On a harsh June afternoon, Emma Enderby, principal curator of the Warehouse, and Cecilia Alemani, director and principal curator of High Line Art, walked side by side between their respective underwriters. on the West Side of Manhattan, sketching out the configuration of their first ever collaborative exhibition.
They were very pleased.
“No night settings,” said Alemani. “No cranes. That’s the best.”
Nothing will be decided until just before the opening. “We don’t have to think about engineering or payload,” Enderby said. “You can just spend a leisurely day booking them.”
The exhibition, “The Looking Glass”, runs from Saturday to August 29, is an exhibition in which all “them” – the sculptures when viewed – are virtual, existing only in reality. augmented or AR
Using an app developed by Acute Art, a digital art organization based in London, viewers can point their phones at a QR code displayed at one of the websites – the giveaway shows Virtual artwork is “hidden”. Code that triggers a specific sculpture to appear on the viewer’s camera screen, superimposed on its surroundings. (Unlike virtual reality, or VR, in which the viewer wears a device, such as goggles, AR does not require full immersion.) Most virtual artwork will be placed on the square around the Warehouse, on West 30th Street at 11th Avenue, is complemented by three nearby High Street locations.
Acute Art is overseen by the exhibition’s third curator, Daniel Birnbaum, who, because of the pandemic, is only able to be present from a distance. “The Looking Glass” is an updated and expanded rendition of another acute art show, “The Unreal City,” which opened on London’s South Shore last year and then, confronts the New lock precautions, re-enacted in a month-long at-home edition. A trailer, featuring three “The Looking Glass” artists, was introduced last month at Frieze New York at the Shed.
“There’s something alluring about it being secret or not completely visible,” Birnbaum said in a phone interview. “It’s a completely invisible show until you start talking about it.”
If “The Looking Glass” echoes the feel of Pokémon Go in 2016-2017, the search will be as much fun as the search. While the title of the London repeat alludes to TS Eliot’s poem “Wasteland,” in New York, the show takes its name from Lewis Carroll. “In today’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, the phone is a new rabbit hole,” Enderby said.
Birnbaum, a respected curator who was the director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm for eight years before leaving to run Acute Art, has attracted the participation of 11 artists, including family names – Olafur Eliasson and KAWS – and art world favorites like Precious Okoyomon, winner of the 2021 Frieze Artist Award, Cao Fei, Nina Chanel Abney, Koo Jeong A and Julie Curtiss. Some of their works evolved over time and incorporated sound, while others remained unchanged like traditional sculptures.
Freed from the plinth, they can derive new meaning from their unique contexts. Abney’s work, “The Imaginary Friend,” is a hovering, bearded black man in high-top sneakers and cropped socks, reading a book, with a halo around his head. “It was the Black Jesus,” Birnbaum said. He realized that it would have had a different impact if it had appeared during a political rally in Washington than on the High Line.
Eliasson, whose 2017 “Rainbow” was a pioneering work of virtual reality art, contributed a cluster of five works, from a series of films collectively known as “Wunderkammer”: a buzzing ladybug, one floating rock, a cloud, the sun and a bunch of flowers pushing up through the sidewalk.
“Very often, these digital platforms are presented to us as if they are the opposite of reality, but I see it as an extension of reality,” he said in a phone interview. . “I am a similar artist, interested in the union of mind and body, and my first thought was, ‘This is taking your body.’ It seems like escapism and openness to hedonism.” On reflection, however, he concludes that since people are connected to their phones, he’d be more inclined to reach them through the device in “sensitive” rather than “paralyzing” ways. paralyzed”.
“Maybe we can get a message on the phone that the world is wonderful,” he said. “As for what I hope to achieve, in what remains of public space – and the High Line is a prime example – there is the potential of fantasy, the unexpected encounter, meeting someone you meet. did not expect to know and become friends. I think it’s about adding more stories and other stories to the public space. “
Tomás Saraceno, the Argentinian artist in Berlin who worked in Eliasson’s studio early on, is even more determined to combine augmented reality with real life. Obsessed with ecological concerns, Saraceno was particularly passionate about spiders, and he founded a research organization, Arachnophilia, to study them and the architecture of spider webs.
For “The Looking Glass,” he created two virtual spiders. One, which will be in Shed’s square, is a rendition of the spectacular Maratus speciosus, known as the Australian coastal peacock spider. The other will be at an undisclosed location in Manhattan. If you send a photo of a real spider to the Acute Art app, the team will respond with the location of the virtual spider, which can also be shipped to your home. “It is at the heart of the whole thing,” Birnbaum said. “He likes the look of the AR spider, but he’s more interested in your attention to real spiders.”
For other artists, the capabilities of augmented reality allow for different approaches to their age-old artistic investigations. Curtiss, a French artist living in Brooklyn, paints and sculpts nude women. “My job is all about the look, and what I want to reveal and what I choose to hide,” she said in a phone interview. Introduced to Birnbaum by Brian Donnelly, who became known as KAWS, Curtiss became excited at the opportunity to pursue the subject in a way she had not before.
As of mid-June, she was still working with the computer programmers at Acute Art to develop her work: a nude woman with long black hair – one of the characters she portrays in picture – will be placed in the environment. The model turned away. “When you try to go around her, she will keep dodging, so you can never see her front,” says Curtiss. “And when you get too close, you pass her. That naked woman is exposed and vulnerable, but like a wall, she is protected. It is playing with these opposites. “
Birnbaum suggests that in the aftermath of the pandemic, the popularity of virtual representations could increase rapidly. “Will they be able to do fashion shows again?” he say. “Will people go on a trip? I see this could be another model for exhibitions. I can imagine that AR and VR and mixed reality will be part of the global and local future art world. I’d be surprised if the art world doesn’t change a bit after the shutdown. We can come a little early.”
Although at the moment Acute Art is not making a profit, its financial backers, wealthy Swedish businessman Gerard De Geer and his son Jacob, are aware of the commercial possibility. Acute Art has created virtual works for Chanel and BMW, and is looking to release works in editions. “We haven’t really monetized everything yet,” Birnbaum said. But he allows that the sudden NFT craze and blockchain purchases have sparked talk among some artists about financial opportunities.
One thing seems certain: Virtual and augmented reality are still in their artistic infancy. Acute Art acts as a technology specialist, providing engineers and computer programmers to bring artists’ virtual creations to life. “There was a little storyboard thing written, then we did a test version, and they would come back and say, ‘The texture is too small,’ and, ‘It should be redder,’ Birnbaum to speak. “They get a test app and they can play with it and order it.”
“My interest is to see what we can do with this technology,” he continued. “There used to be photography and everyone thought it was going to kill painting. Then cinema and video cameras and the internet were born. In our time, AR and VR are new mediums. There was a time before it was commercialized when people could do experimental things. We are there right now.”