While most visual arts organizations kicked back this summer, Kadist, a Paris and San Francisco-based art foundation, launched an entire online exhibition program.
These online exhibitions reflect a shift in how many contemporary audiences experience visual art -- less in-person and more on screens (via sites such as Contemporary Art Daily, or gallery and artists’ Instagram feeds). Instead of bemoaning the loss of the physical, Kadist's online exhibitions exist for create simple frameworks for curators and artists to add some thoughtfulness to the web-based art experience.
Two online exhibitions series launched late May. One Sentence Exhibition (OSE) invites a curator to select a single sentence and make each word of that sentence a hyperlink to an image, video or online text. The Reader commissions artists to write short narratives in response to found paintings of anonymous women reading books.
OSE employs the idea of “easter eggs,” hidden messages and interactive features buried within computer programs or video games. Each link within an OSE takes the viewer from a simple word to an unexpected destination -- making the exhibition more like a treasure hunt than a walk through a gallery space.
Without exhibition architecture to direct a viewer's experience, the OSE links can be viewed in any order. And by clicking beyond each link's initial landing page, viewers can further explore the obscure corners of the internet. Or not. In the first OSE, SFMOMA curator Rudolph Frieling's exhibition currently includes a dead link. The page simply reads, “millionsofcolours.wordpress.com is no longer available. The authors have deleted this site.”
Kadist curator and advisor Joseph del Pesco sees this problem as an inevitable part of the project. “Because it's so new, I'm still thinking about how long the sentences live online, do they expire once their time is up?" del Pesco says. "Maybe in a way it's recognizing the limits of the internet to accept that ending... and have a shelf life so to speak."
While OSE is all about creating new contexts for existing online material, The Reader goes a step further, asking artists to create new content in response to online images. The images of reading women are gathered by del Pesco and Enar de Dios Rodriguez, his partner in this series, from the digital holdings of museums around the world.
Artists write a short narrative about a painting of their choice; that text is read out loud and recorded as an audio track. Somewhat akin to museum audio guides, these tracks play only when a viewer hovers their cursor over the associated painting's online image. This sustained act of listening is actually quite foreign -- especially in the distracted context of multiple browser tabs and frantic online multitasking.
Like OSE, the conceit of The Reader is open to vastly different interpretations. Mexican artist Adriana Lara imagines two young women reading the Marquis de Sade in Arthur George Walker’s slightly ominous painting from the early 20th century. Paris-based Marcelline Delbecq reads her own poetic reflection in French on Albert Bartholomé’s 1883 work The Artist's Wife Reading. Contributions from Cairo-based Malak Helmy and the Puerto Rican artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz are forthcoming.
For del Pesco and Rodriguez, The Reader’s paintings document a particular moment in history. “It was only in the 19th century that the reading public in the western world achieved mass literacy,” says del Pesco, citing the spread of education and the shortening of the work day. Women were a large and growing part of that readership.
Inspired in part by Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum, in which the artist rearranged objects in the Maryland Historical Society’s collection to highlight missing or ignored narratives -- particularly the history of slavery -- del Pesco believes there’s great value in revisiting past works. “This idea of a radical reinterpretation of an existing artwork that can have a transformative force is something that has continued to be an interest of mine," he says.
Beyond the online exhibitions, Kadist's San Francisco staff is exploring other platforms for their programming, including Instagram takeovers, animated interviews and a free limited-edition download of a custom typeface.
As technology advances and art audiences spend more and more of their time glued to screens, Kadist proves that meaningful -- and challenging -- art experiences can exist without physical proximity to art objects. With their well-designed and simple yet exponentially expansive frameworks, these exhibition series carve out a bit of time spent online fueled by something far more interesting than click bait -- namely the ideas, discoveries and connections embedded within.
Despite their online expansion, Kadist won't be scrapping their brick and mortar space in San Francisco any time soon. Catch the next IRL group exhibition, A Painting is a Painting isn't a Painting, curated by Hamza Walker on Sept. 24, 2015.