Upon entering the exhibit, “Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965-2018,” on view thru April 14, 2019, you are struck by a visual befitting the intersection of Times Square rather than the dimly lit sixth floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Nam June Paik’s “Fin de Siècle II” towers over the main room, demanding your attention much the way the advertisement in your social media feed attempts to.
No one could foresee how rapidly the pace of technological development would evolve, or how the constant stream of images and sounds would affect our interaction with each other and our environments. But as this exhibit makes clear, artists have long been considering the ramifications of new technologies. You are invited to contemplate this evolution by walking through distinctly curated sections grouped by a shared philosophy.
The Whitney curatorial staff, led by Christiane Paul, Adjunct Curator of Digital Art, holds a profound sense of responsibility toward each artist in the exhibit, befitting the Whitney’s reputation as the “artist’s museum.” The curators went through painstaking efforts to restore several central pieces in the exhibit, most notably Paik’s “Fin de Siècle II” and the multi-year search for vintage televisions to replace those which had degraded considerably while the work was in storage. Another example of the museum’s dedication to the authenticity of the exhibited artwork involves consultation with automotive paint manufacturers in order to replicate the subtle hues and glimmer of the original color used in Donald Judd’s 1965 minimalist piece “Untitled.”
As we grapple with the implications of artificial intelligence outpacing our ability to understand its actions, we can take solace in the fact that we are not alone in our uneasiness. Several works in the exhibit, such as Ian Cheng’s 2013 digital work “Baby feat. Ikaria,” demonstrates how chatbots talk to each other instead of humans, their conversation visualized as three-dimensional “debris” on a television screen.
While marveling at the technological aspects of the exhibited artwork the viewer cannot help but recognize that the ultimate intelligence presented here is that of the artists, bringing attention to our hopes and fears through the language of animated machinery. Wander through the installations of “Programmed,” and wonder if the path you take would be considered random or predetermined.
Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort St., 212.570.3600
Opening hours: M, W-Th, Su 10:30 am-6 pm, F-Sa 10:30 am-10 pm