Digital art at Sotheby’s? The auction house is better known for selling canvases by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat for $100 million-plus than for showing what many collectors still regard as ephemera.
Yet the Sotheby’s S2 gallery in New York, normally used for exhibitions of contemporary art, is currently the site of a show featuring mostly young artists who rely on digital technology and who are not exactly household names. Surprisingly, most of the works on view take physical form. More significant, they also betray a broad generational anxiety about the technological future and the role of humans in it.
The catalyst for the show was a curious-looking sculpture tucked away in the Art + Technology Lab at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
A sleek, black plinth with a black screen in front and a record player perched incongruously on top, it was designed as a prototype for a 21st-century memorial. When David Goodman, the Sotheby’s executive in charge of marketing and digital development, saw it a couple of months ago, its screen was displaying the social media posts of a 25-year-old Miami bicycle enthusiast who had been killed in a roadside hit-and-run. A vinyl record played synthesised chimes, their tone determined by a computer analysis of the emotions those posts expressed — a major key if they were positive ones, a minor key if negative.