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The Future of Art

SummaryNov, 2018

Art has long been used to capture and translate visions of the future, but how will the future change the nature of art? From photography to 3D printing, new technology has always presented the art world with new opportunities for creation, and this is no different in the digital era. One example is a daring new exhibition leveraging augmented reality to reimagine the experience of the First World War to mark the centenary of Armistice Day. As the art of the future changes, the gallery of the future must adapt to fit it, becoming more data-driven, more socially-responsible and, perhaps, even traverse the final frontier

In this report

New frontiers: art in the digital age

As digital technology enters more into the mainstream of the art world, how are artists, gallerists and investors adapting?

In the sixteenth century, it was the invention of canvases. In the nineteenth, photography. And today, it’s 3D printing, algorithmic art, VR, AR, AI… Technology has always presented both challenges and opportunities in the art world, and the industry today needs to be more adaptable than ever.

One of digital technology’s strengths is its ability to connect people. Collaboration has been a key part of the creative process for artists down the centuries, and online tools are making this process ever easier.

“The myth of the lone artist locked up in his garret is very appealing, but I don’t think it’s usually real,” says Fred Deakin, a multi-disciplinary artist, musician and educator. “That said, the internet has amplified the power of the network like nothing before.”

In his role as Professor of Interactive Digital Arts at the University of the Arts London, Deakin runs intensive workshops called Modual, teaching students how digital tools can help them to pool skills and create something they never could alone. We may be at the start of a new era of creative collectives whose members are scattered around the world, only interacting through digital media.

Technological developments are not only changing how art is being created, but also what art is being created. Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) are already having an impact, from the work being produced by Modual to pioneering exhibition, The Danger Tree, in which an AR smartphone app layers poetry, music and animation over oil paintings.

Deakin’s Project2 pushes the boundaries of digital art even further, moving beyond the screen. Visuals, digitally drawn at the time, are projection-mapped onto the walls as the backdrop for a performance. It aims to make you feel as though the whole room is a VR headset, a digitally created world you can interact with.

Deakin says that “the experience has to flow – you shouldn’t even notice how high-tech it is, as you’re so involved in being emotionally engaged and entranced.”

Of course, technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum and innovations often come from cross-disciplinary experimentation, with technology created for scientific or economic reasons frequently co-opted by the art world, and vice versa. Today, 3D printing – though often overhyped as ‘the technology of the future’ – is the area in which we’re most clearly seeing this.

Cellule specialises in bridging the gap between medical design and the creative industries. Molly Gavriel, a partner at the design studio, describes their mission as “using art and design to convey complex, vital ideas.” One of their current projects looks at ways of producing personalised models of hearts, which are used for pre-operative planning for transplant patients. The usual way of making these is expensive and time-consuming, but Cellule works with artists and designers and is pioneering new, simpler approaches.

Cellule hopes that by making technologies like 3D printing available to artists, they’re helping them expand their toolboxes.

“If you don’t understand something, you can’t create based on it. It’s important to communicate these technological concepts to artists, or in the long term they’ll have to rely on commercially produced templates to create their art – it’s like the difference between knowing how to code your own website, and having to use a template someone else made.”

Of course, everyone involved also hopes this work will have a real impact on the success of heart surgeries in the future, the streamlined process making it economically viable in more cases. As Gavriel points out, “many artists are expressing a purely creative practice, but art often serves a social purpose, too.”

Alexandra Warder – co-director of Bosse & Baum, London – suggests that digital technology is helping smaller galleries increase their reach.

“Websites like Artsy are a great example, platforms that galleries sign up to and use to sell to a larger network than might be possible from a physical space.” Similarly, social media allows artists to “directly market their work to collectors, buyers and curators.”

However, Warder does not see any of this as a challenge to the role of galleries.

“In practice, we find that our most committed buyers will come to the gallery in person, investing their time as well as their money. We’ve also noticed that artists and audiences are keener than ever to come in for discussions and talks. Perhaps there’s a need to be grounded and communicate in person.”

