From the outside, the last few years have seen a non-stop series of revolutions in the art world.
From the time they found widespread notoriety early last year, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have commanded price tags in the tens of millions for pieces of digital art. But critics describe them as a fundamentally valueless grift that offers nothing of substance to arts patrons, and artists themselves have complained of their work being stolen and “minted” without their knowledge.
At the same time, the web3-based metaverse has been touted as the new home for that art — a digital environment Facebook has sunk billions of dollars into, even as its own employees fail to adopt its use.
And most recently AI art (which can create art based on either text prompts or simply an unfinished sketch) has been pitched as a route to art’s “democratization,” allowing those without the technical abilities to create illustrations themselves cheaply and quickly — though only after the systems have been trained on billions of examples of existing art, often without the consent, or remuneration, of the original creators.
So what gives? Why has the art world been buffeted again and again in the past year with changes marketed as benefiting artists but that have seemingly upended the way art is made and consumed? Why have innovations from the tech world that are supposed to affect the way society as a whole operates seemed to blow up and court controversy, the most notably in art spaces?
WATCH | Can the tech that powers crypto, NFTs be used for more than making money?:
“These technologies present themselves, look for ways to get talked about by the art world,” explained Rob Horning, a technology writer and founding editor of Real Life magazine, pointing particularly to the rise of NFTs.
An NFT is a creation primarily operating from the Ethereum blockchain — effectively a system that publicly records and tracks online transactions. The main purpose of that system is to make it possible for the Ethereum cryptocurrency — which uses “fungible” (exchangeable) tokens, meaning they can be traded one for another as functionally identical items — to function.
In contrast, an NFT’s “non-fungible” nature means it is unique — no two are interchangeable. That means they can be linked to a digital artwork (which themselves are very rarely stored on the blockchain themselves) to give it authenticity.
In essence, that means the valuable part of an NFT in the visual arts world is the perception of value. While the digital art it’s tied to can be copied a limitless amount of times, only one person can say they have an “authentic” copy.
That technology, Horning said, had little to no clear purpose before inventing a market for itself for selling digital artwork.
Pushback, criticism of tech in art world
While the initial expressed goal was to give artists without representation the ability to sell their work, NFTs have proven much more divisive among artists.
While theft and piracy have proven to be huge issues in the space, there has been pronounced pushback against NFTs from the group they were initially supposed to help: smaller artists who, instead of finding new avenues to sell their work, are finding themselves mashed up against tech and crypto subcultures using — and selling — their work without the artists’ consent.
But despite the pushback, the technology continues to be pitched and promoted, Horning said, as NFTs and cryptocurrency remain only “as significant as the buzz around them.”
“There’s a constant pressure for people who are invested in crypto to get crypto in the news, get people talking about crypto,” he said. “And one of the ways you can do it is to get artists to talk about crypto, or get artists to make things that tangentially involve crypto or NFTs.”
The bumpy intersection of the art and tech worlds is seeing a more recent, though not unfamiliar, collision now with AI art. Through machine learning models such as DALL-E, Stable Diffusion and Midjourney, anyone with an internet connection can input a few prompts and generate any image they’d like.
Like with NFTs, some artists have fought back against it. Artists such as Simon Stålenhag — whose sci-fi scenes gave inspiration to the Amazon Prime series Tales from the Loop — and web-comic artist Sarah Andersen have complained that those systems are trained off of publicly available art, including their own works. That gives users the ability to request that images be generated in a living artist’s style, mimicking their work — and potentially taking business away from them.
Artificial intelligence art generators are “not in the hands of artists right now. It’s in the hands of early adopters of tech,” Stålenhag told Business Insider in a recent interview.
Blair Attard-Frost is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto who studies the impact of AI and ethical ways to implement it in industry. They said that those artists fall into the camp of the “labour-displaced,” those whose work is used for the creation and implementation of AI for little or no play.
But those issues crop up in many industries that implement artificial intelligence. The reason it is more visible in the art world is the central position art has in people’s daily lives.
“One reason why this ‘AI artist’ stuff is attracting so much attention is because it’s much more generalized, right?” Attard-Frost said. “It affects everybody, and it unlocks all kinds of new abilities for many people … in a way that those more specialized applications aren’t quite doing.”
As to why these tech inventions have built such strong connections with the art world as opposed to other areas, there are a number of reasons. Robert Enright, senior contributing editor to Manitoba’s Border Crossings magazine and research professor in art theory and criticism at the University of Guelph, said it partly stems from the industry shifting to value the selling of art over its creation.”
“One of the things that has happened — and I think this explains why NFTs and why there’s this sort of search to find a new thing to sell — I think that in lots of ways, the marketing of art has become a very, very significant part of this process,” Enright said.
“Because there’s so much money in the world now, and because the wealthy have to find things to do with their money, one of the things they do is pay exorbitantly high amounts of money for art.”
