How technology is transforming the art world

April 15, 2020
Art and technology have always co-existed, with artists throughout the ages embracing technological change and using it to shape their work. The digital age has solidified this partnership between the two and technology is now an integral part of the art world. 
Perhaps now more than ever, technology has a vital role to play. During the current pandemic, museums and artists are relying on virtual technology to reach audiences with the relief and solace that art can provide. Museums have been offering virtual tours of their collections, and artists such as David Hockney have been using technology and social media to continue to create and share their work. This all shows how we can still keep ourselves connected to the arts, despite the sad and unprecedented situation. But it’s not just about artists using technology to create and enhance their works, technology is impacting how those pieces are displayed. From hanging a priceless Van Gogh in a private collector’s home, to creating an interactive installation within a museum, technology is taking the art world in new directions. 
Paul Beatson, Senior Technical and Projects Advisor at Crown Fine Art, says: “Some clients know precisely what they want when they ask us to help install an artwork for them. 
“For example, someone might purchase a masters and have in their mind where they want it in the house. But there is a heat or light source that is too strong for the work and we will advise them on how to deal with that or suggest an alternative place for installation.
“I have walked into places where high net worth private lenders don’t realize their children are using fine art as a goal post! You deal with everything and our role is about using technology to find the best solution for the client and the artwork.”

Technology aiding conservation

Technology has had, and continues to have, a positive impact on art conservation. Paul is developing Bluetooth technology that can be installed in private homes, museums and heritage spaces to monitor lighting (Lux levels), humidity, temperature, security and visitors. Such tech has made it easier than ever to conserve important works of art as well as protect the environment and reduce energy consumption.
“Even contemporary works need a degree of conservation and you have to think very strongly about where a buyer or curator might want a particular piece of artwork located,” says Paul. “It might be near a window where strong light is coming through and we might be able to use UV diffusers, but we also might advise moving the artwork somewhere more suitable.” 

Respecting artistic integrity

Technology has also given rise to a more collaborative partnership between artists and art experts – and allowed them to stay true to the artists’ intentions without compromising on installation safety or security. 
“We are working with one piece that is 20ft high and 21ft wide. The challenge is how we are going to lift it,” explains Arefa Sayed, a Senior Fine Art Consultant with Crown India. 
“Before the artist started making it, she consulted with me to see if she could make it in two parts, then she thought about assembling it in three parts, then she changed her mind and returned to wanting it in one piece. It was important to have a conversation with her about where we could install the hooks to lift it without compromising the piece or her vision.”
Paul also recounts a story where a collector bought a contemporary sculpture and wanted it displayed in their living room. The iron sculpture itself was supposed to appear to float but the client didn’t want the living room floor dug up to accommodate that.
Working alongside an architect, Paul’s team created a plinth underneath the sculpture so whichever way it was observed it wouldn’t be seen.
“I know the artist, I know his studio and his artistic intentions, but the client took a more pragmatic approach to the installation,” says Paul. “A purchaser is attracted to an artist’s work and intention but once they get it home, reality strikes and they have to find a compromise when displaying it. It’s up to us to come up with a solution that works for everyone.”

The rise of interactive art

Artists have become increasingly comfortable with using digital technology in their work but so have museums and galleries in the way they display works of art. Viewers have also embraced the growing trend for immersive art displays where tech can enable physical interaction, touch, sound, light and even smell. 
Crown worked with the Tate Modern last summer on Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition that encompassed multiple media, including light, moss, water, fire and glass, and was a huge challenge for the technicians. 
Paul says: “The challenges we face with experiential art are technical as much as they’re visual – making sure things like electrical work is carried out correctly and risk assessments are undertaken to avoid accidents. It’s technical stuff but extremely important.
“In a wider context, artists are always looking for new opportunities they can use. Artist Katie Patterson, for example, has collaborated with the scientific community and made extensive use of technology to create her art. And Yves Klein used technology to create his own blue because nobody else could get the color he wanted. That took tech and science to get him there. 
“There are lots of artists always exploring technology and ways to use it, and that’s really exciting for us. It’s always a welcome challenge to work with a new artist and concept, and it’s our role to make sure that their vision is displayed as they intended.”
The drive towards more tech-based solutions continues apace in the world of art. Digital paintings, augmented reality, immersive installations, virtual reality – they all have their place in the future of art. They will affect how artists produce art and they will impact the way the art is displayed whether in a private home or a public gallery. The current situation may well affect the way that global art institutions share their collections in the future, not only by using technology in situ, but also to reach a broader audience across geographical boundaries. We’re hopeful that creatives in isolation will continue to make art, and we will all have the opportunity to experience it, wherever we are.   
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