Category Archives: Final Projects

A virtual exhibition introducing traditional Chinese Mulan culture through Mulan films


The slide of the Mulan Virtual Exhibition :

PDF format of slides:

Index of the virtual exhibition :

Structure of Mulan Project

Introduction & Movies Review

Evaluation of the audience

Seven Related Sections Posed by Questions

Question1: Is Mulan a real person?| Introduction of the Mulan Folk Song in the Northern Dynasty

  • The Origin of Mulan Legend
  • Classical Chinese Version of Mulan Folk Song
  • English Version of Mulan Folk Song
  • Introduction to the Mulan Folk Song
  1. Historical Background & Author
  2. Rhetoric in Classical Chinese
  3. Genre
  4. Social and Historical Status

Question2: Which tribe attacked Mulan’s country? | Introduction of the Rouran Tribes, A Northern Nomad

  • The Two Belligerent Parties
  • The geographical location and historical stage of Northern Wei and Rouran
  • The Excerpts of Mulan Song which introduce the background of the war and the reasons why Mulan had to replace her father join the army.
  • The Excerpts of Mulan Song which introduce where Mulan’s army passed and what scenes she saw.
  • The Excerpts of Mulan Song which describe the fierce and brutal fighting scenes.

Question3: Is Mulan a good daughter or perfect bride? |The Moral Expectation and Behavior Restraint of Ancient Chinese Women

  • Good qualities of ancient women
  • Constraints on the behavior of a girl or bride mentioned in the animation

Question4: What might Mulan’s wedding look like? | Ancient Chinese Women’s Makeup and Wedding Customs

  • The Excerpts of Mulan Song describe the situation of Mulan taking off her armor, wearing female attire, and making up in front of the mirror.
  • Ancient Women’s Makeup Sequence
  • Allusions Behind Different Kinds of Makeup
  • Parents ’Order and Matchmaker’s Word
  • Ancient Chinese Wedding Customs
  • Marriage Customs in the Northern Wei Dynasty

Question5: Why do Mulan’s family always go to their ancestral hall to pray for their ancestors? | The Concept of Family and Country in Ancient China

  • Characteristics of Chinese Ancestor Worship
  • Social Function of Chinese Ancestor Worship
  • Explanation of Filial Piety and Loyalty

Question6: What was Mulan’s real reason for joining the army instead of her father? | Personal Value Realization or National Protection

  • The values of individualism emphasized in Disney movies
  • The collectivism values emphasized in the original text of the Mulan poem
  • The Excerpts of Mulan Song which describe Mulan’s anxiety and determination when she knew that her father had been called up.
  • The Excerpts of Mulan Song which describe the situation that Mulan returned from the war, and she refused the emperor’s reward on the court.
  • The Excerpts of Mulan Song which depict the scene when Mulan returns to her hometown and her relatives greet her warmly.

Question7: How is Mulan Culture Inherited in China? | Cultural Sites, Mulan Culture Festival, Mulan Culture Industry, IP Development

  • The Inheritance of Mulan Culture
  1. Cultural Sites
  2. Related Poems
  3. Mulan Culture Festival
  4. Mulan Culture Industry
  5. IP Development




From Georgia to O’Keeffe: A Puzzle in American Modernism

Jiawen Zhang (Karen)


Georgia O’Keeffe, often considered as the “Mother of American modernism,” is renowned for her paintings of magnified flowers, New York City views, and New Mexico desert landscapes. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were few artists exploring abstraction even in Europe, but O’Keeffe was one of them. She made her legacy from a daughter of a dairy farmer to a leading American modernist artist. Several dialogues took place when her artworks started to appear in people’s sights; also, multiple interfaces helped Georgia O’Keeffe to be appreciated by the public. The center of this paper is to analyze how these dialogues and interfaces came into effect, especially in the first half of her art life, which laid a solid foundation for the career. The essay begins with an introduction of her trajectory as an artist that craves a brand new landscape of American modern art, then follows with elaborate analyses of five dialogic interfaces that took place along with the interpretation- museums, exhibitions, photographs, paintings, and Freudian theory. O’Keeffe gets in touch with avant-garde through several visits to museums and realizes what independent style she is interested in. After having a glimpse of the evolutions happening in the art world, one of the breakthroughs in her life is to have her works displayed in exhibitions where art critics have an opportunity to capture Georgia O’Keeffe. She is portrayed as a particular female artist at that time, and photographs of Alfred Stieglitz, the famous photographer and her husband, strengthen the image. While she utilizes her paintings to express herself, the public has many interpretations of her work. One remarkable connection is with the Freudian theory that sets O’Keeffe as a model to challenge the dominant male discourse. Moreover, the essay examines current dialogues happening in the digital era in the example of Google Arts&Cultures. Overall, the paper will strive to help the audience understand the diverse conversations from past to now that bring O’ Keeffe’s artworks to life as well as the artist herself.


Born in 1887 in a farmhouse near Wisconsin, Georgia O’Keeffe spent many years studying traditional drawing connoisseurship and being a commercial artist. However, she is not interested in landing a career based on the mimic tradition she learned at art institutions (Roberts, 78). She then was trained as an art teacher at Teachers College of Columbia University in 1914 and 1915, which had a significant influence on forming her unique style veering away from realism. At the same time, war breaks out in Europe and later affects countries around the world. A succession of innovative styles not only overthrew the prevalent idea that resides in painting and sculpture, but also questioned the social role of art, and even its validity (Chilvers, 311). Artists started to contemplate on humans and art itself. During that time, it was very much an international phenomenon that artists discovered the limitless potential of color and form divorced from representation (Chilvers, 333), so was O’Keeffe. After moving to New York, she began to paint New York skyscrapers, a crucial American symbol of modernity, and distorted flowers. Since 1929, O’Keeffe began her trips to New Mexico and moved there in 1949. Dedicated to vast lands and nature, she painted works that echoed to the spectacular places she visited, especially mountain peaks. She usually adopts undulated rhythmic shapes with gradient colors to represent the objects. Many of her works moved from realistic representations to simplification and abstraction, which were novel at that time (see figure 1).

Figure 1. Georgia O’Keeffe, Blue Line, 1919, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe

However, the painting style is not enough to understand her conception of modernism. Charles Harrison provides three distinct facets of the word modernism for people to capture the traits behind the powerful word better. First, he says that “modernism is used to refer to the distinguishing characteristics of Western culture from the mid-nineteenth century until at least the mid-twentieth: a culture in which the processed of industrialization and urbanization are conceived of as the principal mechanisms of transformation in human experience.” (Harrison, 188) Georgia O’Keeffe, as a modern artist, reflects confessions in a world of turmoil, including warfare, social upheaval, and city transformations. Second, he states that each kind of art had to determine its formal area, and the space for modernism is painting and sculpture. O’Keeffe narrows her works medium to two-dimensional painting that has a unique competence in nature. Third, Harrison mentions, “A modernist is seen not primarily as a kind of artist, but rather as a critic whose judgments reflect a specific set of ideas and beliefs about art and its development.” (Harrison, 193) Before O’Keeffe setting off in a modernist mode, she doubted the current traditions she learned in art schools, collected inspirations through exhibitions, and reflected on art trends. She wanted to create something departing from the existing restrictions. Therefore, the works of O’Keeffe meet modernism in diverse facets and a broad cultural context.

Dialogic interfaces

No art can be art leaving the art world. How has Georgia O’Keeffe been identified and appreciated as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century? The following essay will explore the path that leads Georgia to become O’Keeffe.

Museums as an interface – From an art student to a painter

Before anyone can walk into a museum and appreciate the highest achievements of its culture, the museum is a notion that “existed as notional spaces embodying ideals of collective learning and progress considered essential to a perfect society.” (McClellan, 19) The utopian idea sets museums as a compendium of the world that collects and disseminates the system-defined-idea of art and its shared values. People encounter, understand, and value art in the museum system. Based on the concept, museums nowadays shoulder mainly four responsibilities – preservation, collection, exhibition, and refuge. The second and third roles museums played have much helped O’Keeffe sail in her art life. I will focus on the collection role in this module. An independent museum has the power to choose which work to be considered and disclosed from buried and hidden, and therefore strengthens the predominant or supports the ignored ideas and styles. Moreover, on the social level, collecting service to display different works together results in creating or opposing different “schools” / “movements,” thereby canceling specific interesting questions lost in an exaggerated mass of answers (Buran, 191). Collections in museums become a dialogic interface that evolving art ideas collide, bridging people and art.

After years of physical practice to gain the technical skill of painting, Georgia O’Keeffe started to find drawings charged with fresh possibilities by observing modern styles. One medium is through her several visits to the 291 gallery, the heart of the New York modernist milieu at that time, which collected works by European and American modern artists, including Picasso, Braque, Rodin, Matisse, and Cézanne. Many of these artists are representatives of Cubism, who explored new ways of envisaging subjects in a different angel or isolated parts. (see figure 2).  When O’Keeffe first entered 291, she was stumbled, and her academic practices in modern art at that time were not enough for comprehension. However, when she returned to New York in 1914, a more dialogical interpretation happened between the viewer O’Keeffe and the museum 291. As Rosand realizes,

Connoisseurship has always recognized the fundamental subjectivity of its operations, respecting intuition and celebrating the ‘good eye.’ In acknowledging drawing as a most personal statement, a direct expression of the character of the artist, it has, in effect, insisted on such critical subjectivity. Through a drawing, the connoisseur feels himself in privileged rapport with the artist, a meeting of two correspondingly fine and mutually confirming sensibilities (18).

A drawing is never a mere hand mark functioning as the notation of its creator; instead, it is a semiotic concept referring to that the cultural interpretation will take place when a viewer sees the object made before them. Entering the museum, O’Keeffe was surrounded by walls of evolutionary masterpieces. Moreover, as her familiarity with modernism increased, O’Keeffe found these new visual languages more intelligible (Wagner, 163). The museum as an environment acted a billboard, sending striking news from the frontline of art and transcribing the former artists’ ideas to its viewers. As Buran further explains, “in the case of a confrontation of works by different artists, the Museum imposes an amalgam of unrelated things among which chosen works are emphasized.” The 291 gallery accumulated different works to convey a single idea to Georgia O’Keeffe, a brand new landscape for her to explore. Through the dialogic process, she broke the traditional restrictions and landed on her unique planet.

Figure 2. Pablo Picasso, Buste De Femme Nue Face, 1963, Google Arts & Culture

Exhibitions as an interface – From private to public

Mainly focused on museums’ conceptualizing effect on O’Keeffe in the last part, now it is time to consider O’Keeffe as the message sender and explore how the public has opportunities to perceive her work. From the 19th century, the exhibition function starts shifting from merely displaying collections to provoking thought and exchanging ideas. The owner or the curator of museums deliberately organize and arrange collections to stimulate dynamic communication between artworks and viewers. 

Alfred Stieglitz, the founder of the 291 gallery, devoted increasing efforts to create a visual language for American modernism. He kept seeking new modern art and ideas and sharing his evolving thoughts with gallery visitors. Then he met Georgia O’Keeffe. In 1917, Alfred Stieglitz held the first solo exhibition of O’Keeffe’s artworks at 291, making her works from private to public (see figure 3). Showing a single artist’s work can produce a “flattening” effect (Buran, 191). If the 291 gallery was a billboard reporting the avant-garde news in the art world, the exhibition of O’Keeffe was like a headline on it, where the “miraculous” aspect of “successful” works can be reinforced. During the six-weeks presentation, O’Keeffe had twenty-two works on display, including a series called Specials.

Figure 3. Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition at 291, Interior Gallery View, 1917, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe

For example, No. 22 – Special is composed of a reddish-orange hill accompanied by a greenish-blue sky (see figure 4). Besides, No. 24 – Special is more abstract that consists of two wavy vertical stripes and a large round (see figure 5). The rhythmic gradient colors and abstract swelling forms were so unique that people could hardly find counterparts. Also, as a woman artist, she expressed her inner emotion with audacity through the canvas. There were few women artists at that time, let along a full revelation of feeling in their artworks. The reviewer Henry Tyrrell connected her art with symbolic of gendered insights, expressing “‘What every woman knows,’ but what women heretofore have kept to themselves.” (Wagner, 303) The exhibition served as an interface that Georgia O’Keeffe had an opportunity to appear in the art world as a modernist artist. On the other hand, the audience, ranging from connoisseurs to students, flocked into 291 to see the emerging superstar.

Figure 4. Georgia O’Keeffe, No. 22 – Special, 1916-1917, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe

Figure 5. Georgia O’Keeffe, No. 24 – Special / No. 24, 1916-1917, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe

In the following years, Alfred Stieglitz continued to hold exhibitions for O’Keeffe; for instance, in March 1924, he arranged his photographs and O’Keeffe’s works together to be shown at the Anderson Galleries. The continuous disclosures and promotions greatly helped O’Keeffe stay exposed to her audience and tracked the evolving steps of her creation.

Photographs as an interface – From a female artist to an artist who is a female

Ever since Louis Daguerre revolutionized photography, photographs made by a chemical or electronic process that fix an image projected from a lens started to gain its position both in the sociotechnical world and art. Central to the nineteenth-century debate about the nature of photography as new technology was the question as to how far it could be considered to be art (Wells and et. 14). Complete and faithful to human eyes, photography has then been accepted beyond mere documentation and considered as art in a realistic style. Similar to all types of art, photographs become nodes of expressing ideas and provoking communication. 

The photographs of O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz, the famous American photographer and her husband, have remarkably reinforced and reshaped O’Keeffe’s image in the art world. He began photographing her since 1917 and made more than five hundred photos until he retired. The photographs included portraits and nude captures, respectively establishing public interpretations. 

At that time, the art world was not welcoming to female artists. C. J. Bulliet, one of the most glaring sexist art critics of the 1920s, points out women as a whole was at the edge of the society: “women painters, like women poets, women novelists, women musicians, women politicians, women prisoners, have been lesser men.” They have gone far in imitation, but have not had the initiative or the ability to blaze new paths for themselves.” (138) After coming into fame in 1920, Georgia O’Keeffe joined one of the few women painters and shouted out her voice as a female. She was never constrained to express herself, not only in her paintings but also in her portraits. The photographs by Stieglitz and O’Keeffe in collaboration were more than simple pictures; instead, they were agents in the construction of new artistic, cultural and sexual meanings, even of personal narrative (Fillin-Yeh, 33). 

The nude portraits of O’Keeffe were a kind of objectification showing her feminine side. These images transformed O’Keeffe as a woman spectacle desiring for gaze. The breasts, the soft hair, and the belly were displayed straightforwardly with no tricks (see figure 6). 

Figure 6. Alfred Steiglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe by Stieglitz, 1919, Wikimedia

The other kind of her masculine photos further contributed to critical interpretations of her art relating to gendered lines—such photographs suggesting a more independent, strong, and cold image of O’Keeffe. For example, her portrait by Stieglitz in 1921 featured her dressing in an oversized man’s hat, dark loos jacket, and stiff white shirt (see figure 7). Susan Fillin-Yeh referred it to the dandy: one who elevates esthetics to a living religion but not an appearance pursuer (Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life”). 

Figure 7. Alfred Steiglitz, “Georgia O’Keeffe: a portrait”, 1921, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

In a climate when women’s images and actions as independent artists were unprecedented, she was fiercely discussed at that time. Critics assumed her conveying something uniquely feminine, while she proved herself as only a woman to be explored, including her experiences, feelings, and appearance. Moreover, the core of modernism lies not only in self-defining artistic strategy but also in sexual freedom encouragement. O’Keeffe complemented the latter one in forms of personal photographs.

