After Michael Kimmelman’s The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa (2005) introduced me to Jay DeFeo’s The Rose, a painting weighing approximately 3,050 pounds, I spent an afternoon looking up the weights of familiar objects and animals, trying to grasp the enormity of the work.The Rose (oil with wood and mica on canvas, 128 7/8 × 92 1/4 × 11 in, 1958-1966) weighs about as much as a hippopotamus. Since reading Kimmelman’s book I have been determined to see the work in person, and happily, it belongs to the Whitney Museum of American Art. I contacted the museum to inquire as to whether or not the work was on exhibit, and if not, could I please make an appointment to have access to it. The answer to both was a definitive “no.”
The history of the painting, as told by Kimmelman, enhanced my determination to see the work - to be in its presence. The Rose traveled down the coast of California, from Fillmore Street in San Francisco to a storage unit in Pasadena in 1967, before returning north to the San Francisco Institute of Art in the mid-1980s. The work was largely forgotten about until the mid-1990s when the Whitney Museum of American Art raised funds through the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Judith Rothschild Foundation to excavate The Rose from the wall at the Institute where it was embedded in a fiberglass case. As the Whitney was raising funds, it was impossible to predict the condition the painting would be in but the desire to save the work and make it accessible to the public outweighed the cost of freeing it. Since exhuming and acquiring it, the work has been housed in off-site storage; save for the few times the Whitney has exhibited it.
Institutions like the Whitney purchase art to preserve it and make it available to the public. The flaw is that the collections become so vast that it is impossible to exhibit all the works due to constraints in space, time and money. In terms of accessibility, this is not an improvement from being buried in a wall or held in a private collection. As museums and galleries take advantage of the online community by uploading images from their collections, the public’s access is increased, but the major potential transformation comes in the form of a website launched Spring 2010, Art.sy.
Art.sy is quite literally changing the art world as no other company has – utilizing the concept of the social network and merging it with physical galleries and museums. Founders Carter Cleveland, a Computer Science Engineer, and Sebastian Cwilich, a veteran start-up executive with experience at Christie’s and Haunch of Venison Gallery, teamed up with experts in the arts, media and technology to increase access to art by the public. Through Art.sy, they have launched the Art Genome Project, based on the concept of the Music Genome Project, to catalogue the world’s art in public and private collections. Art.sy utilizes the algorithms of Pandora (the CEO Joe Kennedy is an advisor) to allow the user “to begin with the name of an artist or artwork [she knows] and use its proprietary search technology to recommend similar works.” If there is a work she wants to learn more about, the site connects her directly to the museum or gallery that holds it.
The full impact of this company is not yet known, but its uses seem endless. While I still cannot see The Rose in person, Art.sy allows me to locate not only DeFeo’s catalogue of work but also introduces me to other artists compliments of Pandora’s algorithms. Art.sy may be the MySpace to a not-yet-founded Facebook, but it is laying the foundation for the future of the art world, one that is available on a social network-styled platform.