In 2008, Damien Hirst took a decision that raised many eyebrows and caused others to furrow. He bypassed his gallery (Gagosian), and took his works directly to auction at Sotheby’s. While Hirst’s move was as audacious as a shark in formaldehyde, his motivations were probably (mostly) monetary and sensationalistic. Yet the desire to bypass the selectivity of galleries and create awareness or a market for their art is not unique to artists such as Hirst. But while he resorted to a giant of an auction house, artists today can use something as small as an app.
Earlier this month, the Global Art Group launched Viewpoints, an app that uses social media, photography, and filters to render photographs in artist David Datuna’s style. Datuna, a Georgian born American artist is best known for his Viewpoint of Millions series, which are characterized by the superimposition of an optical mesh of hundreds of lenses on an underlying painting. The Viewpoints of Millions series “explores the meaning and roots of a complex cultural identity and conveys his iconography via portraits of world leaders, pop-culture and fashion icons as well as national symbols.” Some of his most famous works from this series are the portraits of Vladimir Putin and Steve Jobs and the app re-creates the optical effect of these works albeit on photographs captured on your iPhone.
The app was described by Alexandra Moncion at the Global Art Group as a means to take” the vision of a lesser-known artist to a larger audience, bypassing major galleries, museums, etc. She further explains that “most of today’s contemporary artists don’t have access to MoMa or Gagosian (and their apps), so creating an app that blends the artist’s vision with an already popular mobile app concept (the photo-sharing craze), allows them to reach an audience much broader than they ever could through art fairs. And every user feels like an artist.”
Viewpoints is, to a certain extent, a simplification of Datuna’s work because in his works, the selection of iconography is just as interesting as the lenses that magnify and refract it. As such, some of the underlying meaning and complexity is lost. But to be fair, no app can re-create an artist’s intention or selection of iconography. And Viewpoints could certainly capitalize on the popularity of sharing filtered photographs through apps like Instagram, while introducing users to Datuna and his work.
Even though Viewpoints was launched only earlier this month, it isn't the first app that seeks to draw attention to an artist’s style or process; the DIY Pop app introduced by the Andy Warhol Museum in 2011 has been widely successful in helping users understand silk screen printing. The app lets users create their very own pop imagery through a series of steps that mimic the process of silk screen printing. Another app with a dappled vision is Pocket Monet, where any photo can be rendered in an impressionistic manner. The results can be stunning, especially if you enjoy taking pictures en plen air.
It should be noted that iTunes isn’t flooded with such apps because not all photographs can be rendered to match a particular artist’s style, and not all art can turn to apps. But as DIY Pop illuminates (in bright neons), apps can bring us closer to the art form simply by the act of imitation; a concept not entirely new to art appreciation (one need only think of the Romans, who devoted legions of sculptors to create marble copies of Greek statues). Finally, Viewpoints, DIY Pop, and Pocket Monet all demonstrate that creating awareness, a market, and even buzz around a particular artist needn’t be as expensive or glitzy as a diamond encrusted skull.