Fretting over the “loss of life of artwork” is a practice as previous because the monochrome—simply ask Aleksandr Rodchenko. Such considerations have resurfaced of late with the brow-furrowing over AI: Will DALL·E put artists out of labor? An AI-generated image received an artwork prize—what does it imply? “Refik Anadol: Unsupervised”—that includes a mission made with an AI skilled on publicly accessible information of MoMA’s assortment—suggests one method to such questions. Utilizing a patchwork of subtle machine-learning and rendering software program, Anadol created a multidimensional “map” of the museum’s assortment information. Then he directed a software program to “journey” by means of that house and generate a constantly evolving picture in actual time—a “hallucination” of artwork that doesn’t exist. The outcomes, unfurling on an enormous LED wall within the museum’s foyer, are spellbinding. Acquainted motifs from the modernist custom effloresce, hybridize, and vanish: A blossoming of Fauvist colour transforms into allover patterning; a biomechanical form attenuates into graphic registrations on a printed web page; a free grid melts into Cubist planes.
The callbacks to modernism’s previous are usually not merely visible; they’re additionally structural. In a review of Anicka Yi’s 2022 present at New York’s Gladstone Gallery, Colby Chamberlain notes an affinity between the machine-learning instruments the artist used to make a brand new sequence of work and Surrealist processes of overpainting and grattage. With Anadol’s mission, we’d add the broader modernist tendency towards noncomposition, and efforts by artists to give up authorial management by way of methods akin to indeterminacy and iterative programs. There’s a not terribly huge leap from Jean Arp’s Untitled (Collage with Squares Organized Based on the Legal guidelines of Probability)1916–17, or Ellsworth Kelly’s Spectrum Colours Organized by Probability II1951, to the probabilistic computation that offers rise to Anadol’s evolving composition—with the added twist that the Arp and Kelly items belong to MoMA’s assortment, thereby constituting entries in the artist’s ready-made information set, such that motivations proscribing any mark are doubly abstracted, receding into the fractal growth of procedural play.
Critics have complained that Anadol’s artwork didn’t allow them to “really feel” something, and, apparently uncomfortable with the machinelike methods deployed by artists from Seurat to Sturtevant, have frightened at how little the work “expresses.” However modernism was by no means about feeling in a standard method. MoMA’s outstanding show of an artist akin to Anadol, who arrives from a context totally different from the so-called artwork world, is definitely a shock. But maybe it’s exactly these qualities that make the work appear so alien—its inexpressivity, its entanglement with “tech”—that convey it most in keeping with the historic custom to which the museum is devoted.