At the same time, as Attard-Frost explained, these are technologies that are coming to all arenas of life sooner or later. They’ve simply taken their first stumbling steps in the art world, while regulation around many of these technologies is still so much in its infancy, they compared it to the “Wild West.”
But Sara Ludy, an American artist whose work often utilizes new technologies, says that’s just indicative of the field. The nature of art is experimental, which will always draw artists to new mediums and techniques, which have yet to be widely understood.
While that can make it incredibly difficult to keep up with the shifting requirements of tools an artist needs to master — and lead to potentially predatory business practices from those outside the world of art who see opportunity — art and tech will always find themselves intertwined, she said.
“Artists are driven to expand our definitions of the world and self. Technology is here to expand our definitions of self and connection and all of these things,” Ludy said said. “So … our motivations are very much in parallel with one another.”
How Viola Desmond's salon space has been reimagined through art – CBC.ca
Those walking along Gottingen Street in Halifax can now step into an art space created to honour civil rights activist Viola Desmond.
The Viola Desmond Experience was created by artist Marven Nelligan and was unveiled last week.
It is part of the Viola Desmond Legacy Art Project committee, created a few years ago to commemorate Desmond’s life before she became known for her activism.
Desmond, a Black beautician and businesswoman, was arrested in 1946 while watching a movie in the whites-only section of the theatre in New Glasgow, N.S.
The exhibit is located right between The Braiding Lounge and Blue Collar Barbershop. Onlookers are often seen stopping and taking photos.
The space has a large mirror on the wall facing the street. The floor has an adhesive covering that looks like wood.
The wall has a picture of Desmond looking on while women chat, get their hair washed, and read The Clarion, Nova Scotia’s first and only Black newspaper.
A dresser painted on the wall has a photo of Desmond and her sister, Wanda Robson, who championed her sister’s legacy.
There is a salon chair in the middle of the exhibit. Visitors are welcome to take a seat.
“A lot of people don’t really know the achievements of Viola Desmond and the things that she accomplished through her career long before she was a civil rights icon,” said Nelligan.
Virtual experience in the works
He said the group is also working to add a virtual component to the exhibit. Participants will be able to scan a QR code and see a lookalike of Desmond behind them sharing her story.
“She was an entrepreneur, she was a businesswoman, she was a Black businesswoman, she made products, she was a manufacturer, she was an educator,” said Tara Taylor, who owns The Braiding Lounge and is on the art project committee.
“So, she not only learned her craft, she taught her craft to other Black women in the community. And that’s what we want people to remember her for.”
Taylor said she was proud to see the space open right beside her business. Desmond’s original salon was nearby.
“I’m extremely inspired by what she did in her community at the time,” said Taylor.
“Back then she was pretty much considered almost a millionaire. And so I just want to embody all of the things that she meant to her community.”
Taylor said the committee plans to share the virtual experience with New Glasgow.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
New Canton art: ceramic animals, Kat and 'Monster Steve,' still life – Canton Repository
CANTON − New exhibitions at the Canton Museum of Art showcase artistically precise ceramics, the vivid realism of a nationally showcased artist, and the wildly imaginative paintings of two local artists.
Opening last week, the winter exhibitions will be on display through March 5.
A free public reception will be 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at the art museum during First Friday activities in downtown Canton. Visitors will have an opportunity to meet exhibiting artists and receive a balloon animal from local artist “Jumpin’ Jelly Bean,” said Danielle Attar, the museum’s marketing and events director.
Light hors d’oeuvres will be served, and a cash bar will be available. Admission also will be free during extended hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 2 in conjunction with First Friday.
What’s new at the Canton Museum of Art?
New exhibitions include the ceramic works of more than 50 artists in “Thinking With Animals”; the “dream world” paintings and mixed media artwork of “Potion Park: The Kaleidoscopic Garden of Steve Ehret and Kat Francis“; and “Right Place, Right Time: Paintings by Robert Coleman Jackson,” a contemporary still life artist whose work has been showcased in galleries and museums across the country, including at the Delaware Art Museum and South Dakota Art Museum, as well as in the homes of collectors worldwide and in various corporate collections.
Another showcase is “Color Wonder: From the CMA Collection,” which features “some of the brightest and boldest examples” from the museum’s collection, where viewers “learn to decode the messages that different colors send in art,” the museum said in a news release.
Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays, as well as on Christmas, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Admission is free on Thursdays through a sponsorship by the PNC Foundation. The museum is at 1001 Market Ave. N.
Tickets are available at the museum during gallery hours. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for senior citizens. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Blue Star families are free with a valid ID. More ticket information is available at https://www.cantonart.org.
The museum can be reached at 330-453-7666.
Moss spreading on a tree, plants reaching toward the sun
Ehret and Francis’ work is displayed in the Milligan Gallery.
