Augmented Reality

Internet Artists Invaded the MoMA With a Guerrilla Augmented Reality Exhibit

"Hello, we're from the internet" is an art project that took over the MoMA's Jackson Pollock room without permission.

Mack DeGeurin

Image: Mack DeGeurin

A collective of eight internet artists transformed the Jackson Pollock room in the New York City Museum of Modern Art into their own augmented reality gallery—without the museum's permission.

The collective, which calls itself “MoMAR,” is making a statement against elitism and exclusivity in the art world with its group art installation Hello, we’re from the internet. The eight artists had their own works overlaid on top of seven Jackson Pollock paintings using augmented reality technology. By downloading their MoMAR app, anyone with a phone can see their work.

“Our main idea is to democratize open spaces,” Danjan Pita, one of the artists who goes by Damjanski told me. “The act of being open to the public is a little bit ironic because you still have an elite who is defining what is open to the public.”

Friday, the artists made their way up to the MoMA’s fifth floor two hours before closing. The museum, which was handing out free tickets at the time, was packed full of visitors. While most visitors stuffed in the Pollock room were there to see the American abstract impressionist’s original art, a handful of people were seen holding up their phones using the MoMAR app.

“If we are to understand that art is the great measure of culture we must also acknowledge it is owned, valued and defined by ‘the elite,’’ the group wrote on its website. “We must also recognize that the term ‘open to the public’ is not an invitation but a declaration of values. Values that are not our own.”

While the artists were successfully able to put their app onto the Google Play Store, the iPhone App Store did not accept their app in time for the event. To remedy this, the artists had several backup phones with the app pre-installed so visitors could experience the gallery. They were also installing the app directly onto phones (like mine) from a laptop.

The original painting. Image: Mack DeGeurin
Augmented painting. Image: Mack DeGeurin

Many visitors without the app were looking over the shoulders of people viewing the augmented reality versions of the paintings.

One of AR installations, created by artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo, turned Pollock’s White Light painting into an interactive game. In the game, mini skeletons quickly climbed up all sides of the painting like spiders. Players controlled a spinning wheel in the center which they have to use to knock down the scaling skeletons. White Light was one of the last paintings Pollock made before he died in 1956—a key thematic element in Bacia-Colombo’s game.

“I wanted to make an experience that played with the existing form but also commented on the painting itself,” Barcia-Colombo told me. “Since much of my personal artwork deals with memorialization and the afterlife it was perfect that I was assigned one of Pollock’s last works.”

When one loses the game, as I did multiple times, Apple’s rainbow wheel of death appears in between large red texts that reads “PAINTERS BLOCK!!!”

Barcia-Colombo said the paintings worked especially well for AR due to Pollock’s abstract erratic style. All that activity on the physical canvas made it easier for the artists to use the AR technology.

The seven other AR paintings varied in content. The one created by Damjanski, called One: Number 12811912112811950, 2018, presented visitors with a gif that merges the faces of Pollock and Ed Harris—the man who played the artist in the film Pollock.

Damjanski said he came up with the idea while doing research on the artist. When he watched Pollock, it made him realize how many viewers may only recognize historical figures by the actors who portray them in films.

“I started questioning the value of representation and manifested these thoughts in a hybrid character of Jackson Pollock and Ed Harris playing him,” he said. “This new character interrogates the lines between fact and fiction and what's 'real' and 'fake.'”

The group intends to run, Hello, we’re from the internet for three months. After that they are looking to incorporate galleries from other artists.

“We literally are trying to claim the space,” Damjansky said.

Damjanski said he and his partners are not worried about any retaliation from the museum. The MoMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Image: Mack DeGeurin

“They can’t do anything against us,” he said.

The MoMA has several security guards stationed on each floor of the museum. While several appeared confused when they saw visitors using the app, they did not make any effort to stop the AR gallery. In the days since they launched, Damjansky said he has not received any comment from any official associated with the museum.

“It’s funny, because even people who were just visiting MoMA seem to primarily experience the work through the lens on their phones by taking selfies or photos of the work,” Barcia-Colombo said. “Our AR work added an extra layer of digitization by hacking the pre-existing work to reveal the work of artists who are experimenting with a new form.”

The creators also purposely made their app open source as a means of encouraging participation. According to the group, the act of opening spaces to the public is inherently contradictory. Damjanski said he will release an instructional PDF that will allow anyone to make modifications, even if they have no experience coding.

Image: MoMAR

“It's the first iteration of a set of instructions to give people the power to show their work in any physical exhibition space around the world,” Damjansky said. “This will be an ongoing process because we want to keep it as simple as possible—so we'll update it probably a lot.”

While the group coordinated for months over the internet, most had not met in person until earlier that week when they assembled at a hackathon at New York University.

The creators said they chose the Jackson Pollock room for several reasons. Since the seven Pollock paintings are permanent installments at the MoMA, they are rarely moved. This allows the artists to create a target space for their AR visuals without having to worry about the painting being moved. The second reason is a bit more intuitive—the room has a bench.

“I think he [Pollock] would appreciate it,” Damjanski said. “He was far out there.”