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Mon, Jan 23, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Museums ponder role of technology in art


Technology-driven art that changes with the speed of an electric charge presents special challenges and opportunities for museums that draw fans with timeless works such as those by El Greco, Titian or Dali.

If the computer-generated image changes by the second, how can art lovers take home a coffee-table book or a poster that makes a connection for them? Will an Internet hookup be required for tech-savvy young people who want to experience art away from a gallery?

"I think it does have a future in museums," Kurt Kaufman, 23, a student at the Cleveland Institute of Art, said after seeing the eye-catching "All Digital" exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland. The exhibit, which opened on Friday, continues through May 7.

The exhibit, co-sponsored by the tradition-bound Cleveland Museum of Art, which is closed for expansion and renovation, has a different look at every turn: There's Charles Sandison's Index with jumbled encyclopedia entries projected on the floor, ceiling and walls; Lynn Hershman Leeson's computer-generated "talking head" that responds to questions; and Paul Chan's Happiness, a sometimes idyllic, sometimes X-rated digital animation.

The show reflects "objects that have their own lives," said Kristina Hooper Woolsey, who has developed interactive multimedia with Apple Computer.

The items have their own behaviors and characteristics, she said.

Take Leeson's DiNA, for example -- if you're willing to step up to a microphone and address a wall-sized computer image of a woman's face, which gently nods in anticipation of a computer-generated conversation.

"Is it smelly in Chicago," a museum visitor asks.

"Not if I can help it," DiNA responds.

With the ice broken, more people step forward to try their hand at holding a conversation with a pleasant face projected on a wall.

"Whom do you love," one asked.

DiNA, perhaps misunderstanding, responds, "Thank you for telling me."

Leeson, speaking at a symposium marking the exhibition opening, hinted that the "artificially intelligent virtual" people that she has pioneered in art have sometimes taken charge. "I think they've used me," she said.

The high-intensity, fast-moving tech world is the way young people experience life, Barbara Tannenbaum said by phone from the Akron Art Museum, where she is chief curator and head of public programs. Museums need to respond in kind, she said.

"To attract younger people, they need to show videos, they need to show interactive works. That's a direction museums will inevitably follow along," she said.

Art moving from canvas-based paintings to computer-generated light shows may seem odd, but other progressions through history -- like moving beyond paintings on bowls -- were just as striking, Tannenbaum said.

"Each age has a different way of looking," she said. "What looks normal and realistic to one age seems abstract and unrealistic to another age."

Margo Crutchfield, senior curator at MOCA, makes a similar point.

With the development of photography and other modern technological advances, "The convergence of art, science and technology has enriched, transformed and, in many cases, revolutionized artistic practice," she said in the exhibition catalog.

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