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9.3.2015

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Featured Article

First Look: Brushes
By Michael Connor on Thursday Sep 3rd, 2015

This online exhibition features the work of eight artists who paint with the computer and show their work on the internet.

"Brushes," copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the series First Look: New Art Online, casts light on digital painting at a moment when the practice is gaining more widespread recognition. Unlike works by artists such as Albert Oehlen, who have translated digital gestures and imagery to a gallery context, the works featured in "Brushes"—by artists Laura Brothers, Jacob Ciocci, Petra Cortright, Joe Hamilton, Sara Ludy, Michael Manning, Giovanna Olmos, and Andrej Ujhazy—were created specifically for online circulation and display.

As art historian Alex Bacon writes in an essay for Rhizome, "In a sense, painting has always existed in relation to technology, when the term is understood in its broad definition as the practical application of specialized knowledge: the brush, the compass, the camera obscura, photography, or the inkjet printer." However, if painting has long involved the application of tools and techniques, it has also served another function: it makes technological conditions available for visual contemplation in the gallery. (Think, for example, of Vera Molnár's television paintings, which evoke the visual style of that technology.)

Today, many paintings that are displayed in the gallery are also contemplated online on platforms such as Instagram. This is a widely discussed phenomenon, but what is often overlooked in painting discourse is the role played by works created and experienced on the computer and the internet. This kind of digital painting has existed for decades: for example, the 1970s software SuperPaint already included many features found in modern paint applications. "Brushes" acknowledges this long history while focusing on practices that have emerged in recent years.

In particular, this exhibition highlights artworks that refer back, in some way, to a bodily gesture made by the artist: mouse movements, digitized brushstrokes, or touchscreen swipes. This leaves out the many artists who create painterly work by writing custom code—but despite their shared approach, these artists take diverse positions on questions of process and output.

As the role of painting in the gallery continues to shift, "Brushes" aims to suggest that works produced on the computer and experienced via the browser and the mobile app have an equal place in the medium's discourses, offering a space for contemplation of our technological society from within its complex apparatus.

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