Paintings as an interface – From abstraction to Freudian

If museums, exhibitions, and photographs are external nodes constructed for interpretation of O’Keeffe, her paintings are direct internal expressions of herself. In contrast to more realistic styles, O’Keeffe prefers to paint with her eyes closed. Hence, the center of her paintings is neither to express intense emotions as Expressionist, not to rearrange objects as Cubism. For O’Keeffe, the world is within herself. She tries to create her own atmosphere depending on what she had seen or felt, thereby creating her own unique style. Her artworks are not constrained to abstract, but also surrealism in her late creations. However, all of them fall into the category of modernism, American modernism in particular. The most famous theme she depicted is magnified flowers. She has made more than two hundred flower paintings since the 1920s.

Take Flower Abstraction 1924 as an example (see figure 8). Spiraling reddish-white tones with slightly bluish-green flow upward from the bottom as if looking into a flower from a zoom-in view. The subject is not readily identifiable as a flower as it seems to extend beyond its frame. Nevertheless, soon “petals” are distinguished by tonal variations of deep red/ blending into light grey/white.

Figure 8. Georgia O’Keeffe, Flower Abstraction, 1924, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Sensual, sexual, soft, and spiritual, her works have been interpreted in multiple ways. The predominant one has connected them with sexuality and Freudian. Freudian psychoanalytic theories penetrated American society during the first two decades of the twentieth century (Fryd, 285). The spread of Freudian had descended from elite circles to popular cultures. Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, believed that one way of looking at art, except for its aesthetic value, was to consider it as an expression of the artist’s unconscious thoughts or desire. Since flowers are double-sexed, the sexuality in O’Keeffe’s flower imagery randomizes human impulses and anatomy (Fillin-Yeh, 41). Another example is her depiction of New York City (see figure 9). American society at that time considered cities to be a masculine domain where men manipulated from creation to management and from photography to paintings. However, O’Keeffe entered that domain by portraying New York skyscrapers.

Figure 9. Georgia O’Keeffe, Radiator Building — Night, New York, 1927, The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Bentonville, Arkansas

Edward Westermarck summarized the Freudian theories that “all hard, elongated, tubular objects are a symbol of the phallus – sticks, umbrellas, chimneys, church spires, revolvers and what not [such as skycrapers], while soft or hollow objects are likely to be the vagina.” (22) According to the summary, O’Keeffe’s floral paintings and phallic skyscrapers demonstrated her symbolic masculine power. Therefore, many critics assumed her womanliness to be a mask hide the possession of masculinity and avert retaliation if been exposed. O’Keeffe herself denied the Freudian interpretations. She once responded to the Freudian analysis of her floral paintings, “Well, I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you wrote about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don’t.” Even though the connection between her works and Freudian theories might be misinterpreted, the discussions and debates at that time were actual and crucial, which relocated the position O’Keeffe stands as an artist.

Google Arts & Cultures

Almost eighty years after her passing away, the world keeps finding interfaces to interpret O’Keeffe and her artworks, especially utilizing new digital technologies that endow reproducibility of art. One representative example is Google Arts & Cultures, which is an online platform connected with hundreds of museums across the world to digitally display artworks with new technologies.

Landing on the main page of “Georgia O’Keeffe” (see figure 10), we encounter an introduction followed by an online exhibition and three stories that enable viewers to explore with high-resolution images and 3D virtual tours (see figure 11). Also, it listed all her public collections organized by time, popularity, and hues (see figure 12). The new progressing interface elevates viewers’ participatory, creates an encyclopedic medium, expands spatial restrictions, enhances the entertaining experience, and breaks the now and then of artworks. The digital touch certainly cannot replace physical communications that happened in museums; notwithstanding, it can provide an innovative space to shed new light into dialogues between visitors and the artist.

Figure 10. Google Arts & Culture, “Georgia O’Keeffe”

Figure 11. Google Arts & Culture, “Georgia O’Keeffe”

Figure 12. Google Arts & Culture, “Georgia O’Keeffe”


Interpreting a painter never equals to understanding the painting technique or unveiling the object. Instead, it is the cultural environment consisting of social changes and ideological evolutions that needs discovering. This essay provides the contexts for the reason why Georgia O’Keeffe is a veritable American modernist in aspects of museums, exhibitions, photographs, and paintings. The museum as an environment acted a billboard, sending striking news from the frontline of art, thereby reinforcing O’Keeffe’s pioneering impacts. The paintings of her stimulated viewers to associate with prevalent ideologies such as Freudian theories. Her portraits complement the paintings to further express herself, meanwhile propel gender freedom. Besides, as art is evolving, its interpretations are growing as well. With the vigorous development of technologies, people are seeking new ways to bridge interpretations, such as Google Arts & Culture. It gathers all collections from the partners and creates an encyclopedia of O’Keeffe while facilitates visitors to further explore the artworks with new techniques. Interpreting artworks via multiple interfaces are seeing through distinct angles. By combining various aspects, a puzzle of how Georgia becomes O’Keeffe is decoded.

Work Cited

Alexander, Edward P. Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1979. Print.

Arrowsmith, Alexandra, and Thomas West. Two Lives: Georgia O’Keeffe & Alfred Stieglitz: a Conversation in Paintings and Photographs. Hale in Association with Callaway Editions and the Phillips Collection, 1993.

Baudelaire, Charles. “The Painter of Modern Life.” Oxford First Source. Oxford University Press. Date of access 4 May. 2020,

Buren, Daniel. “Function of the Museum.” In Theories of Contemporary Art, edited by Richard Hertz, 2nd ed., 189–92. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

Eldredge, Charles C., and Georgia O’Keeffe. Georgia O’Keeffe: American and Modern. Yale University Press, 1993.

Fillin-Yeh, S. “Dandies, Marginality and Modernism: Georgia O’Keeffe, Marcel Duchamp and Other Cross-Dressers.” Oxford Art Journal, vol. 18, no. 2, 1995, pp. 33–44., doi:10.1093/oxartj/18.2.33.

Friedlander, Max J. On Art and Connoisseurship. Franklin Classics, 2018.

Fryd, Vivien Green. Art and the Crisis of Marriage: Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe. The University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Fryd, Vivien Green. “Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘Radiator Building’: Gender, Sexuality, Modernism, and Urban Imagery.” Winterthur Portfolio, vol. 35, no. 4, 2000, pp. 269–289., doi:10.1086/496831.

Gaertner, Johannes A., and E. H. Gombrich. “Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation.” Books Abroad, vol. 34, no. 4, 1960, p. 364., doi:10.2307/40115100.

Harrison, Charles. “Modernism,” in Critical Terms for Art History, ed. Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff, 2nd ed. (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), 188.

McClellan, Andrew. “A Brief History of the Art Museum Public.” In Art and Its Publics: Museum Studies at the Millennium, edited by Andrew McClellan, 1–50. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003.

Mitchell, Marilyn Hall. “Sexist Art Criticism: Georgia O’Keeffe: A Case Study.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 3, no. 3, 1978, pp. 681–687., doi:10.1086/493510.

Wagner, Ann Prentice. “Living on Paper”: Georgia O’Keeffe and the Culture of Drawing and Watercolor in the Stieglitz Circle. Doctoral Dissertation, 2005.

Wells, Liz and etl. Photography: A Critical Introduction. 5th ed. London; New York: Routledge, 2015.

Westermarck, Edward. Three Essays on Sex and Marriage. London: Macmillan, 1934. Print.

Rosand, David. Drawing Acts. Place of publication not identified: CAMBRIDGE UNIV Press, 2016. Print.

The Art of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: The Spirit of Experimentation Across Medium

CCTP802: Art and Media Interfaced

Final Project

Ruoyang Sun


The Art of László Moholy-Nagy: The Spirit of Experimentation Across Medium

“My talent lies in the expression of my life and creative power through light, color and form”

——László Moholy-Nagy



László Moholy-Nagy is a Hungarian born artist whose art encompasses a great variety of medium and concepts. As one of the early teachers of Bauhaus School of Design in Weimar, he was greatly influenced by its pedagogy and guidelines, but excels more than his contemporaries in the experimentations of pushing forward human perceptions of light and motion. At the same time, he was a prolific writer whose essays dealt with revolutionary topics such as the shift of the function of art, combining technology and art into industrial design, as well as an array of educational visions. This paper is an attempt to explore the common themes that runs through Moholy-Nagy’s work across medium and discuss how it connects to his ideas, life and philpsophy. As an artist, László Moholy-Nagy presents himself as an avant-garde experimentalist, the spirit of which roots from his response to imagine a future for art and technology. 

Keywords: László Moholy-Nagy, the Bauhaus School, Art and Technology, Medium, Light and Motion


Art, as a cultural and social category, is a constant dialogue that is vocalized in the artworld or circle and also engaging with social history at large. (Irvine) On one hand, this might add to the obstacle to interpreting artworks, as the background and context of specific artwork or genre sometimes play a crucial role in understanding what art has to address, express or convey. But at the same time, it provides certain methods to follow as we build knowledge around art conversations and history. This paper follows such strand of tracing the context and history of an artist through which builds interpretation to the works of László Moholy-Nagy.

Between 19th and 20th century, the artworld is shaken by technological advances, challenging the existing understanding of artistic representation and place of art in the world in general. For example, the technology of optical projection challenge people’s way of seeing through lenses. At the same time, creations started to become more and more largely reproducible. In the famous essay “Art in the Time of Reproducibility”, Benjamin expressed an almost ethical concern to the fundamental shift in the possibility of medium, which might cause the loss of “aura” of the works of art. As passive as he is, the artworld progressed with its own way. Modern and contemporary art became increasingly focused on the affordances of technology such as producing more ways to represent physical world or conceptual ideas.(Benjamin & Jennings)

With this very general sketch of historical circumstances, this paper will be looking at a Hungarian born artist László Moholy-Nagy who had great influence in the art conversation from 1920s through 40s and left behind considerable number of art works in different medium. Looking at László Moholy-Nagy could be challenging as he was involved in multiple types of works around various media. Also, most of his works are from a modernist standpoint which reflects a spirit to break up, rupture or diverge from established conventions in art. Though a lot of modernist ideas including Moholy-Nagy’s are incorporated into our daily practices, it could still appear hard to interpret in their original and prototypical forms.

Introduction: From Bauhaus in Weimar to New Chicago School

I would like to categorize the artist’s life in three phases, separated in the middle by his years teaching in Bauhaus.

Early Years

In his younger years, the artist majorly took literary interests, and befriended progressive young writers and musicians. The following year after he was enrolled at University of Budapest in 1913, he was called into the Austro-Hungarian army which left him wounded and shell shocked. During his time of recovery, he kept working with “Ma”(today) group that he co-founded and later concentrated interests in modern painting, a period he was mostly majorly influenced by Russian artists. In 1920 he started making collages and “Fotograms”, that is, “cameraless pho-tographs.”

Bauhaus years

The winter of 1920 to 21, the first exhibition of his work in “Sturm Gallery” in Berlin took place which built a bigger influence for him in the art circle in Europe. In 1922, Gropius, founder of the Staatliche Bauhaus in Weimar saw Moholy-Nagy‘s work and appointed him professor, here he focused on typographic design and experimental film. Here he was the head of the metal workshop at Weimar Bauhaus starting from 1923. He invested continuous interest in photography during his year teaching and making art in Bauhaus. The teachings of metal workshop also built foundations for later sculptural works.

Post-Bauhaus Years

In 1928, Moholy-Nagy left Bauhaus Weimar for Berlin under emerging Nazism German politics where he made a brilliant career for himself as a stage designer for the progressive State Opera and the Piscator Theatre. His interest in static photography gradually declined and he began to experiment in films, photograms and sound film combinations. He continues to be art directors and worked on various publications in places like London and Amsterdam until he was offered the directorship of the New Bauhaus in Chicago in 1938. Here he was able to wield more at will his artistic and education pursuits. He finished the famous light-space modulator in 1940, a work that still operates once a month in the Harvard Art museum. Till 1946 worked as freelance artist and designer, in art he mainly resumed to painting, took interest in watercolors and ink drawings, creating a variety of new approaches. This period was characterized by a style of abstraction and more bold use of colors. (In Memoriam Laszlo Moholy-Nagy)

Looking at Moholy-Nagy’s timeline of career, there are at least five kinds of different forms he was openly associated with. We can also get a glance of some possible influence that runs through the spectrum of his art. His early witness of war induced a style that is expressionist, bitter or rather realistic portrayals of people in war. Being a scout in the battery, a role in the army that required the upmost level of precision of detection with tools. (In Memoriam Laszlo Moholy-Nagy) Though he rarely talked about his identity as a veteran in later remarks, his many theories and claims about adapting the new rhythm of modern life through accepting the objective truth and answering the need to incorporate new technology into art. This could be seen as a response to war circumstances to reclaim the agency of man in technological and often times indifferent. This also resonates with his publicly announced affiliation with constructivism, an art movement which favored applied art with a social purpose. The social purpose here could partly be seen in his engagement with the Bauhaus which welcoming of the integration of technology and industry into the arts. Evidently, he also involved himself actively in much technique embedded industries such as typography, publication and stage performances. Throughout his career, László Moholy-Nagy unremittingly practices his understanding of technology, either through still or motion optical lenses, sculpture or other. The following part of this paper focuses on his art across different medium and tries to uncover the reason behind his relentless effort. 

Works of Photograms

There are not a great number of artists who were interested in this seemingly troublesome form of creation. The production of photogram does not rely on a camera. It is a process that is more direct and calculated, fixating light and shadow with much more crudeness. Possible influence might come from Paris-based American photographer Man Ray who was most noted for photogram art. Different from Man Ray who was mostly experimenting with the surrealist possibilities of such medium, Moholy-Nagy presented his own understanding of light and perception. For Moholy, photograms were never merely works of art, but experiments to expand human sensory perception, an issue of human sensitivity in face of technological revolution in optics and motion he identified. The puzzle he faced was how to adapt human senses to understand the technological modern world and how to make humans perceive light in a way. In his 1922 publications in “Produktion-Reproduktion” (in a sense he was also dealing with what the Benjamin was trying to explain, how the age of technological reproducibility changes our ways of perceiving not only art but also reshapes many more processes of the art. Instead of dreading the death of “aura” or the loss of an authentic way of viewing, he welcomes the re-shape of human perception in general, proposing a kind of sensitivity towards technological change) (Moholy-Nagy, 1922). Through making multiple exposures and convergence of different light source on developing-out paper and the frequent use of diffused light through oil, water or acid, he places daily objects in the beginning of these attempts and later self-made materials of different kinds, some in motion and others just stilly suspended.


“Fotogramm” László Moholy-Nagy, 1926, silver print, Ford Motor Company Collection, the Met

The results of this special form of photography produce a magic-like effect of the interplay of light, shadow, tones and textures. Moholy-Nagy believed a good understanding of photograms—of how light works—was an essential prerequisite to mastering photography saying “The photogram, image formation outside the camera is the real key to photography, it embodies the essence… that allows us to capture light on light sensitive material without the use of any camera.” (Audio on Moholy-Nagy, Photograms) In essence, his photogram was his first response to the perception of light for a modern person’s consciousness, which could be obtuse facing the overwhelming and prevalent existence of technology, maximizing the manipulation of objects to show the almost “plasticicality” of light. The photograms invite audience to take notice of the medium itself and the arrangement of light on print.

