbul, Lima, Tokyo, New York and elsewhere. Computer-generated murals by him are permanent fixtures at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky., and the Frey Science and Engineering Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
The machines his code drives are “plotters” of the sort used by mathematicians, architects and medical personnel to create graphs and to record, for example, electrocardiograms.
“You can sort of see the machine influence in some of Roman’s drawings, but with those that are asymmetrical, you wonder how anyone could ever write a program to create something that is so non-machine-like,” said Jay Coogan, president of MCAD, where Verostko taught from 1968 to 1994. “He considers himself the grandfather of digital art, but his work is still really relevant, even if he feels it’s at the simpler end of what can be done with computers these days.”
Reunion of the pioneers
Relevance got Verostko onto this year’s Eyeo festival program along with two other digital pioneers: Frieder Nake, a professor at Germany’s University of Bremen known for his algorithmic and generative work in the 1960s and his current research in computer graphics, hypertext and digital media; and Lillian Schwartz, an early innovator in computer-generated art, graphics, film, video and special effects who was a longtime consultant to AT&T’s Bell Labs and IBM’s Thomas Watson Research Lab.
“We invite people because of the work they’ve done, so we have NASA people but … this year we also have three people who have been at it since the 1960s,” said Dave Schroeder, a Minneapolis-based sound designer who founded Eyeo in 2011 with three friends.
The ’60s were a turbulent time in Verostko’s life. A coal miner’s son, he grew up poor in Tarrs, Pa., where kids amused themselves by sliding down ash heaps on sheets of tin.
He earned a diploma in illustration from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1949 and the following year joined St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., intending to become a Benedictine monk. Haunted by the World War II death of an older brother, he wrestled with theological questions, continued to make art, and was ordained in 1959.
With the monastery’s endorsement he earned an MFA at Pratt Institute in 1961, followed by two years in Europe, where he studied at the Louvre and at Atelier 17, Stanley Hayter’s famous print studio in Paris. Back in the United States he continued making abstract expressionist paintings while editing the New Catholic Encyclopedia in Washington, D.C., and touring an avant-garde sound-and-light show he’d created based on the Psalms.
Though still living a monastic life, his worldly milieu prompted a Washington Post reviewer to describe him in 1965 as “a scholarly priest at home with the beats” (meaning beatniks).
By 1968 he was beset by spiritual tensions. After a long “dark night” of doubt, he decided that he could “no longer, in my deepest self, honestly embrace scripture as a divine revelation.” He left the monastery, and that August married Alice Wagstaff, a psychologist he’d met when she gave seminars at the monastery. They moved to Minneapolis and he began teaching at what is now MCAD. She died in 2009.
‘The new scripture’
“With this electronic revolution, I could see the landscape change and knew that it would change our lives,” he said, ruminating on his career. “I was immersed in the idea that new technologies were expanding our knowledge and how we did business, and would eventually be extensions of human intelligence.
“For me this was the new scripture, opening up areas of visual form and knowledge that weren’t accessible to us before we had these machines. I saw them as a form of revelation.”
Thanks in part to his advocacy, digital literacy is now so central to MCAD’s mission that this summer the school is building a $3.2 million media lab with facilities for analog and digital printing, film and animation production, sound recording and mixing, Web and multimedia work. And it recently added another coding instructor.
“If I were starting today, I would be on social media,” Verostko said recently. “But I’m not. I’m still a 20th-century person. I have a very hard time seeing myself as a 21st-century person.”
LONDON — Is digital art the next big thing in the contemporary art world?
At the moment, the market for art that’s created and displayed on a screen — as distinct from paintings, prints and photos that are generated digitally and then printed — is small. Phillips’s inaugural “Paddles ON!” sale of 20 digital and digitally-related works in New York last October, held in association with the image-posting site Tumblr, was the first such event to be held at an international auction house. It raised just $90,600 — enough to buy a few square inches of a Christopher Wool painting. The top price of $16,000 went for “Asymmetric Love Number 2,” a chandelier made out of CCTV cameras, by the American “anti-disciplinarian” artist Addie Wagenknecht.
Encouraged by high attendance and a selling rate of 80 percent per lot, Phillips and Tumblr will hold a second digital art sale, this time in London. The event, scheduled to run June 21 to July 3, will combine an online auction via the Paddle8 marketplace with a live sale at Phillips. It’s estimated to raise at least 53,600 pounds, or about $90,000, from 23 works, all by different artists working in a dizzying range of media, few of whom are known to mainstream contemporary art buyers.
