In Search of iPad Art

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Most people think it's cliché to talk about the iPad itself as a work of art, but we've yet to see the tablet be embraced as the next artist's medium. Early after it debuted, there were many who lamented that the artistry of the iPad was all Apple's: the purpose of the thing was to consume stuff that other people made. Roughly two years since the first model debuted, a new iPad will hit hands on Friday and, if the fanboys are right, it will change the way we think about tablets thanks to the new high resolution screen and top notch camera. With new software that makes photo editing easy and a zippy processor that makes video editing seamless, Apple's latest iteration seems intent on making the iPad more creative. But, if our empty search for iPad art is a sign, the art community doesn't seem to care about the iPad one bit. Everyone may own iPhones and carry MacBooks and AirBooks, but the iPad is still stuck in the world of commerce. 

With the Armory Show, New York's biggest art fair, in full swing last weekend, we wanted to see if there was any sign of iPads as art. Perched on piers 92 and 94 in midtown Manhattan, the Armory Show is not just for the gallery types. Its historical legacy conjures up the idea of innovation in art -- a fair at the 69th Regiment Armory over on Lexington Avenue in 1913 was where Marcel Duchamp introduced his infamous sculpture Fountain, a urinal laid flat and signed "R. Mutt." To a large degree, the modern incarnation of the Armory Show is also all about innovation. There were a few people walking around with iPads in front of their faces, taking pictures and video of the art in the hundreds of booths set up for galleries, non-profits, art publications and (yes) sponsors, but not a single iPad painting on display and certainly no arty apps. There was a special wing dedicated to art from the Nordic countries, another that featured most of the 20th-century art and a giant champagne lounge in the middle. 

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When the topic of iPad art came up with one gallerist, David Hockney's name was mentioned. Like Jorge Colombo, the artist who makes New Yorker covers on an iPad, Hockney's been fascinated for the past few years with the possibilities of digital art and turned to the touchscreen devices lately. He's done dozens if not hundreds of paintings on his iPad since the device came out. The Guardian's Lauren Niland wrote earlier this year that "Hockney's adoption of the iPad is the natural next step in his interest in using technology to explore art." The pixelated pieces are quite good, but quite similar to his pigment paintings.

But Hockney was not at the Armory Show. We saw people buying art on iPads, plenty of others were using tablets to take pictures or read the news in between booths. They sat in the corner of more than a few booths but never on the wall. As we marched towards the door, we saw one gallery -- Gallery Hyundai -- with a slick screen on the wall and paused to ask a couple of questions about art and technology. "I'm not an expert on touchscreen art," said a young woman starting to pack up her things. 

It wasn't a huge surprise when we heard about an interactive iPad installation at the Armory Show's not-too-distant sibling, Volta. There we met Hugh McGrory from the media consultancy Culture Shock who was standing in front of a wall of boomboxes (all vintage and battery-powered) wired into five iPads and humming rythmic sounds. If you walked up and touched the iPads, the screens would brighten and the sounds would change thanks to some artistically designed apps that took advantage of the platform in intriguing ways. The apps are all very interactive. "We're not motivated by selling art," Hugh told The Atlantic Wire. "We're motivated by transforming and being a catalyst." Below is a demo of Glenn Marshall's app Supernova:

Culture Shock is not a gallery; it's a business. Brands come to them looking for innovative ways to use media and technology to market their products. In the past, they've worked with Vimeo, DJ Spooky and Tribeca Enterprises. "It's way more exciting to be at the beginning of something," he said. "Everybody's really energetic and on a mission to try to move the future forward and also engage with audiences." This sounds more like startup than an art project.

We gave up on finding the iPad art around that time. On one hand, we had to. The show was over and nightsticks were directing us towards the door. On the other hand, we weren't sure it made sense to find iPads hanging next to oil paintings and plaster statues. It reminded us of something Hugh mentioned about the guys that developed the apps for Culture Shock's exhibition. "Most of the people creating it, the last word they'd use to describe themselves is 'artists'," he said. "They don't go there. In a sense I find that very exiting, because it takes other people to call these people artists."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.