Works of Photography

Moholy-Nagy’s photography is also marked by his distinct style. You see his lenses from unexpected parts of urban building, focusing on lines and forms made up of light and shadow of various objects of different size and shape, as well as pointing to a specific subject in a surprising way. Either from top, upward or diagonal angles of viewing, his photography also seemed to fully “respect” the objective world, as many of his photography looks very much like experiments of placing the lens at a random position to the objects. As aesthetically appealing as they may seem to contemporary eyes, Moholy-Nagy was more interested expressing his understanding of the relation between photography and the objective world. He tried to break the general and subjective eye-view and emphasizes a more truthful representation of the real world from the camera, ultimately challenging old ways of seeing. This idea was carried on by photography of different nature, journalists, amateurs, and photography has indeed been transplanted into many practices of seeing in the modern vision since then. One of his most famous quotes is “The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” (Moholy-Nagy, 2019) Illiterate is probably a use of exaggeration, but people who cannot perceive to some extent through optical or digital lenses are definitely missing out largely on the perception of the modern eye.


Series of Photography, 1925 – 1929, Gelatin silver print, Photograph, Moholy-Nagy Foundation 

Works of Collage

Throughout his years in experiment with photography, he also made many works of photomontage or collage, which are provocative upon view. Handling the picture at will, he juxtaposes objects of different size, organize them together with lines and graphs and imagined spatial relation, sometimes also playing with copying and pasting images and adjusting the degree of color. These works also incorporates style such as the Dada artists and surrealism.

               Series of Collage, 1925, gelatin silver print, Photoplastic, Moholy-Nagy Foundation

Kinetic Sculpture

Skipping many of Moholy-Nagy’s interesting works of motion picture, we come to one of his most influential works which takes his understanding towards light, color, motion and technology to the next level. As photography made snapshots possible, pioneers such as Duchamp (in his famous Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2) to Giacomo Balla(in Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash) are starting to see the world of snapshots taken in a duration of time, which forms the way of seeing and representing motion. The following is a video recording of this work with a functional name Light Prop for an Electric Stage or Light Space Modulator, one of the earliest electrically powered kinetic sculptures. The sculpture represents, up to this point, everything that Moholy-Nagy was concerned with, the use of technology for a daily purpose (in this case, to fulfill the function of lighting a performance stage), use of material, and most saliently the control of light in different colors. The structure of the sculpture is engineered with precision and determination in design of light and movement. His sculpture, meticulously designed to place light in motion together, is almost like a program of live light effects before computers were in use, which tells us how avant-garde he was in terms of thinking about moving light and its possible effects.

Videos, Accessed from Vimeo, Harvard Art Museum 2020

Moholy’s abstract film Lightplay: Black, White, Gray as seen in the video above, is a presentation of how to utilize the effects from his light equipment, also a culmination of his art works in films. Designed typography in motion, the use of moving light and color, the layering of grayscale are all practices that were later became more widespread in films. This film also takes his aesthetics design concepts onto motion screens. 

One of his contemporaries had such remark, “the impression of vastness, that has been handled with the comprehension of the continuity of universal rhythms, rather than, as in the phrase ‘galactic nebulae’, an intellectual, endless, non-human void.” (In Memoriam Laszlo Moholy-Nagy) Light-space modulator is indeed about the rhythm of objective world, uncovering and demonstrating the law of light and motion. His obsession with the world of objective truth is once again in play.

Synthesizing Moholy-Nagy’s Ideas Across Works: “Not against technical progress, but with it”

Another one of Moholy-Nagy’s importance identity other than a restless writer and artist is educator. As a matter of fact, most of his own writings are organized like guidelines and handbook for prospective artists of his time. Living in a time of rapid social changes and technological advances, Moholy-Nagy often envisioned and made judgements and predictions about future circumstances. Just as his persistence in the importance of literacy of optics and cameras, he also raised many ideas of education of art, aesthetics, design and technology. He was generous about all his ideas. He teaches students to learn to observe and think, to reflect on the relationship between formal elements such as lines, tones, and spaces. His teaching method encourages students to carefully study the surrounding objects and find out the forms and designs that are not noticed. He also encouraged students to make use of the projected shape when arranging pictures.

Aside from specific teachings, he was explicit about his understanding of the task the next generation of artists in his educational visions.

The Whole Man

Responding to a social environment of war and advancement at the same time, László Moholy-Nagy’s view of the human circumstance is essentially humane, trying to imagine a future of integration of art into everyday practice, putting in Bauhaus’s ethos as pronounced by Gropius, Push the combination of art and technology into a “new unity”. (Siebenbrodt & Schöbe) In Moholy-Nagy’s preparatory courses in Bauhaus as well later Chicago School pedagogy, the emphasis on sensory trainings are finally put together into the educational ideal of “the whole man”. In the “New Vision”, he made a clear statement, “A specialized education becomes meaningful only if an integrated man is developed in terms of his biological functions, so that he will achieve a natural balance of intellectual and emotional power” and “to master the whole of life” men need to be equipped with “with clarity of feeling and sobriety of knowledge will be able to adjust to complex requirements” Moholy tries to combat the coming future of “fragmented man” (der sektorenhafte Mensch) under the influence of industrial production. The function of this form of progressive education is to liberate people from alienation control, to separate the original experience from life experience and body experience, to re-experience as “expression of organic power” and self-actualization creation, to restore self to “the whole man”.  (Moholy-Nagy, 1955) On this basis, the training to mobilize multiple senses is aimed at “using the most primitive source” to make each student “distant from personal experience and relying on second-hand experience to build his own world” to have a complete personal development. (Design and form: the basic course at the Bauhaus and later) “The Whole Man” is a guideline that requires students to hold to the unity of life. In a sense, the efforts of his education are a positive and activist response to his concerns, devoting the his synthesized, practicing his own integrity of his “whole man”. The concept of “the whole man”, from my perspective, occupies an important position in his art theory: his art is to create the happiness for all people and the ordinary life, not merely to create art that intoxicates individuals, which also shows his constructivist and near-socialist ideals. Art, to Moholy-Nagy, is desacralized and shares a blurry line with the whole experience as a modern man in a technological jungle. In his views, “technical progress should never be the goal, but instead the means”, a means to sharpen and re-shape the biological perceptions and traits of man. 

Kinetisch Konstruktives System: Bau mit Bewegungsbahnen für Spiel und Beförderung (Kinetic Constructive System: Structure with Moving Parts for Play and Conveyance), 1922, Collage, Moholy-Nagy Foundation 


Through studying the art of László Moholy-Nagy, we are offered a window to some of the early Weimar Bauhaus as well as early 20th century artworld ideologies. Rising from an urgent concern to many fundamental questions in human existence and perception, Moholy-Nagy answered with own education and technological visions and persisted in expression in different forms of medium. Today, many of Moholy’s ideas are unconscious incorporated into our daily practices. It is not hard to find traces of his ideas in contemporary works from poster and typography designs to motion-based films, which is why his artworks are incredibly appealing or agreeable to audience of the present era. He was a pioneer in thinking about light, space, motion and the ways to take advantage of such object views. All his efforts of experiment were led by the philosophy of thinking and imagining a future experience of living that is post-war, technology infiltrated and in which industry production in art and everyday life is gaining overall significance. His idea of “whole man” envisages a man of agency and sensitivity in such challenges.



Audio on Moholy-Nagy, Photograms, 1922. (2019, November 06). Retrieved May 03, 2020, from

Benjamin, W., & Jennings, M. W. (2010). The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility [First Version]. Grey Room, 39, 11-37. doi:10.1162/grey.2010.1.39.11

Design and form: The basic course at the Bauhaus and later. (1975). London: Thames and Hudson.

Guggenheim Museum. (1947). In Memoriam Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. [Brochure]. New York: Author.

Harvard Art Museums. (2020, May 03). László Moholy-Nagy’s “Light Prop for an Electric Stage (Light-Space Modulator)” in Motion. Retrieved May 03, 2020, from

Harvard Art Museums. (2020, May 03). “Lightplay: Black-White-Gray” by László Moholy-Nagy. Retrieved May 03, 2020, from

Irvine, M. (n.d.). The Institutional Theory of Art and the Artworld. 

Moholy-Nagy, L. (1922). “Produktion-Reproduktion”. De Stijl, (7), 97-101.

                     ——. (1955). The new vision: And, Abstract of an artist. New York: Wittenborn.

                     ——. (1969). Vision in motion. Chicago: P. Theobold.

                       ——.(2019). Painting, Photography, Film Bauhausbücher 8. Zürich: Müller, Lars.

NAGY FOUNDATION: ART DATABASE. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2020, from

Siebenbrodt, M., & Schöbe, L. (2009). History of Bauhaus. In Bauhaus 1919-1933: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin. New York: Parkstone International.



Final Project–Siyao (Skye) He

The Relationship Between Art and Pop Culture


             Art and pop culture have both been important topics that are discussed by people endlessly. They have a close relationship with each other. Art influences pop culture a lot. Meanwhile, pop culture has a huge impact on art. In this project, I would like to examine the relationship between art and pop culture. There are two parts in this paper. In the first part, I look at how art influences pop culture and examine the phenomenon through the case of Girl with a Pearl Earring painting and Girl with a Pearl Earring film. Another case I include is Yayoi Kusama’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton. The second part is how pop culture influences art. In this part, I discuss the phenomenon using the artworks of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Jeff Koons.


            “Art is perhaps one of the most pervasive concepts of human existence and influences us in more ways than we can imagine” (Naletelich & Paswan, 2018). Discussion about art and its impact have been continued for decades. The topic is discussed on different occasions. Scholars do researches relating to the topic. Professors and students talk about it in classes. People recommend artworks to each other in informal situations, etc.

             Pop culture is what most people care about in daily life. Nowadays there are more and more connections and cross-overs between art and pop culture. How do they influence each other? Does the appropriation of art on pop culture or the appropriation of pop culture on art change people’s view about art or pop culture?

How Art Influences Pop Culture

            Art has influenced pop culture in many different ways. In real life, we always see examples showing how art has a huge impact on pop culture. Girl with a Pearl Earring is a painting (oil on canvas) created by Johannes Vermeer, who was a Dutch painter, in about 1665. The size of the painting is 17.5 in x 15 in, and it is now at Mauritshuis, The Hague in Netherlands. In the painting, a young girl who wears yellow clothes and blue and yellow turban, looks back to the viewers. On her left ear, there is a big pearl earring. The artwork traveled to a lot of different places for audiences to view, such as Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Francisco, New York City, Bologna, and Tokyo.

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            In 2018, a research project The Girl in the Spotlight examined Girl with a Pearl Earring in both micro-scale and macro-scale. “By mixing different pigments, and/or layering different paints on top of each other, Vermeer achieved a wide range of colours with his palette” (Vandivere, Wadum, & Leonhardt, 2020). In the painting, the color yellow, blue, white, red, ivory, and black are main colors. “Vermeer created the illusion of light falling on textured fabrics by applying clusters of small round dots. Blue dots dapple the surface of the headscarf, and yellow dots speckle the Girl’s jacket” (Vandivere, Wadum, & Leonhardt, 2020). The study revealed that “some dots overlap with each other: these double dots further enhance the three-dimensional effect” (Vandivere, Wadum, & Leonhardt, 2020). Since the painting has been existed for more than 300 years, some changes occurred to the painting, both physically and chemically.

           Although the painting is very famous today, and plenty of researches and case studies have been done about the painting, we know very little about the story behind the masterpiece. There exist so many questions which need to be answered. The most important ones: who is the girl in the painting? Did she have any relationship with the painter Johannes Vermeer? There are many speculations around the girl’s identity and her relationship with Johannes Vermeer. Many people speculate that the girl is Johannes Vermeer’s eldest daughter Maria Vermeer because Maria’s age in 1665 matches the age of the girls on the painting. Another conjecture is the girl being Magdalena Van Ruijven, the daughter of Pieter Van Ruijven, who was Johannes Vermeer’s patron.

            In the 2003 film Girl with a Pearl Earring, the girl is Griet who works as a maid in the painter Johannes Vermeer’s house. The story in the film was adapted from the novel Girl with a Pearl Earring written by Tracy Chevalier. Tracy Chevalier was initially inspired by a poster of Girl with a Pearl Earring. When she was 19, she saw it in her sister’s room and knew that she needed a copy of her own. After she bought her own poster, she takes the poster with her wherever she lives. Tracy Chevalier talked about why Girl with a Pearl Earring has been so “seductive”, not just to her, but also to a lot of other viewers. The first reason is that the painting is very beautiful. Another feature Tracy Chevalier mentioned is that “the girl looks familiar” because “We may not know who she is, but we feel we know her because she is looking at us with such intimacy. We mistake this look for familiarity” (Google Arts & Culture, n.d.). Since the girl in the painting did not face the audience, we cannot see her whole face. Tracy Chevalier insisted that “the painting is not actually a portrait of a particular person, but what the Dutch called a tronie – the head of an ideal “type,” like “a soldier” or “a musician” – or, in this case, “a young beauty”” (Google Arts & Culture, n.d.). The third characteristic is mystery – we know nothing about the girl’s identity and the story behind the painting.

            Tracy Chevalier mentioned that the girl’s ambiguous expression made her wonder what happened between the girl and who drew this painting. That is also why she wanted to write the novel – to “explore the mystery of her gaze”, and also, to her, “Girl with a Pearl Earring is neither a universal tronie, nor a portrait of a specific person. It is a portrait of a relationship” (Google Arts & Culture, n.d.).

            Tracy Chevalier’s story is about love. The story started with Griet’s family needs her help financially, so she goes to Johannes Vermeer’s house to work as a maid. She works really hard. Griet is curious about the world behind the half-open door – Vermeer’s studio, which she is supposed to clean. Vermeer was very good at painting, but his family still experiences financial difficulties sometimes. Vermeer’s wife Catharina is always angry about their financial difficulties and even destroyed one of Vermeer’s painting. After that, Vermeer does not want her to be in his studio. Vermeer and Griet start to have conversation about art and painting. Vermeer even teaches Griet how a camera obscura works. Griet is the only person in that house that Vermeer talks with about the art and painting. Van Ruijven, who is Vermeer’s patron notices Griet and wants Vermeer to draw a painting on him and Griet together. Vermeer refuses but would like to draw a painting of Griet alone. Vermeer pierces Griet’s left ear and put the pearl earring on her to finish the painting. The pain from the ear piercing and her feelings about Vermeer make the expression on Griet’s face complicated. Catharina is very angry about Vermeer’s painting and his relationship with Griet. She tries to destroy the painting but does not succeed. Then she asks Griet to leave the house, which Vermeer does not oppose. After Griet left the house, another servant from Vermeer’s house visits Griet and brings her the pearl earrings as a gift.

            The novel and the film were both popular and successful. Many people were moved by this story. Since then, a lot of audiences started to view the original painting of Girl with a Pearl Earring through the lens of romance and love. When they see the painting somewhere, maybe in the museum or on a copy in a magazine, they see Griet and her sad love from the story. This makes me wonder, what if the novel or the film had told another story, in which the relationship between Griet and Vermeer was not romance but some other connections? What if the girl is Vermeer’s daughter or his patron’s daughter, just like what people speculate? Will this change people’s views about the original painting?

