What does an AI make of what it sees in a contemporary art museum?
The process of seeing paintings, or seeing anything else, is less spontaneous and natural than we tend to believe. A large part of seeing depends upon habit and convention. – from Ways of Seeing (1972) by John Berger
In 2018, the London-based digital media researcher Gabriel Pereira teamed up with the Brazilian artist Bruno Moreschi to investigate how algorithms would interpret contemporary art. For the project, the duo ran 654 works from the Van Abbemuseum in the Dutch city of Eindhoven through a homemade image-recognition program composed of six different commercially available AIs. In Recoding Art, Moreschi and Pereira guide us through the museum’s collection as viewed by AIs, revealing their mostly strange, often comedic readings that both simplify and expand upon the artworks’ meanings. To contrast AI and human perspectives, Moreschi and Pereira also asked Amazon Mechanical Turk workers – digital labourers who take on tasks that computers can’t yet do – to add their own reactions to the artworks, adding another rich layer to the project. The result is an entertaining and thought-provoking exploration of subjectivity, capitalism and machine learning that shows how AIs reflect the imperfect humans who train them.
Everything that passed in front of the lens of Sibylle Bergemann seems imbued with hints of steely glamor.
The celebrated photographer, who died in 2010, captured the life, parties, fashion, architecture, and youth subcultures of East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. With a sensitive eye and sense of irony not unlike that of contemporary artists such as Nan Goldin or Annie Leibovitz, Bergemann gained acclaim for edgy and triumphant portraits of women, as well as her views of the city where she was born. This makes her perspective especially vital post-reunification, when the memory of East German life was swept away.
Bergemann documented the transformations that took place in and around the city both before and after the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989, subverting the propagandizing style that was prevalent at the time. For instance, in a series called “The Monument,” Bergemann systematically documented the creation and erection of statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels by German Democratic Republic’s Ministry of Culture between 1975 to 1986. From today’s view, it is hard to tell whether these socialist icons are being constructed or dismantled. Instead, Bergemann’s photos seem to speak to the impermanence of political ideas.
At the Berlinische Galerie, more than 200 works, including 30 images that are being shown for the first time, show not only the raucous parties and people of East Berlin, but also this artist’s travels to New York, Moscow, and Dakar. These latter are particularly meaningful and charged images: It was rare for artists to travel outside of East Germany. “The first time they let me go to Paris, I was 38,” she said in later interviews. “I fought for it for nine months and then I was allowed to go. Without money, of course.”
Art in America’s second annual Summer Reading issue (June/July 2022) considers the relationship between art and books. Read More ⟶
By Art in America
IN PRINT: SUMMER READING
“To publish in print is old fashioned,” Lucy Ives observes in these pages, in a sustained look at contemporary artists who act as publishers. These artists, she continues, “imagine a reader who is sensuously aware, rather than paranoid or anxious.” It is a wonderful argument for the power of the printed page—I think of Honoré Daumier’s images of readers, with their sense of total absorption—including the pages in the magazine you hold in your hands right now.
For this edition of our annual Summer Reading issue, we present you with a feast of approaches to the written word, from books by artists to artist biographies, from the book as a museum to reading performed in a museum. Jackson Arn takes stock of artist biographers, from Renaissance mythologizer Giorgio Vasari to Picasso chronicler John Richardson. The best of them wrestle with the tantalizing, ever-mysterious relationship between artworks and life stories. Photographer Dayanita Singh’s books take many forms. Her latest effort, she tells Tausif Noor in a lively “In the Studio” interview, includes DIY instructions for how to turn her books into exhibitions, and even turn yourself into the venue: “[B]uy a long jacket and cut pockets of a certain size, so that you can wear nine museums. You can walk into a room with them and invite everyone to a Dayanita Singh opening then and there. Pull out one of the books and hold it up: just like that, you’ve become the museum.”
There has been much talk over the past year of the prospect of a new sort of Roaring Twenties. In anticipation of our emergence from the pandemic, we were supposed to rush into a new golden age, comparable to that of the previous century, fueled by pent-up demand for sociability. Instead, we find ourselves in a world shadowed by war, fear, and recurring lockdowns, a stew of circumstances not dissimilar from those that led to Dada. And, as though on cue, we have our very own Dadaist in Nora Turato, whose performances, as writer Jameson Fitzpatrick puts it in a profile of the artist, “captur [e] the feeling of navigating the chaotic, confusing nonsense of the information age.” There is nothing passive about reading. —Sarah Douglas, Editor in Chief