Warder sees widespread technological engagement among up-and-coming artists, from social media to AI. However, she also sees an interesting sub-trend developing for combining contemporary and traditional media. She gives Candida Powell-Williams as an example: “whilst her subject might be historical or mythological, she knows the digestion of her work may be through social media, so she often produces GIFs of her performance, sculptural and installation work.”

Belgium-based KRJST Studio is another excellent illustration of this sub-trend. They work with textiles, for instance producing large-scale tapestries on looms, but designing many of the patterns digitally. This combination of analogue and digital brings a tactile warmth to media which can often seem cold or inhuman.

While there’s no sign of investment in the art world slowing down, digital art does present some unique challenges. If an image created is digitally then printed, could it be reproduced and thereby made less valuable? If a work is stored as a video file, could it be pirated? It also introduces questions about obsolescence – with technology developing so rapidly, how should collectors store digital works?

The best answer here remains the same as always: speak with the gallerist or artist directly, discuss the best methods for storing and displaying the work, and ensure it’s part of a limited run. For experiential art, Warder says Bosse & Baum use “a combination of documents which assert ownership of the work, as well as the legal right to restage it. We want to encourage confidence in our buyers, and let them know exactly what they’re paying for.”

Digital technology has already changed the art industry profoundly, and the pace of change is only accelerating. While this presents a lot of challenges, not least in the creation of new investment models, it also means a lot of opportunities – it’s an exciting time to be involved in the industry.

Augmented art reality reimagines the Great War

To mark the centenary of the First World War, one innovative exhibition is leveraging augmented reality to create an immersive artistic experience like nothing seen before

It is almost exactly 100 years since Armistice Day – 11am on the eleventh day of November in 1918 marked the end of the First World War, in which 16 million people died. How fitting that the date falls on a Sunday this year, and Remembrance Day can be suitably honoured.

The National Service of Remembrance, held at The Cenotaph in Whitehall in London, will unite the nation, once again. Her Majesty The Queen, armed with a poppy wreath, will lead the tributes. At 11am there will be a two-minute silence and an opportunity for everyone to pay their respects to those who have suffered or died in wars.

It will be a poignant moment, precisely a century on from the conclusion of the Great War. However, in this digital age, where war is waged via cyber attacks and using artificial intelligence, is it possible to understand truly what the soldiers of World War I experienced and sacrificed for our freedom? Ironically, technology has provided a successful solution to this problem.

The art of Scarlett Raven and Marc Marot embraces augmented reality to bring back to life the memories of soldiers who fought in the First World War. The Danger Tree exhibition combines Raven’s reworked oil canvases, depicting poppy fields – the symbolic red flowering plant was the first thing to grow back on the otherwise barren battlefields of Flanders Fields – and Marot’s multimedia vision and digital wizardry.

Using a choice of two smartphone applications, Blippar or Artivive, viewers of The Danger Tree exhibition can hold up a device to the art to be taken back in time and explore in the next level of art immersion. It’s a multi-sensual, multi-layered assault, and – be warned – very powerful. Raven’s paintings evolve, with every daub of paint recorded and then combined with graphics, photographs, poetry and music utilising stop motion animation.

The art is further elevated by the choice of music by Marot – who has been a leading light in the music industry for decades, having been the managing director of Island Records who signed Pulp, Elbow, and The Cranberries, as well as working with U2 for 18 years. He chooses famous wartime poems and letters which are narrated by famous actors, including Sean Bean, Christopher Eccleston, Gemma Arterton, Charlotte Riley, Sophie Okonedo, and others. Each painting features a bespoke score created by film composer Marc Canham which adds to the atmosphere.

The Danger Tree exhibition, which will be displayed at all 36 Castle Fine Art galleries from 1 to 11 November, takes its name from the only tree left standing on a Somme battlefield at Beaumont Hamel in Northern France.

Ian Weatherby-Blythe, group managing director of Castle Fine Art, was approached by Raven and Marot about The Danger Tree, and it took little time to persuade him to exhibit the unique works of art. “It was the most moving art experience of my life – and I’ve had several art experiences, as you can imagine,” he recalls. “It was just sensational.