Those featured include the Amsterdam-based artist Jonas Lund, who creates, among other things, digital abstracts; the more widely exhibited American artist Sara Ludy, who makes quietly unsettling digital photomontages; and Hannah Perry of Britain, who has been shown at the Saatchi Gallery and makes sight and sound installations incorporating flat-screen video monitors. The examples of their work and that of the other artists included in the sale are generally estimated at less than £5,000.
“We feel there’s been a disconnect between the art world and the tech world,” said Megan Newcome, Phillips’s director of digital strategy. “Younger collectors don’t find these works intimidating. They relate to them on a generational level. The market is still nascent, but this is a direction contemporary art is going in.”
Digital art, in its purest forms, is a complex, fast-changing, fuzzily bordered world that traces its origins back to Andy Warhol’s recently rediscovered images made on his Commodore Amiga home computer in the mid-1980s and other, less-famous artists who preceded him. Unlike the computer-generated paintings of fashionable artists like Mr. Wool and Wade Guyton, which now fetch millions at auction, digital art has been difficult to sell when it hasn’t been transferred to a more traditional medium. Tellingly, many of the digital images in Phillips’s auction have been printed on paper or aluminum.
There are plenty of people who remain skeptical about the commercial potential of art shown on a screen in a world of free downloading. “To have a proper market, you need works that are securely limited, signed and numbered,” said the London-based dealer David Juda, who is currently showing “The Arrival of Spring,” a series of Yorkshire landscapes David Hockney drew on an iPad in 2011 that have been downloaded and transferred to paper and aluminum. Mr. Juda has sold 80 of the smaller-size prints on paper, limited to an edition of 25, priced at $28,000 each.
The price of most digital works might not yet have reached that level, but certificates of authenticity are making a new group of international collectors more confident about five-figure purchases. This week, the Brooklyn digital artist Tabor Robak will be showing “A*,” a computer game-inspired video installation running across 14 conjoined monitors, in a group show at the Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art in New York. Typical of the way digital pieces blur the boundaries between static and video art, the piece is being sold in an edition of three for $15,000 each for the data and the all-important certificate. Hardware isn’t included.
Mr. Robak is represented by Team Gallery in New York, who also represent Cory Arcangel, 36, the multimedia artist who was instrumental in retrieving Warhol’s computer drawings from oblivion. Mr. Arcangel, the subject of a one-man show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2011, is best known for manipulating video games and has become one of digital art’s stand-out names, though he doesn’t feature in Phillips’s sale in London.
In 2003, Team Gallery exhibited “Super Mario Clouds,” a wall projection made from an altered video game chip, which sold for $3,000. This same work recently sold privately for $200,000, according to José Freire, Team Gallery’s owner.
“Something has to take the concept of the avant-garde forward,” Mr. Freire said. “How can you address the contemporary without addressing the digital?”
One of the reasons contemporary artists are attracted to digital practice is because of its democratic ethos. But how can the Internet’s ideal of almost limitless access be reconciled with the art market’s craving for exclusivity, which underpins its increasingly bloated price structures?
“It’s a conversation a lot of artists are having at the moment,” said the Paris-based American digital artist Evan Roth, whose unique 2014 digital print, “NEXT, NEXT, NEXT,” recording the shadows of three finger-swipes on an iPhone, will be included in Phillips’s sale in London, estimated at £3,000 to £4,000.
“Digital media should be free and copied. That’s its natural state. It’s like water flowing,” Mr. Roth said. “We’re all part of the digital revolution. It’s happening so fast, and there is a new group of informed collectors who are beginning to understand the work in an intimate way.”
Mr. Roth said his work had been bought by the Paris-based musician and collector Hampus Lindwall. The artist identified Jonah Peretti, The Huffington Post co-founder and BuzzFeed founder; the Washington lawyer Alex C. Lakatos; as well as the media company Bonnier Group of Sweden, among other collectors of digital art, most of which can be snapped up for less than $10,000.
“Digital media appeals to younger artists as a more democratic space that isn’t tied up with a system of financial value,” said Fabienne Nicholas, curator of the collection of the international insurance company Aspen, which is using digital art to enliven its corporate image. Last month the company awarded its inaugural Online Art Award, held in association with the London-based Contemporary Art Society, to Yi-Chun Lin, a student at the London College of Communication.
“The market has become so pervasive and a lot of artists want to circumvent it,” Ms. Nicholas said.
As the market for “fine” contemporary art becomes more and more expensive, it will be interesting to see if the sheer affordability and accessibility of digital art begins to subvert it.