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by Marie-Clare Treseder 

Ai Weiwei and his defiant middle finger from his "Study in Perspective" series from 1995 to 2003 viewed on MoMA mobile app

Ai Weiwei and his defiant middle finger from his ”Study in Perspective” series from 1995 to 2003 viewed on MoMA mobile app

Commonly considered the next Trillion Dollar Revolution, mobile devices are dividing the way we interact with reality. In an art world intellectually dominated by relational aesthetics, surprisingly few artists are examining this new medium as a platform for performance and experimentation.

In our Age of the Unpaid Intern, mobile apps serve, for many, as an immersive experience—an escape route—even a virtual studio. Akin to a tableau by Hieronymus Bosch, the mobile experience is rife with mesmerizing commotion, momentary pleasures and untapped marvels. 

A chance glance over the ages implies art is synonymous with adaptability. Before art was an inner experience, it was an object. Before an object, art was a religion. A crucifix could be a medium, an animist sculpture could be a literal deity. In the caves of half-remembered dreams, there are indications art was first a tool, even a ritual of the occult.

Since its infancy, art has swaddled itself in mysticism: above, beyond, untouchable. At a certain point– some might say post Minimalism– this aging goddess lost her sway over us. The encrustation of centuries of paintings and sculpture have left a tired audience. The art world must evolve again. 

Fortunately, art has often pirouetted between imitation and invention. Cue humanity’s most notable invention of late, the iPhone. The mobile apps enabled by this Jobbesian masterpiece represent a unique opportunity to create an expanding reality. 

A modern-day Red Sea, the mobile revolution has parted the art community into traditionalists and techno-progressivists.


Robert Motherwell’s “Early Collages” as viewed on Guggenheim’s mobile app


Museums are an avid example of this. At the forefront of the mobile wave are MoMA and the Guggenheim’s apps. These mobile museums offer free access to immersive virtual collections, as well as insight into current exhibitions. Though predominantly visual, these apps have the potential to be more interactive in the future, directly connecting museums with the public. 

Contrast this with the state of museums nationwide. In 2011, the American Alliance of Museums published their curated research on mobile integration, showing a surprising 5% of museums offer mobile apps, with a majority of museums offering no mobile programs whatsoever. With over half of American adults owning smartphones, the mobile sphere no longer seems ambitious, rather, necessary. 

The art world has been relatively silent on the subject of mobile integration. Aside from Evgeny Morozov’s  acerbic musings, there has been little said on the subject of apps as art. Albeit articulate, Morozov’s criticisms smart strongly of sophistry, a tone which “disrupts” any logical arguments he might make.


Björk with Scott Snibb - photo by Carsten Windhorst

Björk with Scott Snibb – photo by Carsten Windhorst


Mobile artists are an even rarer breed. Scott Snibbe is an avid example of the artist-as-scientist, having devised beautiful visualizations which interact with music and the viewer, dubbed the rather literal “music visualizers”. Snibbe Studios’ has released the most high profile art apps, not least of which is the pioneering app album Biophilia, compiled with Icelandic musical angel Björk. Biophilia’s ambitious app plants the proverbial seed, so to speak, supplying an unrivaled multimedia experience.

Apps are our true tools. Though the quality and aesthetic of most apps leave much to be desired– as evidenced by these MS paint equivalents– the mobile industry is burgeoning and provides a peerless opportunity to rejuvenate the arts.

With the current mobile immersion, the last object of art may very well be the smartphone.

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