            Tracy Chevalier’s story is completely fictionalized, based on her understanding and interpretation of the painting. Other people may understand or interpret it differently. However, what we can learn from this example is that, art influences people and pop culture. Even if it is a painting created over three centuries ago, Girl with a Pearl Earring still gives the writer the inspiration to write the story. Then it reaches more audiences via the fictionalized story. There are a lot of merchandise on today’s market relating to Girl with a Pearl Earring, such as posters, mugs, postcards, tote bags, and etc. The original painting and its painter Johannes Vermeer gained more and more viewers, and people in increasing number are curious and interested in the painting.

            Girl with a Pearl Earring is not the single case. There are a lot of masterpieces included in the media like films. Some paintings are just decorations in films while other artworks serve as important cues. For instance, the film The Da Vinci Code uses Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings as cues throughout the film.

            Art does not just have influences on media like film or TV shows. It also has an important impact on fashion and business. The Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama collaborated with Louis Vuitton in 2012. The collection “includes an extensive range of shoes, bags, dresses, and scarves, all reflecting Kusama’s distinctive aesthetic” (Swanson, 2012). Louis Vuitton’s former creative director Marc Jacobs, who has his own fashion brand now, visited Yayoi Kusama in Tokyo in 2016. They discussed shared attitudes, opinions, and how they both believe that there lacked a “distinction between what they make and who they are” (Swanson, 2012). Yayoi Kusama and Marc Jacobs respected each other’s attitudes towards both art and fashion. They collaborated on not just the merchandise, but also Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective art show.

            According to Lisa Armstrong, “The Louis Vuitton collaboration with Yayoi Kusama is, apparently, its most successful art union ever, which probably means it’s the most successful art-fashion union of all time” (Armstrong, 2012). The merchandise they made were sold out repeatedly. Selfridges also invited and welcomed the collection into its store on Oxford Street. This huge success demonstrated that art and fashion can collaborate with each other and create values of their own.

Picture from:

            Yayoi Kusama’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton is not the only case that art influences fashion. More and more designer brands want to include art in their new collection to attract customers. According to Kim Winser, “over the years, art and fashion have enjoyed a rich relationship, sometimes bold and brazen, often more understated, yet always stretching way beyond the boundaries of geography to bring global influences to our wardrobes” (Winser, n.d.). In her article The Love Affair Between Fashion and Art, Winser used Yves St Laurent’s distinguished 1965 shift dress, which replicated “Piet Mondrian’s renowned primary-colored block print, highlighted the relevance of cubist art in popular culture in the sixties” as an example to demonstrate how designers get inspiration from art (Winser, n.d.).  

           Henrik Hagtvedt and Vanessa Patrick examined the phenomenon “art infusion” in their research Art Infusion: The Influence of Visual Art on the Perception and Evaluation of Consumer Products in 2008. Art infusion refers to the “general influence of the presence of art on consumer perceptions and evaluations of products with which it is associated” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). In three different studies, they investigated art infusion phenomenon in packaging, advertising, and product design.

           In the first study, they conducted the research at a restaurant. The researchers prepared two sets of silverware in black velvet boxes. On the front face of one set, there appears Vincent van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night, which represents an art image. On the front face of the other set, there is a photograph of a typical Café which was taken at night. This photograph represents a non-art image. The result of this study showed that “the art image led to higher product evaluations than the nonart image, demonstrating the art infusion effect” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008).

           In the second study, they wanted to “demonstrate the content independent nature of the art infusion phenomenon—that is, that the influence of visual art does not depend on what is depicted in the artwork but rather on general connotations of luxury associated with the artwork” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). In the study, 107 undergraduate students participated and answered to questionnaires relating to the art infusion phenomenon in advertising. They were randomly assigned to three different bathroom fittings advertisements which contained Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, a poster of the film Girl with a Pearl Earring featuring Scarlett Johansson dressing the same with the girl in the original painting and posing the same gesture, or no image respectively. The results of the study showed that “the product in the advertisement with the art image was evaluated more favorably than the product in the advertisement with the nonart image or with no image” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008).

           In the third study, Henrik Hagtvedt and Vanessa Patrick used soap dispensers as their stimulus. They put three different images on the soap dispensers. The first one is “an artwork with positive content” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). The artwork they chose was Claude Monet’s “Palazzo da Mula (depicting buildings overlooking a Venetian canal)” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). The second one was “J.M.W. Turner’s painting The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons (October 16, 1834; depicting the violent image of burning buildings on the banks of the River Thames” which referred to the “artwork with negative content” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). The third one they chose was “a photograph with content similar to that of the positive artwork”, which was “a photograph of buildings overlooking a Venetian canal” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). The researchers recruited seventy-six undergraduate students for this study. The participants were randomly assigned to one of the three groups (group with Monet’s painting, group with Turner’s painting, and group with the photograph) and were given a photograph of one of three soap dispensers. After they viewed the photograph, there were asked to answer the questions about the product. The results of the study showed that “participants evaluated products with art (both Monet and Turner) more favorably than products without art (Canal), lending support to the content-independent nature of the art infusion effect” (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008). In this study, no matter what the content of the art is, positive or negative, the soap dispensers with art image on it were rated more favorably than the soap dispenser with non-art image on it. There was no huge difference between the rating of the soap dispenser with Monet’s painting (positive artwork) and Turner’s painting (negative artwork), which showed what mattered was not the content but being art.   

           In another research Art infusion in retailing: The effect of art genres, Kelly Naletelich and Audhesh K. Paswan examined how different art genres impact “the relationship between purchase intention and its antecedents (shopper, store and product characteristics)” (Naletelich & Paswan, 2018). The researchers contacted the research using online survey. The research concludes that “presence of art, especially abstract art, does influence the relationships between purchase intention and its determinants” (Naletelich & Paswan, 2018). Naletelich and Paswan discussed it in detail with different art genres. “In the presence of abstract art, all three consumer centric factors, i.e., hedonic and utilitarian motivation, and openness to art, the fact that the consumers made the choice, and product aesthetics are positively associated with purchase intention” while “the presence of realist art had a very lack luster effect. Only product aesthetics and product symbolism was positively associated with purchase intention” (Naletelich & Paswan, 2018). Last but not least, “when art is absent, purchase intention is positively associated with hedonic motivation, store atmosphere, store’s social environment, and product aesthetics, but negatively with utilitarian motivation” (Naletelich & Paswan, 2018).

          Some people think that putting art in pop culture is beneficial to both art and pop culture. For art, this phenomenon can attract more audiences to the original artwork and learn about it. For pop culture, art brings inspirations and also attracts more consumers. However, some people do not think it is a good idea to combine them together. When we talk about the phenomenon that art has been combining with pop culture and putting on merchandise and market, we cannot avoid the topic of reproduction of art, especially the viewpoints that Walter Benjamin upheld.  

          Walter Benjamin talked about technological reproducibility in his well-known article The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility. He mentioned that, “In principle, the work of art has always been reproducible. Objects made by humans could always be copied by humans. Replicas were made by pupils in practicing for their craft, by masters in disseminating their works, and, finally, by third parties in pursuit of profit”, however, technological reproduction is something different (Benjamin, 1936). Walter Benjamin insisted that “In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art-its unique existence in a particular place. It is this unique existence-and nothing else-that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject” (Benjamin, 1936). He also argued that “The here and now of the original underlies the concept of its authenticity” and “The authenticity of a thing is the quintessence of all that is transmissible in it from its origin on, ranging from its physical duration to the historical testimony relating to it. Since the historical testimony is founded on the physical duration, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction, in which the physical duration plays no part. And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object” (Benjamin, 1936). Benjamin insisted that the technological reproducibility devalues the artworks’ “aura”, which refers to “a quality integral to an artwork that cannot be communicated through mechanical reproduction techniques – such as photography” (Tate, n.d.).

How Pop Culture Influences Art

             Not only does art influences pop culture, pop culture also influences art. Artsy, an art website which spread, buy and sell art online, once interviewed 17 artists about the films that have huge impact on them. Among them, the French artist Pauline Curnier Jardin mentioned The Passion of Joan of Arc, a 1928 film to be her “inner sanctum”, which “had a magical function in my life” (Jardin, 2017, as cited in Indrisek, 2017). She elaborated, “It operated like a kaleidoscope for me, and it taught me that masterpieces can be created out of radical oppositions: formal ones, but also philosophical and political oppositions. It taught me that a film could be sacred poetry. It’s a film cult and a cult film, a film of faces and masks, a skin-film, a totally grotesque and entirely profound movie. The Passion of Joan of Arc doesn’t end with its main subject burned. It contains a fire that will burn anyone already burning inside” (Jardin, 2017, as cited in Indrisek, 2017).

            Andy Warhol, who liked to use figures from pop culture to create art, was a famous artist in pop art. According to The Museum of Modern Art, “Andy Warhol famously appropriated familiar images from consumer culture and mass media, among them celebrity and tabloid news photographs, comic strips, and, in this work, the widely consumed canned soup made by the Campbell’s Soup Company” (MoMA, n.d.). One of his most well-known artworks is Campbell’s Soup Cans, which consists of 32 canvas with the soup cans on them. 32 canvas represent 32 different flavors of the soup that Campbell’s company produced. The dimensions of each canvas are 20 inches by 16 inches. The artwork is now at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. “An earlier, single canvas version (Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) sold through Christie’s Auction house in 2010 for over $9 million” (Miller, 2012). Faced the question of why he drew paintings about soup cans, Andy Warhol answered, “I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again” (MoMA, n.d.).

Picture from:’s_Soup_Cans

            Andy Warhol was inspired by a product that many people see in their life to create the artwork. According to The Museum of Modern Art, “When he first exhibited Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1962, the canvases were displayed together on shelves, like products in a grocery aisle” (MoMA, n.d.). “At the time, Abstract Expressionism, featuring artists such as William de Kooning, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko, and privileging human emotion, painterly styles, and “fine art” aesthetics, was the movement to watch. Pop Art by contrast embraced mundane commercialism” (Miller, 2012).

            There are arguments about if Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans should be counted as art. According to Michael Fallon’s book How to Analyze the Works of Andy Warhol, when his first show was displayed in Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, “Another gallery close to the Ferus Gallery ridiculed warhol’s art” (Fallon, 2010, p28). The gallery brought many real soup cans in their gallery. Audiences in their gallery were encouraged to buy those soup cans with a very low price (Fallon, 2010). However, later, Campbell’s Soup Cans brought huge success to Andy Warhol and his career.

            Discussion about Campbell’s Soup Cans continues today. Some people like it so much while others may not get the idea. People are still discussing Andy Warhol’s work on different discussion boards or forums.

            Andy Warhol did not just work on everyday products that people can find in grocery stores. He also created artworks about famous figures. Another well-known artwork created by Andy Warhol is the portraits of Marilyn Monroe (1967), who was one of the most famous and popular movies stars in 1950s and 1960s. Marilyn Monroe has been an important figure in the history of American film industry. Andy Warhol used different colors to paint Marilyn Monroe’s portraits. There are ten portraits in total. Each portrait is 36 inches by 36 inches. The original photograph of Marilyn Monroe is from the 1953 film Niagara. This artwork has important impacts on both pop art and the society.

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            Having a lot of other artworks, Andy Warhol is famous for his ability as an artist and sensitivity to capture who matters to people during a specific time period. Inspired by pop culture, Andy Warhol created artworks and spread pop art to the public. From Andy Warhol’s artworks and stories, it is clear that pop culture can influences art in a very important way.

            Claes Oldenburg is another well-known artist and sculptor. He is famous for his sculptures, most of which amplifies objects from daily life, like spoon or ice cream. Claes Oldenburg has done different kinds of artworks. Right now, his over-sized sculptures really attract audiences’ attention. When he was interviewed by Barbara Rose, he said, “they kept getting larger. The first architectural-scale sculpture came in 1976 with the Clothespin in Philadelphia” (Rose, 2015). Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen, who was also his partner in art, traveled a lot. They did not just build sculptures inside the US. They created artworks in many countries, such as Germany, France, Italy, Japan and South Korea.

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            Shuttlecocks is one of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s over-sized sculptures, which locates in the front of Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen got inspired by normal shuttlecocks and created these over-sized ones. Dropped Cone is another artwork of his and Coosje van Bruggen’s. It is an over-sized dropped ice cream on the top of a building, which is very impressive. The sculpture is now in Neumarkt area, Cologne, Germany.

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            Claes Oldenburg likes to create artworks based on everyday objects. People may see those objects every day. However, when Claes Oldenburg changes its size and texture, everything feels differently. Based on objects from everyday life, Claes Oldenburg provides his audiences with completely different and new experiences when they see his sculptures. According to himself, “My rule was not to paint things as they were. I wasn’t copying; I was remaking them as my own” (Rose, 2015).

            Claes Oldenburg’s artworks give us evidence that pop culture can influences art. Artists can get inspiration from everyday objects and build artworks upon them.

            Another famous artist needs to be mentioned is Jeff Koons, who is famous for his artworks relating to pop culture. Same with Claes Oldenburg, Jeff Koons created many artworks based on objects from daily life. One of his most popular artworks is the Balloon Dog, which is a sculpture made from stainless steel and the surface is mirror-finish. Jeff Koons created it based on balloon animals, which always attracts children’s attention at theme parks. Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog is 121 inches by 143 inches by 45 inches. It does not just come with the color blue. Jeff Koons also have it in magenta, yellow, orange, and red (Jeff Koons, n.d.). From the appearance, it looks a lot like the real balloon animal. But the size is much bigger than the real one.

           According to The New York Times, in 2019, “at the contemporary auction at Christie’s in New York, where a stainless steel rabbit by Jeff Koons sold for $91 million, setting a record price for work by a living artist” (Schrager, 2019). Artworks like Jeff Koons’ balloon animal series are very popular now. Audiences are curious about them and the market is interested in them, both of which make the artwork more and more expensive in the market. However, this also creates problems. Only the people who are very wealthy have the ability to collect the artworks. “This growing inequality threatens to upend how the market works. The small and midsize galleries that have long supported and nurtured unknown artists are finding it difficult to survive in the winner-take-all economy of contemporary art, meaning the next Andy Warhol or Donald Judd, who rose through the ranks of the gallery system, might never be discovered” (Schrager, 2019). That is to say, this phenomenon is harmful to both small and midsize galleries and the unknown artists. Small and midsize galleries plays an essential role in nurturing the new artists by “mentor their artists, supporting them financially, introducing them to collectors and sometimes steering their work” (Schrager, 2019). Therefore, the extremely high price of the artworks drives many small and midsize galleries out of the market, which lead to smaller space for unknown artists’ development.

            Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Jeff Koons all get inspirations from everyday objects and created artworks based on them. Their artworks, experiences, and stories are the evidences that pop culture has huge impacts on art.


            Based on the discussion above, it is clear that art and pop culture have a close relationship in which they influence each other. Using the original painting of Girl with a Pearl Earring and the film Girl with a Pearl Earring as an example, it can be concluded that art, even from centuries ago, can inspire artists to create new stories. The novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, the basis of the film with the same name, was completely fictionalized by its author. The story and the relationship between the girl in the painting and the painter Johannes Vermeer are both fictionalized. After viewing this film, many audiences change their thoughts or generate new thoughts about the original painting.

            Yayoi Kusama’s successful collaboration with Louis Vuitton shows that the art can inspire fashion and they can work together to create new products. Many customers will be interested in the product because it comes from art.

