The Museum of Modern Art in New York is one of the most famous art museums in the world. It is the thinnest air for a contemporary artist to breathe. That means the vast, vast majority of artists will live their lives without seeing their works inside its walls. But as a group of digital artists recently realized, you don’t need to be invited by the MoMA to have your work featured inside of it.
MoMAR is an augmented reality smartphone app that works inside the MoMA’s Jackson Pollock room on the fifth floor. And when you aim it at the abstract expressionist works, the app scrubs the famous pieces away, replacing them with digital art. Pollock’s Number 31 flickers and disappears, from wild pigment strokes into clean pixels. Eventually, they manifest into some sort of dungeon with a dog and UFO. It’s net art, created by the same artists who brought us the app.
The project started in early January. Its source code was developed during a hackathon at New York University. Its developers stopped by the museum to take photos to train their image recognition system, and they didn’t return until the night the exhibit began. “We tried to keep it as stealth as possible so nobody would find out until the opening,” says artist Damjanski (who goes by one name). Last weekend, friends and families quietly filled the Pollock room for opening night, trying the app for the first time. But quickly, regular MoMA visitors wanted to know what was afoot, and began downloading and trying out the app for themselves.
In this moment, MoMAR became the new definition of contemporary art. It was literally something newer to see than what MoMA had hanging, so the crowds took a look. Indeed, the virtual show is a bold and brutal response to the art world’s own elitist access policies, one that leverages the limitless world of augmented reality to subvert prestigious analog experiences, giving them a distinctive feeling of obsolescence. “I think this is an example of progress without return,” says Damjanski. “From now on this will be a reality.”
Indeed, there is no VIP section of the internet. And increasingly, the internet is everywhere. It’s why the pioneering AR company Snapchat has attempted to stake a flag on digital art. The company recently hired Jeff Koons to create a massive, virtual dog in a public park. But no sooner was the dog installed than digital vandals began to deface it.
To get more artists in on the fun of pranking public galleries, the MoMAR team made its own software open source, so that any artists can build their own MoMAR-esque app. Over the next few weeks, the team intends on improving its own tools to make that process even easier.
Is Damjanski worried that MoMA might shut his own show down? Nope, he says: “We bring more people to the MoMA. Why should they?”
We’ve contacted MoMA for a comment and have yet to hear back.