Francis’ art is “created by collage-like assemblage of realities, to portray memory, attitude on contemporary culture, personal experience and reflections on society,” the museum said in a news release. Her work blends “urban landscape along with real life experiences.”
Francis graduated with master of fine arts degrees from Columbus College of Art & Design and Ohio State University.
Ehret, a self-taught painter also known as “Monster Steve,” is inspired by the natural world he sees during trail runs throughout the year.
“He makes careful observations of moss spreading over a fallen tree, or plants reaching towards the sun,” the museum said, noting such experiences inspire the phantasmal settings of his paintings.
Sculptures of prehistoric animals on display
The artists “are a diverse representation of gender identity, culture, backgrounds, and career stages,” the museum said. The range of building techniques demonstrated includes slip casting, paper clay, solid building, hollow building, wheel throwing and mixed media.
Ceramic pieces are an example of how animal symbolism provides a “universally understood way to examine ideas that may be difficult to discuss or understand in any other form.”
In 2020, the Canton Museum of Art hosted Robenalt’s solo exhibition, “Symbolic Narrative.” Bowman creates sculptures of prehistoric animals.
“My work uses reflective nostalgia to present the animals in my own fantasy of an imagined place and time,” Bowman writes on her website.
Balloon dogs, food, toys, assorted props inspire art
Jackson worked as an electrical engineer for Motorola and then as an assistant pastor before working full-time as an artist.
He also authored the 2014 publication “Behind the Easel,” which explores the unique voices of 20 contemporary representational painters.
Jackson’s work is both comedy and drama through realism in bright colors and an amusing narrative, the museum explained. Painting subjects include balloon dogs, food, toys, books and assorted props.
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @ebalintREP.
Pearl Lam and Basma Al Sulaiman on their feisty, art-fuelled friendship – Financial Times
We met because Basma and one of my friends shared a divorce lawyer!” Gallerist Pearl Lam and her friend Basma Al Sulaiman laugh heartily as they sit in Al Sulaiman’s impressively appointed, art-filled London home. Lam recalls their first encounter around 2004 as they sip tea: “The lawyer introduced my friend to Basma and said, ‘If you collect Chinese art, you must meet Pearl.’”
With her gravity-defying purple bob – paired when we meet with a lemon-yellow jumper – Lam has been involved in the Chinese art world for nearly 30 years. In 1993, she began collecting Chinese art; in 2005, she opened her first physical space in Shanghai and since 2012 has had a second Pearl Lam Galleries space in her hometown of Hong Kong, representing homegrown and international artists from pioneering Chinese abstract painter Zhu Jinshi to British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare.
Saudi Arabia-born Al Sulaiman, meanwhile, began collecting contemporary art in the 1990s. Her first purchase was a Hockney, and today she owns more than 800 works ranging from high-profile international artists such as Ai Weiwei, Tracey Emin and Andy Warhol to Saudi artists. In 2000 she moved to London and completed a diploma in modern and contemporary art from Christie’s Education. It was then that she became interested in Chinese art. “A Saudi collecting Chinese art!” explodes Lam. “You know? It was so strange to me. And she was buying political pop art.” She shakes her head. “I thought, ‘Why?!’”
“Because it was different from what I’d been seeing; it was fresh, it was human, it was real,” says Al Sulaiman, who has never worked with an art adviser and was introduced to Chinese art through a friend. “He called me and said, ‘Basma, there’s this amazing artist, I love his work but it’s too big for my house, would you be interested to see it?’” The artist was Beijing-based Yue Minjun, now famous for his “Cynical Realist” oil paintings depicting himself laughing, his face frozen in a demonic grin. Al Sulaiman bought the painting Face on the Land in 2003 for £40,000. In 2007, when Sotheby’s London auctioned Yue’s seminal 1995 work inspired by the Tiananmen Square massacre, Execution, it sold for a record-breaking £2.9mn – the highest price for a contemporary Chinese artwork at the time.
“People started to buy contemporary Chinese art in 1995,” explains Lam. “In the early 2000s – when Basma was there – it was just a very interesting, exciting time. There was this vibrant art scene, the government had not endorsed it, and there were only a handful of Chinese collectors – so tourists were going there to buy art as a souvenir, because the prices were low. After about 2006, though, it went crazy.” Before then, Al Sulaiman would travel to China regularly, discovering artists while visiting her daughter, who was working in Shanghai. But she met Lam for the first time at a dinner in London. The two clicked straight away – but more because of what they didn’t agree on than what they did, says Lam. “Basma loves political pop; I don’t. I consider political pop to be the western definition of Chinese contemporary art. And Basma likes figurative art; I don’t. But when you’re talking about art, it’s much better to have two different opinions,” she says.
