Too many people seem to think they can’t see an artwork properly unless it’s viewed through a smartphone lens. The formerly contemplative, tech-free spaces of art galleries and museums have become hubs of annoying photo-snapping and Instagramming adults.
Brooklyn-based conceptual artist J. Robert Feld finds this alarming. “People rush through a museum, like a scavenger hunt, capturing images in their devices, as if that’s an appropriate substitute for pausing and contemplating the work,” he tells Co.Design.
To explore our phone-induced disconnection, Feld created a painting series that requires that you view it through a smartphone camera–in order to see it properly. In Mondrian Inverted: The Viewer Is Not Present, Feld faithfully reproduced Dutch painter Piet Mondrian’s abstract geometric compositions–but inverted their color schemes. White stripes turn black; red becomes teal; deep blues become ochre. The inverted paintings look oddly familiar but somehow off. But when you look at them through the inverted color function on your iPhone or Android phone, the colors flip back, and the composition appears as Mondrian originally painted it.
“The paintings themselves aren’t the work: The act of looking through the phone and seeing the painting appear more real and recognizable on the screen than on the wall in front of you is the concept of the series,” Feld says. This sense of hyperreality, something we’ve all experienced when staring at screens, is what Feld intentionally incorporates into painting. He’s making a point, of course, about our disconcertingly slight and double-time way of seeing. “The experience of looking through the smartphone is more pleasurable than simply looking at the painting directly,” Feld says. The concept might seem gimmicky at first, but it’s a wry comment on the device addiction that we all to some extent suffer from.
But why Mondrian? Feld chose Mondrian because of its universal appeal and familiarity. And although Mondrian died virtually unknown and penniless, his style–characterized by primary colors wedged in by black lines on an X and Y-axis–is universally recognizable to the art-touring masses. “It’s the Helvetica of modern art,” Feld says. “You don’t need an MFA to understand what I’m conveying; you just need a smartphone.”
Here’s how to invert the paintings in the slide show above:
To invert on iOS: Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut > Invert Colors.
To invert on a Mac: System Preferences > Accessibility >Display > Invert Colors.