“Since July 2016 we have taken The Danger Tree around the country, exhibiting it in museums and locations that you wouldn’t normally take art to, such as the Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building in Liverpool, Titanic Belfast, and Manchester Central Library. In every venue, the reaction from the public has been absolutely incredible.”

Helen Roden, artist brand manager for Castle Fine Art, says: “We believe that Scarlett and Marc are the world’s first ‘augmentists’ using cutting-edge technology in this way. It’s not been just about the paintings, though: the major exhibitions have taken place in what have been made to look like bombed-out venues through the use of a five-ton film set.

“We equip people with iPads, and headsets, so they can immerse themselves in the paintings. It is unbelievable to watch their reactions as they see the real-life, heroic stories behind the paintings.”

Weatherby-Blythe adds: “We believe this augmented style is the next stage in art, the next movement. For the first time an artist is able to explain exactly what their art means to them. Previously you had to rely on the skill and the knowledge of the art dealer and the art consultant to convey that message accurately, whereas with augmented reality art the artist has the opportunity to tell the story. The Danger Tree is the most immersive, unique art experience you will ever have. It’s about the past, and yet it’s the future.”

Lest we forget, so the saying goes about Remembrance Day. Certainly The Danger Tree exhibition is vividly memorial. It will be especially moving to view the works in the 36 Castle Galleries venues before November 11, Remembrance Sunday, 100 years since the end of the Great War.

Learn more about The Danger Tree Exhibition here.

Galleries of the future: served five ways

The art of the future demands a gallery of the future to be displayed in, so how will these new cultural institutions look?

What are museums and galleries for? For preserving art from our history? For displaying art of our future? For teaching people, meeting people, inspiring people? All of the above? Whatever purpose they fulfil, their place in society is increasingly vulnerable, with a lack of government funding of the arts meaning galleries must rely on private donors and public support. So how will the galleries of the future look, and how must they develop to survive?

1. The enhanced gallery

The largest art theft in history took place in March 1990 at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. 13 works of art - worth an estimated $500 million - were stolen, leaving empty frames in their place. Today, those stolen masterpieces are being returned, albeit briefly, by the wonders of digital technology.

Using Apple’s easily-accessible ARKit, museum engagement platform Cuseum created “Hacking the Heist”, an augmented reality app allowing visitors to see the stolen works reappear in their frames.

Galleries having been using digital technology to showcase their art for years. Household names provide virtual tours on their websites and sites like Google Arts & Culture allow you to walk the halls of some of the world’s foremost cultural institutions from the comfort of your own home.

But augmented reality goes one step further, allowing visitors to experience the enhanced gallery - replacing what has been lost and showcasing the work of daring new artists, experimenting with this new artistic frontier.

The first exhibition by MoMAR, an unauthorised gallery concept bent on democratising exhibition spaces, leverages augmented reality to layer eight new artists’ work on top of existing pieces in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition, called “Hello, we’re from the internet”, can be viewed through the MoMAR app in the museum’s fifth floor Jackson Pollock gallery, where the renowned abstract expressionist’s masterpieces are remixed and replaced by bold new interpretations.

2. The responsible gallery 

The idea of “democratising art” calls another question to mind: what do galleries owe their public? Many art institutions have committed to working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), published in 2015, which cover issues from poverty and hunger to gender equality and climate change. Although unlikely to thwart world hunger, galleries do have the power to support the tenth SDG on the list: “reducing inequalities”, using their unique platform and position to make art accessible for all.

Lifts and ramps for wheelchairs will be considered the bare minimum in the gallery of the future, and organisations are already making great strides in opening up the joy of art to new audiences. In February 2018, the Royal Academy of Art in London held its first ever life-drawing workshop for blind and partially-sighted visitors, and the Tate Modern holds a monthly tour where visually-impaired guests are equipped with archival gloves so they can touch and experience installations up close.

