In late January I had the privilege of speaking about the “Future of Art” at Worlds Fair Nano in San Francisco in front of a huge audience of technologists, futurists and hopefuls. Working on this talk with some help from my Artsy colleagues got me very inspired. It was also a fairly new experience for me: in my CTO role I tend to spend most of my time building the future and not predicting it.
To know your future, you must know your past. - George Santayana
Today, I feel like we are about to live in some kind of virtual reality, again. One of propaganda, of people disengaging from society, just going through the motions. Believing anything fake that is being served in a convincing and easily digestible way. In the Soviet Union I learned nothing was real. Automation is replacing work. Machines ask no questions, take no breaks and no vacations. There’s even no need for a 5 year plan. Soviet Union banned religion and replaced it with the communist ideal distributed through propaganda. In the west, Church attendance is at an all time low. Code and data are the new religion. Software is eating the world. We can just remove humans from all decisions. In the USSR the party controlled your cultural, social and economic life. Today, code, automation and artificial intelligence has the potential to control all of life. And in that world there’s somehow equal opportunity for all, and my adoptive Switzerland, where we moved in 1990, has already voted for UBI.
We’re going there fast. What are we going to do?
If social science taught us anything, once our basics and wants are met, self actualization becomes a necessity. This means art will transform from luxury and leisure to a need. Does it mean we’re all going to be making art? No, but artists are important and will be even more important. We’re already seeing this with some outliers like Ai Wei Wei. And continue discovering art from places difficult of access, such as Tamara Chalabi co-curating the Iraqi pavilion at Venice Bienale 2017, feating the artist Sakar Sleman from Sulaymaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan. More artists that need early help before anyone knows about them. Patronage used to be the affair of kings and popes. Venture capitalists are next. We’re going to see more people provide support and possibly invest in artists like startups. UBS, a new kind of patron is already actively commissioning exhibitions such as “WOMEN: New Portraits”, by iconic photographer Annie Liebowitz.
Most people reading this can afford art, but most don’t buy any. Buying art will become the norm. We’re going to gift a lot more art, too. We’re going to hoard street signs and call them art - I already do. There will be more specialized collectors, such as Valeria Napoleone, who is well-known for collecting art by only women. More collectors means more dealers, more globally with better buying experience. The creation of Levy-Gorvy by the iconic gallerist Dominique Levy and her new partner Brett Gorvy is a recent example. We’re going to see more pricing, faster response times, and more efficient transactions. We’ll need more critics, such as [Anthea Hamilton, shortlisted for Turner Prize, to go to those galleries and hate all the bad art they see or praise the rare exception. Drinking wine at a gallery will give place to curated immersive experiences, such as the one Artsy co-produced with Soundcloud and Gucci at Art Basel Miami Beach 2016.
The number of museums being built in China by both the government and private individuals has exploded in in recent years, from 2,601 in 2009 to 4,164 in 2014, a 60% increase in just five years. The growth in private museums has been even faster, by 3x. More private and public museums with individuals and countries building legacy.
There will be more people trying to extract as much value, financial or otherwise, from the art in an open market. To quote Artnet, enter art collector/dealer/flipper extraordinaire Stefan Simchowitz, a man who has been alternately called “the art world’s patron Satan” (according to Christopher Glazek in the New York Times), “a Sith Lord” (by Jerry Saltz in New York Times) and, more recently “the Donald Trump of the art world” (per Sarah Thornton’s introduction at an April panel in Los Angeles). It will be the wild west again, fueled by those that can tell us what we’re buying, dealing with authenticity, and using new technology to see inside the paintings or blockchain to track new primary market work.
More encouraging, parents will want their children to learn more about art, and inspiring teachers will be teaching art in more schools. And the number of people entering the art world will multiply, as we’re already seeing record attendance at museums that are rapidly expanding.
But we’re not quite there yet. The art world is hierarchal. Fancy rich white people hold all the power. This hierarchy is not questioned by protest, but by cultural progress. The first thing to change is access. You no longer have to live in New York to see the world’s best art. Access is the first step towards everyone to fit into one of the art world roles. Christo’s “Floating Piers” on Lake Iseo, Italy saw around 1.5 million visitors over the course of 16 days, largely fueled by social media.
Visual art will become part of popular culture, much like music. What were small attempts by some crazy people ten years ago, more recent and ambitious projects that were only possible at Burning Man like Pulse & Bloom, where your heartbeat lights up the flowers, will become large scale installations in cities around the world, accessible to the public. This year’s example is Sun Xun’s “Reconstruction of the Universe” at Art Basel Miami Beach 2016.
There will be a lot of protectionism and resistance. In Russia Pussy Riot was sent to jail. Self expression and political activism through art is becoming more dangerous to the establishment and more important to the people. Art matters more. In fact, I believe it is becoming the most effective multiplier to mass protest. And we’re going to find it all online. And everything will be instantly shared.
But the most important thing that will change is the way we experience art. Art will make us feel again. It will make us human again. Make us vulnerable and sad. Art will also be fun, have absolutely no message or purpose, and we will use our imagination to travel through time and the universe. We will just experience, live, art.
Art will make us happy or sad. We’ll remove the limitations of what you see is what you get. We’ll unlearn to measure art in money. We’ll develop critical thinking. We’ll re-learn how to really see art.
The future of art looks like how our children see it now. They see art in everything. Everything is art.