The first piece Al Sulaiman bought from Lam was by Shao Fan – “a deconstructed Chinese chair, put together as a sculpture. And eventually, she bought Chinese abstracts,” says Lam, referencing two works in Al Sulaiman’s home by Beijing-based Zhu Jinshi, a pioneer of Chinese abstract painting who cakes his canvases in heavy, impasto layers. “He uses a shovel to throw on the paint,” says Al Sulaiman, standing in front of a large-scale triptych that she bought in 2015. “It’s so beautiful. When you think about it as a landscape, you can see it, you can feel it.”
In fact, abstraction is well represented in her home, and two minimalist, multi-frame works command the living space: the first, consisting of nine pink Plexiglas squares, is by French conceptualist Daniel Buren (Framed Colours, 9 Magenta Elements, 2007), and the other is a series of bi-colour paintings (Hommage à Le Corbusier, 2000) by German modernist Günther Förg. At the other end of the room is a huge work by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, its undulating, nearly 5m-high form constructed from bottle tops pieced together with copper wire. “I bought it in 2012, but only when I moved in here in May was I able to see it,” she says. “It’s one of the reasons I bought this place: I needed big walls.” The art is all displayed, slightly incongruously, alongside 18th-century antique furniture – from France, Italy and England – and French Aubusson tapestries. “Pearl doesn’t like my carpets,” Al Sulaiman smiles.
The other place where Al Sulaiman’s collection lives is online. In 2011, she launched Basmoca, a virtual museum that can be walked around via an avatar. “I wanted eagerly to share the collection but the concept of building a physical space back home in Saudi Arabia was a bit difficult at that time,” she recalls. Instead, she explored the idea of creating a space within the online multimedia platform Second Life, but eventually built her own virtual world.
“Basically, Basma was doing metaverse before anyone else was doing metaverse,” says Lam. “But it was like gibberish to people,” adds Al Sulaiman. “Nobody understood it at that time, it was way too early. Now, of course, everybody is doing it.” Earlier this year, she showed a portion of her Saudi art collection in a physical space – inside Maraya, a striking, mirrored building in Saudi Arabia’s historic desert canyon site AlUla.
Al Sulaiman has also dipped her toe in NFTs. She points to a screen on the wall. “It resembles Monet’s Water Lilies,” she says of the digital work by Italian artist Davide Quayola, which plays on a loop and is surrounded by a wall of portraits – most are “classical”, but there is one with a cat’s head. “It’s supposed to be Mao,” she says of the painting by Shanghai-born artist Qiu Jie.
“It’s unusual for traditional art collectors to buy NFTs because they have no museum credentials,” suggests Lam, adding the cryptocurrency crash earlier this year has led to a weaker market for NFTs, but that they still have a role to play for a younger generation of artists and collectors. “There are young artists selling NFTs for $50 or $100. This is democratised art. And if it’s not NFT, another mode of technology will emerge.”
One of the artists Lam represents is London-based Philip Colbert, a self-titled “pioneer of the metaverse” who this year launched NFT project The Lobstars. And an artist Lam is keen to introduce to Al Sulaiman is Mr Doodle, aka British artist Sam Cox, who recently covered his entire Kent home in his graphic, graffiti-like imagery; the stop-motion video of the process has been watched nearly 2mn times on YouTube. “I did check him out after you told me,” says Al Sulaiman to her friend. “It’s very different. Interesting…”
“I know some of these things are not your aesthetic,” says Lam, “but I think it’s interesting because this is the new generation of artists. Our minds should be very open – my gallery mission is about cultural exchange.”
Both women describe each other as “open-minded”, and they often travel together, visiting art fairs and discovering new artists. A few years ago they went to Japan – to Tokyo and the island of Naoshima – with friends. Earlier this year they took a trip to Saudi Arabia – a first for Lam. They’ve also recently uncovered an artist they’re equally passionate about: Maha Malluh. “Her work is all about found objects, about reminiscing and history,” says Al Sulaiman, walking over to a sculpture constructed from old enamelled cooking pots. Another artist they agree on is Babajide Olatunji, who they came across at the Art Dubai fair, and whose work Lam bought on the spot – a charcoal and pastel portrait that is hyperrealistic yet depicts an imagined sitter. Lam will showcase the Nigerian artist at her Shanghai space next year, while another of his drawings has made it on to Al Sulaiman’s walls (via Sotheby’s, for £10,000).
Other works in Al Sulaiman’s collection include figurative paintings by Egyptian artist Adel El Siwi (Hamdi & Hamada, 2009) and Norfolk-based Jonathan Wateridge. But just as Lam considers herself a conduit for a diverse cross-section of artists in China, Al Sulaiman’s ultimate dream is to bring her eclectic collection to a permanent space in Saudi Arabia, where in 2014 she became the first woman to receive an award from the government for her contributions to the country’s art and cultural spheres. “Culture is a bond,” she concludes. “It bonds people in a special language that doesn’t need a translation.”
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