            Pop culture also influences art. Through the examination of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Jeff Koons’s artworks, we can see that many artists are inspired by the objects from daily life. They get inspirations and create artworks based on those everyday objects. Audiences can recognize the objects based on which the artwork is created and then enjoy it. This appropriation phenomenon gives audiences a new experience interacting with artworks.


Abbie Vandivere, Jørgen Wadum, & Emilien Leonhardt. (2020). The Girl in the Spotlight: Vermeer at work, his materials and techniques in Girl with a Pearl Earring. Heritage Science, 8(1), 1–10.

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Jeff Koons Artwork: Balloon Dog. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2020, from

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Schrager, A. (2019, May 16). Even the Rich Aren’t Rich Enough for Jeff Koons. The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from

Swanson, C. (2012, July 09). Exclusive: Yayoi Kusama Talks Louis Vuitton, Plus a First Look at the Collection. The Cut. Retrieved May 02, 2020, from

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Olafur Eliasson: Engage and See Yourself Seeing

Ke Ma (Alex)


Olafur Eliasson is a contemporary artist that would not constrain his artworks in the forms and national boundaries. The essay begins with analyzing the dialogues he participates on a global scale to understand his meaning world. He is involved in the dialogue with Anselm Kiefer for their career’s connection with Germany and the postmodernism in their artworks. The dialogue between Ai Weiwei and him points out the importance of social engagement in his artworks. All of them have a close relationship with Tate Modern, which serves as an interface to enter the meaning world through its position in contemporary art. The result of the dialogue analysis will be employed to interpret Elisson’s The Unspeakable Openness of Things exhibition, an interface to his meaning world, and further design a website that can promote the interpretation of the exhibition. The whole essay sets out to understand his meaning world and how interfaces, such as museums, exhibitions, and websites, play the role of access to his meaning world.


Olafur Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist, creates his artworks driven by an idea that how we construct the world and our views of the world, and he maneuvers the idea with several forms, such as installation, sculpture, and photography (Studio Olafur Eliasson, n.d.a). Does Eliasson not only not be constrained by forms and materials, but also is not limited by the border of nationality. As an artist has achieved his artworks on a global scale, Olafur Eliasson focuses on nature and social engagement, which makes him involved in several dialogues with artists around the world.

Hence, for the first part, this project sets out to discuss the dialogue between Olafur Eliasson and Anselm Kiefer regarding postmodernism simulacra, the dialogue between Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei regarding social engagement and viewers’ roles, and the connection between Olafur Eliasson and Tate Modern. These dialogues help to construct a network, a meaning world behind Olafur Eliasson and his artworks, which will be used for interpreting his exhibition and building a website, an online interface, based on the interpretation of the exhibition. 

Olafur Eliasson presented his first solo exhibition called The Unspeakable Openness of Things in the Red Brick Art Museum in Beijing in 2018. As Eliasson’s previous exhibitions, The Unspeakable Openness of Things involved the viewers in the exhibit and interacted with the artworks. The materials Eliasson used, such as the mirror, light, and fog, are suitable for taking pictures (Red Brick Art Museum, 2018). As a result, the exhibition received enormous attention and activities on Chinese social media platforms (Marchese, 2018). Although for Eliasson, viewers’ taking pictures is a way to interact and get involved with artworks, understanding and interpreting the exhibition is essential for viewers to immerse into the exhibition deeper, which might lead to a better interaction experience (Tate, n.d.a). 

Hence, for the second part, this project will help viewers to interpret The Unspeakable Openness of Things systematically based on the meaning world behind Olafur Eliasson. The interpretation of the exhibition will be employed to construct a website of the exhibition, which will perpetuate its goodness and provide an interface for more viewers to understand and interpret Olafur Eliasson through this solo exhibition. Through the interpretation and design work, I will explore how interfaces, such as the museum, the exhibition, and the exhibition, serve as the access to Olafur Eliasson’s meaning world.

The Dialogue between Olafur Eliasson and Anselm Kiefer Regarding Postmodernism Simulacra

Nature can be found as subjects in artworks of both Olafur Eliasson and Anselm Kiefer. For both Olafur Eliasson and Anselm Kiefer, nature elements play the roles of both themes and materials in their artworks, which stems from their personal experiences (Gilmour, 1988; Studio Olafur Eliasson, n.d.a). Eliasson’s focus on nature is deeply influenced by his childhood in Iceland, where he lived with glaciers and waterfalls (Fitzgerald, 2010). The experience rendered him realize how insignificant human beings are compared with the ancient glaciers and waterfalls, which is depicted in his several photography series and installations, such as Ice Watch (2014) and The New York City Waterfalls (2008) (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). The insignificance is demonstrated from the perspectives of time and space. Regarding time, the melting speed of glaciers in Ice Watch and the water flows in The New York City Waterfalls tick away the time. The size of glaciers in a mundane square and a waterfall as tall as the Brooklyn bridge give the viewers a direct visual impact of the smallness of human beings physically speaking. 

Figure 1. Ice Watch, 2014. Olafur Eliasson. Place du Panthéon, Paris, 2015. Photo credit to Martin Argyroglo. Retrieved from

Figure 2. The New York City Waterfalls, 2008. Olafur Eliasson. Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 2008. Photo credit to Photo: Julienne Schaer / Courtesy Public Art Fund. Retrieved from

In Anselm Kiefer’s artworks, human beings’ constraints are depicted through another natural element, the forest. Anselm Kiefer, born in 1945, grew up at the end of the Second World War. The forest thus plays the role of refuge from the bombings for this German artist, where human beings are protected by the forest to survive but also face the powerlessness and overwhelming brought by the forest (Gilmour, 1988). In Fitzcarraldo (2010) and Winterwald (2010), the two large-scale and mixed media artworks, the size and the endless forests delineated in the artworks remind the viewers of the narrowness of the current space they are in (see Figure 3 and Figure 4). At the same time, the viewers confront time’s passing by from the thorn bushes and resin ferns used in the artworks. 

Figure 3. Fitzcarraldo, 2010. Anselm Kiefer. 130 11/16 × 302 3/8 × 13 13/16 in. Gagosian Gallery. Retrieved from

Figure 4. Winterwald, 2010. Anselm Kiefer. 130 11/16 × 226 13/16 × 13 13/16 in. Gagosian Gallery. Retrieved from

The natural elements, Eliasson’s glaciers and waterfalls and Kiefer’s forests, function as symbols in their artworks and serve as a reference for viewers to perceive the reality, which resonates with Jean Baudrillard’s postmodernism idea about simulacrum. In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard (1994) investigates the relationship between reality, symbols, and society. While the simulation is the process through which the original reality is destroyed and replaced by signs, the simulacrum is the situation that signs are devoid of meanings under the replaced and destroyed reality. 

Both of Eliasson and Kiefer’s artworks are warning the simulacrum we are facing – the world and the history we perceive are mediated and constructed. While Anselm Kiefer employs the strategy of distorting the simulacrum, Olafur Eliasson voices by telling viewers why you are in a simulacrum by providing a reference in artworks. For Olafur Eliasson, he points out that the idea of his artworks is “seeing yourself seeing (Zarin, n.d.).” In The New York City Waterfalls, he employs the same-height Brooklyn Bridge to warn us escaping from the simulacrum to the waterfall itself is way more enormous than the one we perceive. The giant waterfall in the viewer’s perception is a symbol constructed by the viewer’s angle instead of the real waterfall. And once the viewer fails to realize that the waterfall he or she sees is a symbol or an image in mind, the waterfall becomes a simulacrum. The Brooklyn Bridge thus is the interface for viewers to realize that the seeming immediacy in their experiences to reality is nothing but empty signs in their fantasies instead of the reality – viewers are constructing their “reality” – which is the idea Olafur Eliasson hopes viewers to understand. For Anselm Kiefer, his artworks related to German history and culture warns viewers of the simulacra within history by depicting stereotypical images, such as forests and famous portraits done by other artists (Gilmour, 1988). The forest is frequently employed in Keifer’s artworks as a setting, which echoes with German romantic themes and has been repressed within postwar Germany (Biro, 2003). Through reapplying and transforming these stereotypical images in his mixed media artworks, Kiefer’s perception of the power of the simulacrum enables him to lead viewers to face the heavy historical baggage instead of seeing the sorrowful history as “a vast collection of images, a multitudinous photographic simulacrum (Gilmour, 1988),” or to say, a package of lightweight and meaningless signs, which is an escape from the past and an attempt to get rid of the reality. 

Both the two artists’ careers have everything to do with German history; however, German history plays different roles leading to disparate expression and ideas in their artist careers. For Anselm Kiefer, the weight and inevitability of history lead him to maneuver his artworks in a heavy way with dense materials such as ashes, thorny branches, and lead. According to Kiefer, “Germans want to forget (the past) and start a new thing all the time, but only by going into the past can you go into the future (Jackson, 2018).” However, for Olafur Eliasson, the chapter of German history he entered into was the Fall of the Berlin Wall, which brought several opportunities and empty space for young artists to develop their talents. In 1995, Olafur Eliasson moved to Berlin and established Studio Olafur Eliasson there, which has already developed to a team consisting of experts from multiple industries, such as design, art history, architecture, and so on. The openness and hope of Berlin and Studio Olafur Eliasson reflect in not only the materials and elements he uses, such as fog, glass, and light, but also his efforts on social activities we are going through at this moment. 

The Dialogue between Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei Regarding Social Engagement

Both Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei are known for their being mindful of social activities. While Olafur Eliasson keeps an eye on climate change and environmentalism, Ai Weiwei focuses on human rights and democracy in China. Although the niches they are pursuing are not alike, their attempts to promote social engagement are in sync with each other, which reflects on their respective works and collaborative project, Moon (see Figure 5)

Figure 5. Moon, 2013 [screen shot]. Ai Weiwei & Olafur Eliasson. Studio Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei Studio. Retrieved from

Eliasson and Ai began the Moon project in November 2003 and operated it until September 2007, lasting for almost four years. The duo collaborated together providing an interactive drawing platform on The moon here is a canvas divided into thousands of small canvases. Viewers, also serving as creators in the project, could click on the blank space on the moon and create their paintings, covering the surface of the moon with marks (see Figure 6). According to Ai (2003), the Moon is created for connecting people all around the world, transcending the borders of nationality through the euphoria of creativity and interaction. Although it is closed, the patchwork is still available to be viewed and appreciated on the previous website.

Figure 6. Moon, 2013 [screen shot]. Ai Weiwei & Olafur Eliasson. Studio Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei Studio. Retrieved from

Conversational dialogues happen in the interaction functions within the project, which connects the creations to a literal network. In the Moon project, participants can respond to other people’s marks by creating their own work next to the preexisting ones. In particular, there are some participants who created their creations around the previous works by themselves, which forms their territory and makes themselves thus nodes in the network. And the network is thus a representation of the ongoing dialogue chain of expression in those four years, which enables the website to be an interface of symbols contributed by participants to their meanings on a global scale. In this way, the moon project, as a network of expression, in essence, helps viewers and participants to connect with each other by understanding and interpreting creations that are linked with shared meanings and expressions beyond the limits of nations and time. 

The engagement and connection also unveil the important role viewers play in their artworks, which can also be found in the respective artworks of Eliasson and Ai. In #aiflowers, an Ai Weiwei’s interactive project on Twitter, Ai engaged the public to create flowers for honoring child victims of the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008. For Olafur Eliasson, viewers’ engagement completes his artworks, through which the idea of “seeing yourself seeing” can be achieved. For example, his well-known site-specific installation, The Weather Project (2003), as figure 7 shows, consists of “a semi-circular screen, a ceiling of mirrors, and artificial mist to create the illusion of a sun (Eliasson & Tate, 2003).” The ceiling of mirrors not only doubles the space of the Turbine Hall and the semi screen but also lets viewers see how themselves and others in the same space are immersed in the installation and experiencing the surroundings, which accomplishes the “seeing yourself” part of “seeing yourself seeing.” 

Figure 7. The Weather Project, 2003. Olafur Eliasson. Tate Modern, London, 2003. Photo credit to Tate Photography (Andrew Dunkley & Marcus Leith). Retrieved from

Olafur Eliasson and Tate Modern

Olafur Eliasson has a long-lasting and friendly relationship with Tate Modern, where he exhibited The Weather Project in 2003, Ice Watch in 2018, and In Real Life in 2019, through which Tate Modern witnessed his career for more than ten years (Tate, n.d.b). Understanding the reason why Olafur Eliasson cooperates with Tate Modern might help us to look at what kind of museums can be an interface of Eliasson’s exhibitions. Tate Modern is of great importance in modern and contemporary art. As part of the Tate group, Tate Modern is one of the largest modern and contemporary art museums in the world. The Turbine Hall, where The Weather Project was located, has been a space for artists to exhibit commissioned work since 2000 (Tate, n.d.c). Ai Weiwei performed his Sunflower Seeds in The Turbine Hall in 2010. According to Frances Morris, the Director of Tate Modern, “we realized (the Turbine Hall) was a hugely significant space; awe-inspiring in its scale, and to ask any artist to occupy that space, to perform within it, would be a momentous undertaking (Tate, n.d.c).”

Interfaces for Interpretation of Olafur Eliasson – The Unspeakable Openness of Things Exhibition in Red Brick Art Museum and A Website for the Exhibition

Interpreting The Unspeakable Openness of Things in the Red Brick Art Museum is to see through the exhibition as an interface to Olafur Eliasson’s meaning world and the dialogues he participates, which is also the three core ideas concluded by analyzing the three dialogues he is in: warning of postmodernism simulacra, the importance of social engagement and viewers themselves, and the museum setting. The exhibition thus can provide an interface for viewers to discover the network in the meaning world instead of taking the exhibition for granted or being confused by the seemingly uninterpretable art world. 

To design a website for the exhibition, an online interface, for viewers to understand and interpret Olafur Eliasson’s The Unspeakable Openness of Things, I demonstrate that the design of the interface shall encompass the three inherent ideas in Eliasson’s artworks and dialogues. For viewers’ more interpretive experience, the design of the website cannot fall into the trap of technological determinism, which overlooks the website serving as an interface to approach Olafur Eliasson’s meaning world rather than a show of website design technology (Bolter & Grusin, 2000). The digital media here I will employ are not the elements that surpass the idea and content of the exhibition. Instead, they are embedded and fused in the ideas to serve for the experience and interpretation of the exhibition. 

Moreover, the idea of immediacy and hypermediacy will be maneuvered in the interface design. Though the emergence of every new medium is to provide more authentic and immediate experience for the audience, the immediacy can only be achieved by hypermediacy because the more emphasis on the authentic experience provided by the medium, the more people realizing the existence of the medium itself, which resonates with Olafur Eliasson’s warning of the postmodernism simulacra (Bolter & Grusin, 2000). The simulacra distort and further destroy viewers’ experience of reality through leaving meaningless signs, and Eliasson hopes the viewers to realize that the reality in their eyes is constructed by the simulacra and thus avoid taking the result of construction as reality. Hypermediacy exists in Olafur Eliasson’s artworks, such as The Weather Project and Waterfall series, through the use of mixed media, which not only provides strong and immersive experience close to nature but also reminds the viewers the absence of the real nature in the artworks. Hence, the hypermediacy idea will be employed to achieve the immersive experience in the online form of the exhibition and try to inspire the viewers to “see themselves seeing” and being mediated. 

