Most of us spend a huge chunk—if not the majority—of our days looking at screens, but far fewer spend time looking at screens specifically designed to display art. As more artists began to make digital and moving image-based works, and more collectors became interested in hanging these works on their walls, a number of companies developed devices for displaying digital art.
Longtime readers of The Creators Project will already know about Framed, a platform that acts as a digital canvas for displaying digital art. Framed launched in 2011 and has since failed to pick up speed, despite a revamp last year. In 2014, we first covered Electric Objects, a similar platform, also Kickstarter-funded, that has managed to gained more traction and has even established a SoHo showroom last year. Since Framed nabbed the tagline, “a revolutionary platform for digital art,” Electric Objects found its niche as, “a computer made for art.”
If it’s hard for you, dear reader, to tell the difference between these two models of display, you’re not alone–even Kelani Nichole, owner and director of TRANSFER, the New York-based gallery focused on net art, new media, and moving image work, finds these devices, and the myriad platforms spouting revolutionary claims about how their systems will change the future of digital art display, dizzying. A gallerist who supports exactly the type of work these devices purport to revolutionize, she’s collected a list of systems developed for the purpose of displaying digital works, all more or less “solving” the same “problem.” Further, from her perspective, many of these platforms miss the point.
Nichole worked with The Creators Project to create this guide to the good, bad, and straight-up unnecessary in the world of displaying digital art.
“The state-of-the-art frame for discovering and displaying digital art,” the EO1 connects to the internet, supports user uploads, and has an inventory of works designed specifically for the EO1. Electric Objects has sort of become the go-to home digital display device, probably due to its large library of works, including reproductions of museum collections, and its price of $299 for the setup. Their artist-focused programs such as "Art Club," a vibrant community of artists making work on the platform, are standouts among the list in terms of defining new forms of support for artists. We have one in The Creators Project's headquarters and use it every day.
Framed screens come in two different sizes, and support most media types users can find online. There is also a Framed app, where users can compile their art collections. Framed’s gallery hosts a selection of Framed-specific editions for sale at price points of $35 and $65. Framed retails at MoMA for $899, pre-loaded with six works from artists whose other work is in the MoMA collection.
Billed as a “digital motion art gallery,” Blackdove is an app with a rotating monthly selection of works that users can display on their choice of smart screen. With a $9.99 subscription, users can access the full library of over 400 works, and half the money goes to the artists. Users must find their own means of display.
DAD is a software that describes itself as ”Apple TV meets Spotify for digital art,” and indeed, works can be viewed through different DAD-endorsed Apple TV setups. The Kickstarter description says DAD is, “the world’s first truly fine-art digital platform,” but others on this list make similar “groundbreaking” claims. Depending on their subscription level, DAD users can view curated exhibitions, which include a DIS-curated selection coinciding with the Berlin Biennale, create their own playlists, or create their own private channels.
Depict says they’re, “doing for visual content what iTunes and Spotify have done for music.” The platform’s display is called the Depict Frame, and works are stored on the Depict Cloud, where users can buy individual works or editions, or sign up for a subscription. Certain formats of digital works that users might have in a separate collection can also be uploaded to the Depict Frame.
The only open source platform on this list, Openframe works with any HDMI display and a Raspberry Pi. In that sense, it’s a bit more for specialists: marketed towards artists who feel limited by other platforms, curators wanting to manage their collections, and developers hoping to improve the platform. Notably, they recommend Electric Objects and Framed for users who aren’t so DIY.
Niio is a cloud-based management system for storing, distributing, displaying, and monetizing digital art. They call this system “pro tools,” and a 4K art console for turning, “any screen or projector into a professional dedicated art player” is currently up for pre-order. This platform’s features regarding preservation, best-practices, and management catered to multiple players in the world of dealing art—artists, gallerists, curators, collectors—are promising.
Created by artist Constant Dullaart, DullTech™ is a media player and artwork in one, not really aiming to revolutionize anything, but instead simply aid artists in playing looped videos which are synced through USB.
Besides these platforms (whose general claims of singular novelty make clear that they probably aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around them), there are also initiatives like Artapp.org, a petition to add an “art” category to the App Store.
And yet, popularizing digital art shouldn’t necessarily be the prerogative of these platforms. Ask any musician, and they’ll probably tell you that trying to make art accessible according to an iTunes or Spotify model is bad news for artists. From the perspective of a gallerist, further, few of these platforms address any real problems of preservation and display for new formats—TRANSFER, for example, places artworks in the same way as a traditional gallery dealing with “physical” or “old media” work: through a relationship-based appreciation process which is catered to the collector’s needs.
These platforms claim to create new marketplaces for artworks, but those works aren't often comparable in quality to those that might be sold through a traditional gallery. Despite substantial investment, these platforms have yet to become profitable for artists, though some, like Electric Objects, do help. When paired with the functionality that allows you to upload any user-owned file, works can become enmeshed in the world of poor images. Ultimately, though some platforms are more promising than others, the current crop of platforms falls short when it comes to compelling collectors to invest in new media art, and largely fails to address fundamental issues of preservation and distributed authenticity.
In short, the 'entrepreneurial approach' isn’t always best for the creators it claims to help. But hey, it is something.