And true responsibility is about more than helping new people through the doors, it extends to the pieces you hang on the walls. In the era of #MeToo, organisations must wrangle with the ethical issues surrounding exhibiting works by known, or alleged, abusers. In Washington, the National Gallery of Art postponed its Thomas Roma exhibition, after the photographer was accused of inappropriate behaviour with several female arts students. In Boston, the Institute of Contemporary Art added signage to its Nicholas Nixon exhibition, explaining the accusations against the photographer, before taking it down early upon request of the artist himself.

Perhaps the most forward-thinking response, and the one most likely to characterise the responsible gallery of the future, came from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. They kept up their Chuck Close exhibition, but responded to the accusations of sexual harassment by opening a new show of female artists, called “The Art World We Want”, where visitors were invited to share their opinions by adding Post-it notes to the walls.

Dubai’s Museum of the Future, set to open in 2019, complete with one of the specially engineered windows, designed to look like Arabic script on the gleaming silver facade

3. The inside-out gallery 

Galleries looking to contribute to more ecologically-leaning sustainability goals can leverage the oldest artistic medium there is: architecture.

The recently-opened V&A Dundee is a sterling example of this. Projecting dramatically into the River Tay like the prow of a boat, the new museum has won plaudits for its striking design and its green outlook. The building uses geothermal energy for all its heating and cooling, with 30 200 metre-deep geothermal bore holes providing a steady supply of renewable energy.

Pioneering architecture will characterise the gallery of the future, and the Middle East is leading the charge. The breathtaking new Louvre in Abu Dhabi is just one of many astonishing new buildings being created to showcase the world’s art. Set up like a giant floating dome, each gallery is a climate-controlled white cube, nestled under a web-patterned ceiling allowing the light to filter down, as if through palm fronds.

Truly flipping the gallery concept on its head is Dubai’s Museum of the Future. Set to be the world’s most complex building, the superstructure is that of a giant eye, with an open centre, the facade gleaming silver and adorned with Arabic quotations, doubling as highly engineered windows. Most groundbreaking of all - this is not a museum of artifacts already created, but a centre of creation in itself, filled with innovation facilities and design studios.

4.The data-driven gallery

As with any business, the gallery of the future is only as good as its data, and, in a time when private donations and government grants are declining, institutions need to start getting smarter when it comes to analysing it.

Every day, museums and galleries generate thousands of bits of data, and correct analysis can help answer questions from “what pieces are visitors actually looking at?” to “how can we sell more cappuccinos in the gallery cafe?”. The Art Institute of Chicago has made a start in tackling these, creating its own “business intelligence core” which combines data warehousing and software to generate clear visualisations and actionable insights. Findings include where the gaps in frontline services are and, most excitingly, maps of visitor routes and dwell times in front of specific pieces, gathered by analysing the museum’s WiFi networks.

New data processing and analytics tools mean that galleries can now make use of their data, without needing pricey consultants or an in-house data scientist. Software-as-a-Service provider, Dexibit, specialises in helping cultural institutions draw valuable information from visitor experiences and venue performance. From providing easy-to-understand dashboards on visitation rates, to using machine-learning AI models to predict exhibition performance, affordable data products will take galleries into the future with confidence.

5. The extraterrestrial gallery 

For galleries to survive, they need to think big - and what could be bigger than space?

Commercial space travel hovers on the horizon, with the founders of Tesla and Amazon setting their sights on the other side of the atmosphere. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to launch its first manned mission in August 2019 and Jeff Bezos’s company, Blue Origin, has the rocket New Shepard, which is ready to ferry paying tourists on trips to space that same year.

Given this context, a vision put forward by the American Alliance of Museums perhaps isn’t as far-fetched as it initially seems. In their recent magazine, “Museum 2040”, they look to a future where, due to the increasing pressures of climate change, articles of art and historic import are collected and transported to orbiting, temperature-controlled storehouses in space.

We may be many decades away from galleries among the stars, but space tourism is coming and it won’t be long until visitors want more sights to see while they are there.