Besides, interaction activities among viewers and artworks in the exhibition will be involved to engage viewers to connect themselves with the exhibition and other viewers. The interaction will be conducted on specific artworks in the exhibition in different ways, which will be further discussed in the interpretation of artworks and the exhibition. Even though the exhibition ended in 2018, the website can perpetuate the greatness of the exhibition and the ongoing exhibition-wise dialogue generated by viewers across time and space, just as the Moon project by Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson.

While Tate Modern plays a significant role in Eliasson’s career and contemporary art, the Red Brick Art Museum is of great importance in Chinese contemporary for its folk-based architecture and landscape design and has a long relationship with Olafur Eliasson because of his network with the founder Yan Shijie, who is also the curator of the exhibition (see Figure 8). According to the Red Brick Art Museum (2018), Eliasson first visited the Red Brick in 2014 and was impressed by the architecture and landscape. The architect, Dong Yugan, used red bricks to construct perforations and windows, which helps to control the degree of light and air penetrating to the interior (Griffiths, 2017). The architecture also emphasizes harmony with nature in the layout of traditional Chinese gardens, which echoes with Eliasson’s focus on nature. The landscape and the approximately 12,000-square-yard exhibition space provide enough space and context for Olafur Eliasson to present his large installation artworks. Over the four years, the Red Brick acquired three artworks in the collection: The Blind PavilionYour Sound Galaxy, and Water Pendulum (Red Brick Art Museum, 2018). The close relationship led to the opening of The Unspeakable Openness of Things in the Red Brick.

Figure 8. The Hall of the Red Brick Art Museum. Retrieved from

As the museum itself is an interface, the background and setting of the Red Brick Art Museum will be incorporated into the design of the website, which will help viewers to not only grasp the basic understanding of the background of the solo exhibition but also combine the setting and artworks together to warm up for the interpretation of the exhibition. Plus, the curator of the exhibition was the founder of the Red Brick, which guarantees the curation assorting with the structure and style of the museum. Hence, the website will begin with an introduction about the connection between Olafur Eliasson and the Red Brick Art Museum. 

The exhibition itself comprises five major large-scale installations, four artworks in several forms such as sculpture and paintings in more intimate spaces, and three installations in other exhibition spaces. It had a designed path to go through all the artworks, which is the result of the museum founder’s role as the curator and will also be employed in the design work. On the website, after the introduction, it will be a collection of artworks’ images to guide viewers to the artwork they are interested in at a glance. The selection of these images will employ the idea of “seeing yourself seeing” and use images about the first impression of each artwork, which is different from the real situation, to pave the way for viewers to realize the idea later on each artwork. Each artwork has its own page. However, once viewers click on a specific artwork, they will participate in the journey of the exhibition to go through artwork pages in sequence according to the designed path to create the experience of entering and exiting exhibition spaces one by one. It also provides viewers with time for contemplating the artworks and experience and authority to make another opening. 

The exhibition began with the same-name installation, The Unspeakable Openness of Things, and it is specially created for the site in 2018 (see Figure 9). It utilizes a huge semi-ring of yellow mono frequency light with a ceiling full of mirrors to make the ring a whole and a space cast on orange light (Studio Olafur Eliasson, n.d.b). The structure of the assigned space helps viewers to see themselves seeing at the first step that in front of the exhibition room, viewers can only see half of the ring because of the designed height of the entrance (see Figure 10). After entering the room, viewers can appreciate the whole ring forged by the mirror and have doubts about how the whole ring is hanged there. However, the mirror images of other viewers in the same room enable viewers to realize that what they perceived about the ring is not the reality, and it was constructed by their minds. Social engagement and viewers themselves play an important role here so that viewers can better realize and break the simulacra by referencing the existence of themselves and others in the space. Therefore, in the website design, the presentation of the artwork will apply the ideas that remind the viewers to not only get rid of the trap of the simulacra but also their engagement in the installation. The page will begin with an image of the first impression of the artwork, which is the semi-ring hiding behind the entrance, followed by an image of the whole installation without viewers in the room and another one of the installations with viewers. The design of the whole page follows the constructing and deconstructing process conducted in the viewers’ minds.

Figure 9. The Unspeakable Openness of Things, 2018. Olafur Eliasson. Red Brick Art Museum. Photo credit to Red Brick Art Museum. Retrieved from

Figure 10. The Unspeakable Openness of Things, 2018. Olafur Eliasson. Red Brick Art Museum. Photo credit to Red Brick Art Museum. Retrieved from

Rainbow Assembly (2016) is also an installation emphasizing “seeing yourself seeing” and viewer engagement. Rainbow Assembly is designed to a darkened space, in which a circular curtain of mist will be lightened (see Figure 11). A rainbow can be seen on the mist curtain from certain perspectives. As viewers get close to the falling water, the rainbow will become thinner and eventually disappear. In this installation, there is no reference, such as viewers in The Unspeakable Openness of Things and the Brooklyn Bridge in The New York City Waterfall, for viewers to employ as a medium realizing the simulacra. Instead, viewers have to understand the point by experiencing the appearance and disappearance of rainbows themselves. Hence, before experiencing their roles in Eliasson’s artworks, viewers shall realize their important roles first through Eliasson’s artworks with references. When viewers understand their significant roles in Eliasson’s artworks, they can become active to ponder about how they are seeing and constructing the artworks and experience their significance by sensing and interpreting these artworks. An internal dialogue among Eliasson’s artworks happens in the exhibition, which can help to explain the designed path of the website. When it comes to the website page for Rainbow Assembly, the interaction between viewers and the page shall be reinforced to enhance viewers’ authority in the experience. The beginning image of the page will be the image of the rainbow on the curtain from a reasonable distance. There will be an instruction of clicking the image to have a closer look at the rainbow and curtain. As viewers see the image of the curtain, they will find out the disappearance of the rainbow. The instruction and click here is the reminder for viewers not to take their interaction with these images for granted, and they have their authority in understanding the artworks through their actions. Plus, while the interaction is seemingly the immediacy brought by the more immersive experience of the artwork on the website, it is actually constructed by the hypermediacy of text and images, which reminds viewers of their employment of media in the experience. 

Figure 11. Rainbow assembly, 2016. Olafur Eliasson. Red Brick Art Museum, 2018. Photo credit to Anders Sune Berg. Retrieved from

The Unspeakable Openness of Things in the Red Brick Art Museum is an interface for viewers to interpret Olafur Eliasson’s ongoing dialogues. The artworks themselves in the exhibition create dialogues and become the interfaces for viewers to interpret other artworks in the exhibition in a designed path. In all the interfaces, the trick of Olafur Eliasson and his artworks is that he utilizes the experience of viewers and their engagement to draw their attention to his meaning world. He provides references or employs his other artworks with references for viewers to realize their authority and that they are constructing the artworks to avoid the fake reality brought by the simulacra. And it further leads viewers to ponder about facing reality in their lives and then improves the real world instead of living in the world possessed with symbols without meanings. Thus, for him, viewers’ taking pictures is not floating on the surface of the artworks, instead of a way of getting into his meaning world because his large-scale installations provide the experience that makes viewers think about what kind of pictures can catch their experience at the moment and further enhance the idea of seeing themselves seeing. 


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Conceptual Artworks in an Online Environment: Work of Art That Transcends Two Dimensions


The subject of artwork has long been considered a crucial subject in the facilitation of intellectual stimulus and understanding of past and present events. Viewing of art occurs in three ways; the message entailed; the situations from where it is drawn from; and its cultural significance. No time in human history has the demand for the analysis of art been more significant than in the 21st century. At a time of relative peace, the world is marred by internal, political, social, and economic conflict, all-be-it with the absence of war. As pragmatists, educators tend to view art as dystopian messages foretelling of abstract concepts that repeat themselves in the future. A long line of artists exists that have made significant contributions to society, such as Michael Angelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh, among others.

Despite their contributions, a revolution in artwork is taking place in the form of conceptual art images needing to be presented in online platforms. In the conquest for disseminating art, especially conceptual artworks, questions have been arising on how to present them in online mediums. The evolution of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) has seen the art industry finds new mediums for delivering their message and society finds new opportunities to relive the past moments. Following the rise and progression of globalization, art is at the forefront of human desire and understanding. Online mediums are quickly becoming the fastest way to disseminate information to the public. Consequently, a willingness to use online mediums to share works of art has increased, but the question remains how to share it without losing the message engrained. In the process of disseminating artwork not presented in 2D form, four concepts are deemed crucial; the interface, the dialogic context, encyclopedic levels of meaning, and finally, the provision of access to definitions.


Conceptual art has been a bedrock of modern artwork since the mid-20th century. The development of conceptual art begun and spread from the regions of the Soviet Union, USA, Latin America, Japan, and Europe. One of the earliest works of conceptual art was when Duchamp purchased a urinal from the shop of a plumber and moved to display it at the New York exhibition. Although early artists rejected the artwork, Duchamp remained adamant and finally gave way to conceptual art. Progressively, following such developments, it has become necessary to research the context of conceptual artwork. Because of an increase in the attention of conceptual art and artworks, numerous publications exist in the academic arena. The following research uses a qualitative research method. The research framework will utilize several literary sources in the assessment of the measure on how to present conceptual artwork online. Research into the dissemination of conceptual artwork in the online arena used only authentic literary sources to ensure authenticity, validity, and reusability of the findings. Tentatively, the following research paper will examine how conceptual artwork, not presented in 2D form, can be depicted in an online platform. 

How Can Conceptual Artwork Not Presented In the 2D Form Be Depicted In an Online Platform?

What is conceptual art?

Conceptual art analyses the idea placed forward, in the various art form, as the most critical component of art. Conceptual art traces its roots back to the 20th century and the years between 1960 and 1970. Marcel Duchamp was the founder of the following field. Duchamp’s earliest form of conceptual art was the Fountain displayed in New York in 1917 (Cakıroglu, & Ince, 2015). During the same period, the trend caught the attention and ended up spreading almost simultaneously in other continents such as Europe, South America, and East Asia. In the arena of conceptual artwork, there are no limitations on what art is legible for presentation. Conceptual art is unique because it allows for the utilization of all forms of material existent as tools of creativity. Whereas the tools at his or her disposal restrain a 2D artist, conceptual artists have no limitations in this dimension (Best, 2002). It is imperative to note that although conceptual art is relatively unique, it is not as dated as 2D art. 

During the progression of conceptual art, artists had begun to notice the extent to which legacy art was becoming a financial commodity as opposed to an element of sharing an artistic message and intellectual stimulus. Consequently, a new method had to be unraveled in which the sharing of art, and the message engrained to the public could take place. The first process in conceptual artwork was through the creation of unfinished artwork objects (Benjamin, 2008). Such a move entailed at preventing the excessive purchase of artworks and was actually successful. Resultantly, the measure ensured that such artworks, which composed of sculptures and paintings, were solely for display (Van Saaze, 2014). The initiative allowed conceptual artists to question the social-political dimensions that were so strong around the world in a unique manner without necessarily attracting the attention of the administration negatively. Some of the conceptual artworks that achieved the feat of questioning the social and political situation of the world were those of Joseph Beuys with his Social Sculpture (Stigter, 2015). Despite it still being less financially oriented and profitable as legacy 2D artwork, the 21st century continues to see more conceptual artists and their works arising, such as those of Simon Starling and Martin Creed. 

What are installation, site-specific, and performance art?

Installation art, a branch of conceptual art, is a comparatively new genre in the discipline of contemporary art, although it arose in the 1960s. In the following subject (installation art), artists use open spaces to install objects that invoke certain artistic feels depending on the equipment used. Installation art is a form of artwork practiced by postmodernist artists. The arrangement of the item(s) in the open space is the artwork. One of the definitive aspects of installation art is that viewers can move around the area and get an aesthetic and cognitive feel or stimulus, unlike when viewing 2D art (Modern, 2016). Although installation art has yet to receive full acclaimed attention like legacy artworks such as paintings and photographic images, it is still succeeding because it engages multiple senses like smell, vision, sound, and touch. 

Because of the issue of three-dimensionality and flexibility, installation art has and continues to be influenced by the technological development made in the realm of computer technology, software development, film, and video projection. However, it is crucial to note that installation art is a branch of conceptual art.

Site-specific art is art that was designed and created for display in precise locations and arose in 1957 with the works of Dan Flavin. Removal of site-specific art from the intended site, ensured it lost its value, including its engrained meaning. However, not all forms of artwork depicted in specific locations are site-specific art (Birchall, 2015). The difference between site-specific art and regular art is that site-specific art tends to have a close relationship with the intended location. In contrast, non-site-specific art has no association with the area or aesthetics of the place. 

Last but not least, performance art, although arising in 1910, the term was only accepted and used as a genre of art in the 1970s. Despite the passing of years, performance art is still misconstrued by most that manage to be a part of the performance. The reason why performance art is rarely understood is movements and the issue of impermanence (BARBUTO, 2015). During the postwar period, performance art was strongly associated with conceptual art because it was immaterial. However, following its acceptance in particular, yet influential artistic circles, performance art became synonymous with photography, video, film, and installation-based artworks. 

Case Study: A Look Into Installation Artists and Their Works

Ai Weiwei

The Chinese culture has always been compatible with bicycles as the primary medium of travel. Consequently, it was no strange event when Ai Weiwei featured the universal medium of transport as a prominent element of installation art. Ai Weiwei first used bicycles in his artwork in 2008 and was called Very Yao. Following the progress of time, the artist has made grand attempts to stretch the limit of his imagination in using bicycles in installation art.

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, 2011, 2630 x 353 x 957 cm, installation view of Ai Weiwei absent, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2011 Oct 29 - 2012 Jan 29

Ai Weiwei – Forever Bicycles, 2011, installation view of Ai Weiwei absent, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Retrieved from:

The meaning behind the Forever Bicycles is the recognition behind the significant role bicycles play in both modern and traditional China. Some of Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles had as many as 10,000 bikes and rising as high as 10 meters into the sky (Sinnerbrink, 2019). According to Ai Weiwei, the decision to use bikes as opposed to other mediums of travel was because they were a significant part of his upbringing, including his community. Additionally, the artist also believed that by using bicycles, most of his Chinese audience, both the modern and traditional ones would easily relate to his works. The decision to use bikes also had an aspect of poignancy. To illustrate, although bikes in China are a symbol of the freedom of movement in the country, the fact that they are closely linked demonstrates the nature of Chinese society.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist, wowed the world with her enigmatic yet complexly unique Infinity Mirrors. The idea behind Infinity Mirror came from the desire to inspire people to question themselves and their ideals. Because of capitalism and capitalistic tendencies, the Infinity Mirror, was to encourage the public to assess their individualistic impulses and its impact upon their collective responsibility (Yamamura, 2015). Individualism arose, during the 1960s, particularly in the West during a period of economic success and prosperity that also spread to Japan, the then economic power of Asia. 

During one of Yayoi Kusama’s artwork demonstration in Ontario, the public gallery used two floors for the display of her artwork. Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored rooms used six installations. During the display, it was made clear by the artist that the hand wringing of the installations was to reflect the narcissistic tendencies of the millennial generation. According to the artist, the millennial generation had become embroiled in social media and was out of touch with their collective responsibility to society. 

installation of kusama's "love forever"

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Love Forever, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Credits to Cathy Carver. Retrieved from:

installation shot of kusama's All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins

Yayoi Kusama, All the Eternal Love I have for the Pumpkins, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. 2016. Credits to Cathy Carver. Retrieved from:

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors is one example of the unique artworks of the 21st century because of its ability to ignite all types of senses. The endless repetition of images depicted on the mirrors leads to a sense of enigma to most who have an inward awakening on who they are, what they have become versus who they ought to be in the world. 

