In the last twelve months we have seen a tremendous spike in the interest of “AI art,” ushered in by Christie’s and Sotheby’s both offering works at auction developed with machine learning. Capturing the imaginations of collectors and the general public alike, the new work has some conservative members of the art world scratching their heads and suggesting this will merely be another passing fad. What they are missing is that this rich genre, more broadly referred to as “generative art,” has a history as long and fascinating as computing itself. A history that has largely been overlooked in the recent mania for “AI art” and one that co-curators Georg Bak and Jason Bailey hope to shine a bright light on in their show Automat und Mensch (or Machine and Man).
Generative art, once perceived as the domain of a small number of “computer nerds,” is now the artform best poised to capture what sets our generation apart from those that came before us - ubiquitous computing. As children of the digital revolution, computing has become our greatest shared experience. Like it or not, we are all now computer nerds, inseparable from the many devices through which we mediate our worlds.
The Automat und Mensch (Man and Machine) exhibition is, above all, an opportunity to put important work by generative artists spanning the last 70 years into context by showing it in a single location. By juxtaposing important works like the 1956/’57 oscillograms by Herbert W. Franke (age 91) with the 2018 AI Generated Nude Portrait #1 by contemporary artist Robbie Barrat (age 19), we can see the full history and spectrum of generative art as has never been shown before.
Every generation claims art is dead, asking, “Where are our Michelangelos? Where are our Picassos?” only to have their grandchildren point out generations later that the geniuses were among us the whole time. With generative art we have the unique opportunity to celebrate both early and contemporary masters of generative art while they are still here to experience it.
Automat und Mensch takes place at the Kate Vass Galerie in Zürich Switzerland and will be accompanied by an educational program including lectures and panels from participating artists and thought leaders on AI art and generative art history. The show runs from May 29th to October 15th, 2019.