Some say that virtual reality may mean the end of art
institutions. I take a different view.
As a student, seeing a slide of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn’s “The Night
Watch” paled compared to seeing it several years later at the Rijksmuseum in
Amsterdam. As I would come to find out, a projected slide didn’t capture the
greatness of this painting. It has to be seen and experienced in person to be
“The Night Watch” is stunning in person. The painting commands your attention by size
alone. At nearly 12 feet wide and over 14 feet tall, it dwarfs the swarm of
visitors flocking to it. You feel small and insignificant compared to the
portrait of a militia company in front of you. In other words, this painting has
presence. But it’s Rembrandt's use of light that’s most arresting. Etched in my
memory are the two brilliantly lit figures—a young girl and lieutenant with
elegant embroidered details on their clothing—in what is otherwise a dark scene. You can’t help but stop and stare.
One of life’s pleasure is physically seeing an artwork. For me, it’s not just
about seeing a painting I’ve studied. It’s about the entire experience of
getting there and sharing the opportunity with friends or other gallery goers.
However, virtual reality (VR) poses an interesting challenge for viewing art
today. Some say there’s no need to go to a museum or gallery when you can don a
VR headset and see paintings, sculptures, and photographs virtually in the
comfort of your own home. I take a different view: VR won’t replace physical art
institutions, but VR will affect them.
Steve Hough’s painting, “The “R” of Entropy,” is both
beautiful and thought-provoking.
On a frigid evening in early January I ventured out to Zg Gallery to see
their latest group exhibition, “Para Natural World.” I tend to avoid gallery
openings because they are usually bustling with people, which is great for the
gallery but not so great for viewing art. But I figured the Chicago exhibition would
be desolate, since it was nearly zero degrees outside. I was wrong: people were
out in droves.
The chance to see a new painting by Steve Hough, an English artist based in
Wisconsin, was my motive for attending the opening. I’d seen Hough’s work in the
past, and found myself mesmerized by his simple motifs that suggest qualities in
nature, such as dimples of sand on a beach. His latest work, “The “R” of Entropy,” mimics the ripple of a pebble piercing the surface of a blue body of water; gradations of circles emanate to the painting’s edge. When I got word that this new painting would be displayed, I knew I had to see it.
Upon entering Zg Gallery, I meandered through small groups of people sipping
glasses of wine as I looked for the painting. I found it hanging in a small side
gallery—distinct from the other artwork on show. In part this was because of its
physicality, about seven feet wide, but also its reflections of color and light
stopped me in my tracks. Rather than a slab of blue paint on a
canvas, the painting’s hypnotic circles had a three-dimensional
quality that radiated light beautifully. In short, “The “R” of
Entropy,” like his others, was aesthetically delightful. Yet
something was different: seeing this painting in a gallery full of
people allowed me to experience Hough’s work in an entirely new
For awhile I basked in its surface qualities. Facing “The “R” of Entropy,” I
noticed how the gallery’s bright lights accentuated the tactility of the circles
wound tightly in the center. At the same time, they highlighted the softness of
the circles that had flattened towards the painting’s edges. I wanted to see how
the lights affected the painting from other angles, and was surprised the shades
of blue changed as I moved side to side.
Matt Nichols upends traditional art expectations in his
Unless you’re looking for Matt Nichols’s exhibition, “SomethingDivine,” you
may miss it. On the DePaul Art Museum’s second floor, three restrooms—men’s,
women’s, and unisex—designed for individual use contain an array of white,
hand-carved soaps and embroidered hand towels. The soaps are mundane with
simple designs. What the soaps lack in aesthetic value, they more than make up
in the questions they pose. Because you are in an art museum, you cannot help
but wonder if these utilitarian objects are works of art. If they are art, how
should you interact with them?
The first question is answered by the museum label. It provides the typical
details you’d expect, including the name of the artist, artwork title, year made
and medium. As for the second question, there’s no direction how or if you
should use the soaps and towels. However, the causal display of objects with
inherent use-value inside a private space baits you to pick up a piece of soap
and use it. You’ve got the freedom to interact with and enjoy art, without
expectations or watchful eyes of a security guard. As such, visitors have taken
the liberty to use the towels, which are tousled on the shelf, and soaps—some of
which are broken or misshapen from use.
Each of the three restrooms offers a similar setup: a handful of soaps line
the sink counter; several more hang from white ropes under a shelf next to the
sink with embroidered hand-towels on top. Indeed, blurring the line between art
and function is at the heart of this fascinating show. As the artist puts it,
“My hope was that the soap would be used and essentially lose its "Art"
value/nature as it assumed its utilitarian role.”
The human effort involved in creating art with
It’s increasingly common to use artificial intelligence (AI) in art. Google
has popularized this process with its platform, Deep Dream Generator. What began
as a way to help engineers and scientists understand artificial neural networks,
a form of AI, has blossomed as a means to create art,1 producing images that
have been described as “trippy” and “psychedelic.” Outside of Deep Dream,
artists are using other forms of AI to produce portraits, landscapes and
abstract works of art.
AI has made significant strides since the 1950s, when it became established
as a field. Today it’s used across industries. Given AI’s vast application and
artists’ inclination to experiment with the latest technologies, it’s not
surprising that AI and art have merged. Excitement around AI as an art medium
abounds, yet this question looms: does AI mean we’ve lost the hand of the
artist? No, but it seems hidden and needs revealed.
For some, using AI in art is a way to show the autonomy and creativity of a
machine, thereby downplaying the human role in the art creation process.
According to artist JT Nimoy, “there can be a tendency in some discussions to say ‘wow, look how much it's
doing on its own.’ Look how hands-off my job became."