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson is a Scandinavian artist famous for his installation artwork, “The weather project.” The increasing awareness that society was having on the effects of global warming on the weather inspired the weather project. Olafur Eliasson conceived the idea while on a trip to London, where, despite the weather being cold and snowing, people were eagerly debating the impact of global warming (Hornby, 2017). The developments in awareness led the artist to share the trend that the world will witness regardless of their desire or not. In the weather project, the sun is the main point of reference or center of attraction. The decision to use installation art was because Olafur Eliasson wanted the crowd to know that they had a symbiotic-line relationship with the elements of weather such as the sun as opposed to viewing it as an abstract object.

What can they tell us?

Although unique and each driven by a different goal or experience, the concept arts elaborated above, Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors and Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles each draw inspiration from lives and experiences lived. As most concept artists, the most enigmatic source of their inspiration is their surroundings. Such artists tend to entangle themselves with society while cultivating a deep sense of collective responsibility. 

All the artists herein presented, and their concept arts share a unique idea that could not be presented in 2D images. Another similarity in the concept arts elaborated above was the extensive use of all materials at their disposal to augment their idea. Because the idea was aimed at inspiring a greater self-impetus among the public, the artists utilized maximized all elements at their disposal to augment their idea and its spread. Ai Weiwei’s used large amounts of bicycles to demonstrate the impact of such mediums of travel on Chinese society (Hornby, 2017). Yayoi used vast amounts of mirrors often placed in more than one room to ignite the self of her viewers to demonstrate their self-obsession and its negative impact. Finally, Olafur Eliasson in the Weather Project uses a large glowing ball next to a mirror to reveal the degree of interrelationship between humanity and the sun. 

Concept arts of Olafur Eliasson’s, Yayoi Kusama’s, and Ai Weiwei’s are similar in that they all cannot be sold but are only for providing unique experiences in a manner that could not be shared except through concept art. During the rise and spread of concept art, artists had been brazenly offended at the extent at which legacy 2D art was being transformed into financial commodities as opposed to inspirational works (Van Saaze, 2014). Consequently, the three artists’ approach demonstrated the history of conceptual art by avoiding doing their works into financial commodities but rather pieces of emotional inspiration. In the end, the concept artworks of the artists were never transformed into commercial artworks, thus allowing the global mass to enjoy and bathe in the deep message being disseminated.

Challenge of Installation Art, Site-specific Art and Performance Art

Space limitation 

Site-specific art, installation art, and performance art faces the challenge of physical context. In the following branches of concept art, the physical context faces several challenges concerning the impact of the environment on the art. The dimensions of room doors, windows, aroma, and even the sound all have a role to play when deciding on the outcome of the art-scape and its influence on the particular art presentation. To illustrate, in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors, the questions often arise on how many mirrors need to be used to ensure successful dissemination of the message (Stigter, 2015). Similarly, how large should the room be to allow for all members of the public to experience the feel while at the same time not seeming absurd to the audience? 

Because installations lack boundaries, people tasked with installing the concept of arts suffering from the lack of knowledge on how to proceed with the installation. Some of the questions that tend to arise include how wide the spaces should be and how the works should be placed in, the room or environment to increase the sense of compliment between the room and the elements displayed in the same room (Wharton & Molotch, 2009). On the same note, installation while attempting to replicate certain characteristics that were in the environment of earlier installation tends to bring about new difficulties. 

Status of the artworks

The elements such as projectors and toys compel artists to make conservative judgments about the components that they will use in Site-specific art, installation art, and performance art. Although artists tend to factor in the element of prioritizing particular elements, during installations, they are often compelled to make compromises on certain dimensions. Compromises can take place in the form of the size and amount of items uses in the creation of the artistic idea (Cakıroglu, & Ince, 2015). Other compromises can include the minimum type of colors and lighting that can be tolerated while not affecting the artwork in a negative light. 

Similarly, the status of the artworks can change such that what was not critical early on becomes crucial during installation. However, the most common challenge about the status of artworks is that of understanding the meaning the artist assigned to the concept of art, be it Site-specific art, installation art, or performance art. In the case of contract workers tasked with setting up the final installation for public viewing, these workers can misinterpret the intended message or consider certain areas alone. One example of such an instance was when during the display of Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting Four Corners in 1974; 1 gallery worker collected a debris layer of 2 inches in thickness from the side of the excised construction. Although a relatively minor act, the debris removed had been placed there to serve as patina in testimony to the destruction of the building. 

How to preserve the three types of art?

Following the development of time and the evolution of the art industry both aesthetically and economically, new methods have arisen on how the three forms of concept arts, site-specific art, installation art, and performance art can be preserved. Some of the ways uncovered vary from simple to more sophisticated methods that allow for prolonged periods of preservation of either of the three artworks future audiences similar to how the art of the old was preserved (Real, 2001). 

One way for conservation of the artworks includes having the curators of museums understand and record the particular intent of the artists. Because concept art relies on the idea being put forward as playing the primary role of the artwork, it becomes necessary that the concept taking center stage be relayed to the curators of museums (Best, 2002). Once the message has been disseminated to the curators of the museum, only then do they become capable of deciding on the path and method of persevering such artworks. 

Case Study:

Tate Museum has invested in creating a frame of reference based on the type of art that they have in their inventory. Such a move allows visitors to the site to search and get a wide array of results based on the kind of art that they are interested in regardless. To illustrate, searching for artworks like Site-specific art, performance art, and installation art will bring about results similar to what was requested by the visitors in the search bar. The benefit of the following approach is that visitors to the site can examine the various types of art classified as either site-specific, performance, or installation art. Furthermore, the website also goes a step further to inform all interested parties of the due dates when performance arts will be presented to the public, a fact that most art enthusiasts will appreciate. A negative aspect of the approach to using a search bar is that visitors unaware of the different types of art will not be able to uncover this fact, as the site does not reveal much about different art types.

This online museum, besides investing in all three types of concept art, has moved further to create spaces for art designs from specific artists when examined. When in search of art and artworks attributed to individual artists like Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama, or Olafur Eliasson, the museum will immediately direct the person to the unique artworks of the artists. Such a phenomenon is beneficial to art lovers for they are presented with the various pieces of art under their artist’s name.  


The interface of the museum does not align with the artworks imposed upon it by the gallery designers. Through the use of an institutional-like interface, the museum failed to invest more in the provision of immersive experience as opposed to visual experience alone. Most of the layout of the gallery is presented in an almost indifferent manner. All images are presented in the form of a layout subverting the unique messages that the designer of the artwork was probably trying to share. 

Despite such, the museum does function as the interface of creating a symbiotic relationship between artists and their viewers. Similarly, museums serve to augment what art is by creating a unique layout that augments the artworks presented. Also, museums work to reveal what art is through providing unique descriptions of the message ingrained in the art and artworks. 

Dialogic Contexts

The museum succeeded in offering a dialogic context of examining the artworks in its gallery by providing large open spaces for people to examine each art display and discuss the potential message hidden within. Additionally, the museums offer their clients the incentive to go online frown, where they are offered reading material and listening material that offers deeper insight into the art displayed. However, there are no windows for debating with other members or concerned parties on the contexts of the art displayed. 

Encyclopedic Meaning 

The Tate Museum offers comprehensive levels of meaning for their art designs by giving more in-depth materials for examining the majority of the art displayed. After login on to the museum’s website, visitors can scroll to the listening section from where reading material and audio material are offered. The elements allow the user to get the most out of their experience and visit the gallery. 


Tate Museum provided access to all their artworks by providing more than eight rooms on their online website. The eight rooms offer a tour to the individual arts and artifacts presented. However, no specific input is given on the origins of the deeper message engrained from the arts. Tate Museum does give a vivid elaboration on the name of the art and its author or painter but nothing more. Hence this can be viewed as a failure of sorts. 

Future of Conceptual Art: Site-specific art, Installation art, and Performance art

The future of Site-specific art, installation art, and performance art are auspicious following the development of technology. Technology has come of age, especially in the 21st century, with the evolution of AI, Deep Learning that has opened the paradigm for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Tentatively, the future of these three types of art is embedded in technologies such as VR and AR (Hirose, 2006). The advantages and lack of limitations espoused by technologies like AR and VR mean that all forms of concept art can be portrayed and even recorded on such mediums. To illustrate, VR has been used in the provision of historical experiences such as a visit across the Caracalla that was since then destroyed. In 2017, the world and tourists saw the first instance of VR goggles used to walk visitors alongside the hallways and paths of Caracalla. Such demonstrations are just a few of the instances where VR and AR can be used in art. 

Technology will allow for the record and preservation of site-specific art, installation art, and performance art through the creation of virtual museums. It is important to note that unlike most other modes of preservation, technologies such as VR are very short of limitations. Through VR, new concept artists will see their art embedded in virtual museums that allow their works to have almost immortal life. To illustrate, in 1992, the University of Illinois created the first IPT (Immersive Project Technology), which has since then gone on to be developed, allowing for increased realism and immersion (Hirose, 2006). Today, there a numerous firms that create VR as platforms for recording and sharing data and experiences such as virtual hospital and virtual surgery beds that guide future doctors on how to perform surgery. Firms that have already created virtual museums include the National Science Museum of Ueno, which created a large virtual reality theatre. The virtual museum featured the Mayan Civilization. Despite fears of its adoption, the virtual museum was successful in attracting 200,000 visitors with 120, 000 opting to visit the virtual museum (Hirose, 2006). Consequently, it can be predicted that the same path and destiny awaits site-specific art, installation art, and performance art concerning their future displays and preservations. 

Technology will influence the costs used in the presentation of site-specific art, installation art, and performance artworks. Renting large spaces for the display of either or all three of the art designs is often expensive and extremely time-consuming. However, the rise of Augmented Reality in collaboration with Mixed Reality (MR), the artworks can now be super-imposed onto the physical world. Augmented reality allows engineers to generate real-world images that are photorealistic from the virtual world and present them onto the physical world. One example of such a feat was when the Mayan Ruins were superimposed using 3D models and texture mapping software (Hirose, 2006). The final product allowed the creators to create an almost synonymous image of the now-deceased Mayan Empire. Similarly, the method will allow artists and their stakeholders to superimpose their artworks in almost all locations of the world without necessarily having to rent large spaces or moving the concept artworks from one location to the next, which is prohibitively expensive.

In summary, the evolution of art has come of age from 2D images to concept art, and now the inculcation of VR, AR, and MR. The earlier process of converting artworks into financial commodities dealt a significant blow to the art industry. Such an aspect fueled the fire for a new medium and design of art, concept art. The rise of concept art changed the view of art in that ideas were given new credence, as they soon became an art in themselves, which could be examined and embraced. However, with the degree of commitment that Tate has put in to develop its website and the amenities of conveniences provided therein, the museum is in the right direction. The provision of a search bar allows visitors to examine the works of specific artists such as Yayoi Kusama and their various projections of concept art with relative ease. Although the museum has not placed the artworks according to any order, they have gone a step further in providing a website that allows visitors to search for these artists with successful outcomes.  From this point, Tate can be regarded as a vital tool for the museum and its visitors for the degree of convenience and better insight into the art offered.


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How do optical devices and paintings affect art interface and influence each other throughout the art development? A discussion based on space-time relationship and semiotic meanings

Zihui (Zoey) Wang/zw209

A photograph can create such an atmosphere that is revived by a new reality; it becomes a medium, a means of communication and interaction. — Šobáňová Petra


The following project will focus on how the development of optical devices influences images as the interface. Photographic technologies induce huge changes in art. Camera obscura brought an entirely new way for artists to learn and deal with the light and perspective. Still-life paintings, portraits, landscape paintings, and many other styles of paintings have become realistic. Since Daguerre invented the first camera, the cameras are more and more portable and accessible, which enables everyone to get chances to record people or objects. Thus, painters turned to find ways to express what cannot be expressed by cameras.

By using semiotics theory including signifier and signified, as well as analyzing the different interpretations of the space-time relationship in different genres, this project will illustrate the following three questions to the audiences. First of all, why audiences think a “realistic” painting is “like a photograph”. Secondly, how artists have used knowledge of optically projected images in composing artworks. And finally, by explaining the interactive influences between photographers and painters in different periods, this project is aiming to further answer the question of “why optical devices have been a part of art history and how photographic technologies induce the rebellious art development”. From the perspective of a curator, in order to better explain the preceding questions, this project will dig deeper into three specific cases: camera obscura, early cameras, and the utilization of modern cameras, to give further analysis respectively.

A brief introduction to the development of the camera

The development of the camera lasts more than one thousand years. The first camera obscura appeared in 1021, using a pinhole in a tent to project an image from outside the tent into the darkened area. But the camera obscura was not small enough to be portable until the 17th century. The invention of Daguerreotype was quite popular during the 1840s and 1850s. in order to create the image on the copper plate coating with silver, the early daguerreotypes had a relatively long exposure time at around 15 minutes to half an hour. Kodak was the first company to create a flexible roll film. At that time, a self-contained box camera held 100 film exposures but without any focusing adjustment. In the 1950s, Nikon produced the SLR-type and the Nikon F which allowed users to install interchangeable lenses and other accessories. Smart cameras and digital cameras emerged between the 1970s and 1990s, which enables all people to get chances to shoot high-quality pictures and store them electronically.

Why the image is regarded as the interface?

As Franke indicates, “insofar as the observer can be seen as the user of the image, the image itself is the interface between the observer and the inferred space.” Throughout the whole development of art, trying to find a new way of communication with audiences is always the top priority. Images themselves, serve the functions more likely as a “complex utterance” than directly expressing the meanings, like what words do (Burgin 66). By conveying statements to the audiences, images are representing what the authors-the speakers, actually-want to convey subjectively. Beyond that, what has been perceived from images is also subjective in terms of the audiences. As McLuhan has claimed, the medium is the message, the image represents itself as an important medium to convey messages to the audiences. Thus, in the following project, the image is regarded as the interface to show the influences generated from the development of both optical devices and painting ideas.

The semiotical relationships between photography and realistic paintings

When we stand in front of realistic painting, the most frequent comment we have made is that “wow, the painting is like photography.” But why audiences always think a realistic painting is “like a photography”?

The first thing needs to be explained is why we think the photograph is realistic. As McCloud indicates, “the level of abstraction among pictures vary, and the photography and realism picture are the icons most resemble their real-life counterparts (McCloud 28)”, it is widely believed that a photograph certainly resembles whatever it depicts. Working as a facsimile, the photograph is the most realistic 2D counterpart of the 3D real life.

Thus, if the artists desire to keep the realistic part of the real-life counterpart and emphasize the realism of their artwork, “the complexity and beauty of the physical world should be included”. In contrast, “if one wants to emphasize the concept, much physical appearance has to be omitted ” (McCloud 41). Following this rule, artists keep realistic painting closer and closer to the photograph.

From the perspective of audiences, audiences are used to perceive the objects in real life in a perspective and detailed way. In other words, people are familiar with the “signified” not only in these objects’ physical manifestation but also in their photographic way. After all, apart from seeing these objects through our naked eyes, audiences also have a lot of experiences seeing them in their 2D “representamen” through books or the internet. Therefore, when a realistic painting happens to appear in front of our eyes, the ample details and realistic descriptions in the canvas lead us to think back to their facsimile 2D counterparts-the photographs. Apart from that, the images themselves contain much detailed information that is able to indicate their historical period and environment, which offers an aura to audiences and convinces audiences the images are records of specific people or landscapes. Thus, a realistic painting is regarded as “like a photograph”.

The importance of showing space-time relationships in artworks

For one thing, space-time is “a physical measure delivering the length, breadth, and thickness” which enables us to have a basic perception of the objects, and since we have culturally learned about this measurement mode, we already quite familiar with the relationship of space-time. Assembling the pieces of wood being placed on the floor into a closet, for example, is one way of transforming the “two-dimensional space-time diagram” into three-dimensional perceive (Moholy-Nagy 115). Thus, when we appreciate the realistic paintings or drawings, the relationship between space and time give us clues to realize the objects and the relationships among objects in the artworks.

For another thing, beyond that, space-time also indicates “feelings and psychological events”. Sigmund Freud mentioned that “space-time fundamentals may be understood as the syntax and grammar of an emotional language which may recreate the path of inner motion”. By juxtaposing elements of different space or time all together in one piece of artwork, this artwork expresses one event and the emotions based on that event completely and synchronously (Moholy-Nagy 115).

Case 1: Camera obscura

  • How artists used camera obscura to create artworks

With the assistance of optical devices, in the late 15th century and the early 16th century during the Renaissance, the realistic painting made rapid progress, the costume patterns were able to be painted vividly and accurately. Photography was a tool of drawing in the 17th and 18th centuries. It diffuses all the visual details that may confuse the eye on a “flat surface” (Elmongi 61).

As for our eyes, the center of the retina contains “tightly packed photoreceptors sensitive to color and individually connected to the optic nerve”. Outside this central region, light falling on the retina is less differentiated, and its color is not registered (Franke 18:2). In this way, the three-dimensional perspective forms. Through the camera obscura, an optical phenomenon occurs. The scene outside the camera obscura is inverted through a small hole and shows on the screen or the wall inside the camera obscura. The camera obscura allows perspective to be geometrically determined and transferred onto two dimensions showing on the canvas. Therefore, the foundations of realistic representation were enabled by “applications of these principles in drawing and painting on 2D surfaces” (Irvine 2).

The example of how camera obscura works

Johannes Vermeer is one of the most well-known painters who was believed to utilize camera obscura to assist in creating paintings. Delicately composing his paintings, Vermeer left a small number of masterpieces, but each one of them was carefully framed and colored. One obvious feature of his painting is that majority of his work described the scene in two rooms with the same but rearranged furniture and decorations. Vermeer is believed to work in his studio with his camera obscura. Some of his paintings like Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Milkmaid shows red and blue edges caused by dispersion if you zoom in to look at the edges of the human figure’s body. There is also no linear outline showing on Vermeer’s painting. But as Lawrence Gowing says, many artists have used the camera obscura, but “Vermeer is alone in putting it to the service of style rather than the accumulation of facts.” Vermeer was more fascinated by “the luminous qualities of the camera image itself”. Steadman also indicates that there is no need for Vermeer to draw the linear outlines, since “the camera image itself, falling on the canvas, served as his drawing” (Steadman 310).

Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665

Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, 1658

  • The advantages and disadvantages of using the camera obscura

1)Depict one space and fixed time in a more realistic way

Dutch art was conceived as “a realistic mirroring of Dutch life” during the Renaissance. The scenes in the paintings portrayed the real-life environment in this country including the clothing, landscapes, animals, towns, food, people, and so on. Talking back to Vermeer, by using the camera obscura, he could focus on the specific space to record what happened at that moment, which fulfilled the need of being realistic. Just like what photography shows, shadow and light are always placed at the spots where they appeared at the time of the exposure, the camera obscura also gives artists explicit clues of the perspective of the room.

Restore the scene of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson

2)More convenient to finish the portrait painting for the nobility at that period

During the Renaissance, painting through oil paintings was basically only available to the aristocracy, who were also the main source of income for artists. Whether they were court painters or small painters, they generally served nobles. That is to say, in that period, artists lived mostly on the orders of nobles, and it was less possible for artists to create works based on their own creative thinking. Using camera obscura may offer these painters a way to finish their work precisely and conveniently.

However, using the camera obscura also presents disadvantages. Due to the limitations of the lens itself, no matter how big the lens was, the effective image size remained small, which also determined the size of most paintings at that time. Thus, if artists were asked to create complex large-scale pictures, they had no choice but to focus each part separately, and then splice each part together to complete the whole picture. As a result, the “single point perspective” was replaced by the “multi-points perspective”. But while the application of the multi-points perspective ensured the size and the comprehensiveness of the image, it could also generate incorrect proportions of human bodies or objects in the paintings. 

Jean-Siméon Chardin, The Return from the Market, 1738 (The woman’s arm is in a wrong proportion)

  • Why the audiences realize the paintings in this period are realistic

As is discussed in the preceding paragraphs, one demands of paintings in the Renaissance is to record the real-life or the real figures. As Irvine indicates, the “realistic” look is the “optical look,” a type or kind of image representation based on the properties of lens-projected light (Irvine 3). By using the camera obscura, artists were able to perfectly portray the light, facial expressions, delicate objects on the table, the texture of the clothes, as well as the perspective of the room. All this information shows their functions in two ways.

Firstly, through the camera obscura, objects are transformed from 3D into 2D on the canvas, but the form of signs are thoroughly presented in the paintings. For example, the images, the  “representamen” of foods and clothes showing on the painting let audiences understand the real meaning of these objects. Similar to photography (which is the facsimile of objects), the realistic painting includes many complex details.

Secondly, audiences have culturally learned that what the decoration style and the clothes style should be in specific periods, and thus these existing experiences. Therefore, the paintings which obtain this kind of information offer an aura of the specific historical period and the social status of the figures in the paintings. The culturally learned knowledge, in turn, contributes to the understanding of objects in a realistic way.

Case 2: Early cameras

  • The interactive relationship between painters and photographers in the 19th century

On the one hand, there were two reasons why photographs were much the same with oil painting in the 19 century. Firstly, from the perspective of photographers, since the exposure time of Daguerreotype lasted around 30 minutes, the photographers had to deliberately prepare the whole scene in advance and ask people who would show in the picture to wait for a long time, in order to catch the best light resource. Secondly, apart from the creation method and the limitation of technology, the pictorial tendency of early photography also attributed to the mainstream aesthetic of oil painting in society, so that photographers actively approached painting in both aesthetic consciousness and the way of creation.

Oscar Gustave Rejlander, Two Ways of Life, 1857

On the other hand, the use of camera directly or indirectly caused the emergence of Cubist and Futurist. Since photographic technologies and optical devices gradually became mature, they steadily fulfilled the demands of recording real-life, including human figures, portraits, or still lifes due to their accurate ability to record light and shadow. The French painter, Paul Delaroche, even said that “from today, painting is dead” after seeing a daguerreotype for the first time. But meanwhile, the artists no longer had to take the responsibility of imitating and depicting the objective objects. They did not need to pay attention to the proportion perspective, anatomical structure, and the realistic imitation of form, space, and texture. Contrary to the traditional way of portraying shadow, light, and still figures in the room, “a new space-consciousness” emerged at the beginning of the last century (Moholy-Nagy 113). In this period, the fixed viewpoint is rejected and is “replaced by a flexible approach, by seeing matters in a constantly changing moving field of mutual relationships” (Moholy-Nagy 114). The cubist painters render the object in its “true nature and totality” (Moholy-Nagy 116). Instead of describing the object from one single perspective, cubism artists tend to describe it from the front, the back, and the profile all in one canvas.

And later on, photographers changed their way of taking pictures. “The rendering of vision in motion is given in the motion photos of Muybridge” (Moholy-Nagy 121). The artist Eadweard Muybridge studied “running horses’ motion”. For the first time, he revolutionarily captured the four horse’s hooves are “off the ground at one stage of its stride” (Elmongi 61). Before that, when artists depicted the running horses, they tended to draw horses running at full speed with the front legs extended forward, and the rear legs extended backward. But Muybridge’s study gave the opposite result. Thus, Muybridge influenced a variety of painters in depicting motion by leading artists to a new perception for seeing the “physical world”.

Reciprocally, the progress of photography further influence artists. There is an intriguing connection between Muybridge’s study and Marcel Duchamp’s artworks in terms of space and time. Duchamp himself recognized the influence of chronophotography and especially of Muybridge’s Woman Walking Downstairs. As for cubism artists, the most economical solution of depicting multiple views is to superimpose each view over the other. Therefore, instead of depicting the static plane, Duchamp expressed flowing time in his artwork Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. In this painting, Duchamp utilized nested, conical, and cylindrical abstract elements to represent the human body, as well as the movement of walking down the stairs. The darker part of the painting indicates the margin between the human figure – the brighter part – and the stairs or the background, which enable the audiences to distinguish the dynamic motion lines of the human figure. Also, the audiences are capable to find out that the figure is walking down from the upper left to the lower right corner of the picture. What Duchamp has successfully depicted was a complete motion happening in several different intervals, but the whole movement still happens in the same space. By superimposing, artists could compose a painting describing multiple times in which a few distinctive pictures are needed to render.

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912

Eadweard Muybridge, Woman Walking Downstairs, 1887

But the influence never stopped. At the very beginning, photographs are used to record real-life stuff showing on a straight horizon line. However, influenced by the new space-time consciousness and the idea of composing objects from different perspectives, photography actually learned from cubism. Add on the basic lenses, photographers gradually began to create artworks by using fisheye lenses or by shooting pictures from birds’ view.

To sum up, the appearance of early cameras constantly stimulates painters to find a new direction, and artists finally found out the difference between the photographs and paintings. The two developed simultaneously and reciprocally, they influenced each other, and no one could get rid of the other one. Photography is no longer an imitator of painting, and painting has been reborn as well.

  • Semiotical meaning in Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2

Another thing needs to be mentioned is that, now that the audiences can easily recognize figures or objects in realistic paintings due to the clear “signifier”, how do audiences distinguish the human walking down the stairs? Or how can we even notice that the figure is walking down from the upper left to the lower right corner?

Depend on Peirce, in that painting, the “representamen”, or the sign’s form, is the figure composed by conical and cylindrical abstract elements. And because humans are very sensitive to all face-like and human-like images as “we are a self-centered race” (McCloud 32), we notice that the combined shapes are similar to our legs. Especially since we know well how we walk downstairs, we can even imagine the whole action without walking down physically, and thus we interpret the shapes as our bent legs when we are walking down the stairs. This culturally learned knowledge and self-identification contribute to the “interpretant” of the painting. Therefore, it is possible for us audiences to point out the “object” is a human.

Case 3: Modern cameras

Modern cameras give artists more ways to record real-life. In the 20th century, Kodak engineer Bryce Beyer came up with a new solution that solved color recognition with just one image sensor. By placing a color filter array in front of the image sensor and demosaicing, modern cameras or digital cameras are able to produce color digital photos.

Take the example of David Hockneys’ Pearblossom Highway, in this artwork, through the close-up shooting and then combining photos of proper color and elements together, it gives audiences multiple viewpoints, so as to reflect the different time and space.

  • Semiotically analyze how we understand this picture even though it is not a “realistic painting”

As we can see in this artwork, all elements are derived from independent photographies including words, icons, objects, and colors. We are well aware that these photographs are not consecutive, but after perceiving the picture, we recognize it is a highway under the blue sky. How do we perceive it?

Specifically, words are ultimately abstraction. “STOP AHEAD” directly represent its meaning without any guess. Besides, as an icon has a physical resemblance to the signified, and especially “the sigh is the simultaneous presence of signifier and signified” (Burgin 53). These signs in the picture directly transmit a kind of information that something possibly passes through here and should stop ahead. Our experiences tell us that the icons of speed limit signs and other striking-colored signs are much more likely to appear alongside the roads, especially next to the highways. Or in another word, we have culturally learned that this scene should happen on the highway. Thus, even though the artwork is a combination of several fragments, the meaning of the statement expressed by the whole picture is integrated.

David Hockney, Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #2

  • What audiences perceive beyond the space and time: The emotion

Instead of collaging existed photos, photorealism artists dig into smaller elements in the photo-pixels. The large size is one of the common characteristics of photorealist painting. The artist used a slide projector and other technical means to enlarge the photos dozens of times and then accurately depict them. High precision photography is able to shoot rust or a pore accurately, but the creation of photorealistic painting completely depends on artists’ ideas, including the painters’ own understandings and analysis of its subject. Thus, no matter how calmly and objectively the artists want to paint, the paintings will inevitably carry artists’ own creative emotions.

Chuck Close is one of the most famous photorealism artists. Suffering from prosopagnosia, he puts a grid on the photo and the canvas and “copies cell by cell”. Close’s goal was to transfer photographic information into painted information. So that he looks more closely at people’s faces in images, zooming in to pixelate them for memory and drawing. Therefore, in his works, he not only restored the details of the characters’ faces to the greatest extent but also added his own emotions into it.

Chuck Close, Lucas, 2011

Chuck Close, Lucas I, 1986-1987


This project mainly looks back to the timeline of art development and photography development and chooses three cases-the Camera Obscura, early cameras, and modern cameras- to explain how image representation changed with the development and rebellion of both optical devices and the painting styles. Optical devices always play an essential role in art history because they constantly have interaction influence with art development. Specifically, the camera obscura enabled artists to take realism to a new level, Daguerreotype and the early portable commercial cameras gradually caused the emergency of the Impressionism and the cubism later. Meanwhile, the way of cubism to express space-time relationships reciprocally inspired the invention of the fisheye lens. Nowadays, contemporary art such as photorealism also depends on photography and make innovation based on photography.



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Franke, Ingmar et al. “Towards Attention-Centered Interfaces: An Aesthetic Evaluation of Perspective with Eye Tracking.” ACM Transactions on Multimedia Computing, Communications, and Applications (TOMM) 4.3 (2008): 1–13. Web.

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“Johannes Vermeer.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Apr. 2020,

Latsis, Dimitrios. “Landscape in Motion: Muybridge and the Origins of Chronophotography.” Film History: An International Journal 27.3 (2015): 1–40. Web.

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Photography and the Optical Image” (intro essay)

Irvine, “Student’s Guide to Mikhail Bakhtin: Dialogue, Dialogism, and Intertextuality.

Masoner, Liz. “Explore the Major Advances in the History of Photography.” The Spruce Crafts, The Spruce Crafts, 3 Jan. 2019,

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The Dynamic Dialogues through Museum Architecture and Inside Space — A Case Study of Suzhou Museum

Kening Song

For seeing better quality photos in this essay, please see Google Slide:



Suzhou Museum’s new buildings are designed by I.M. Pei and are open to the public since 2016. This essay uses Suzhou Museum as an example to analyze the dialogues around the audience, artworks, and the museum space and explore how Suzhou Museum architecture design uses the symbols from Suzhou and West and how it combines them harmoniously to present a modern museum that fits in the city context.



Suzhou Museum is located in Suzhou, Jiangsu province in China. It is located in the old part of King Zhongwang’s Residence of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdoms and besides the most famous Suzhou Classical Garden – Humble Administrator’s Garden. Suzhou city also historically was the commercial and south cultural center since the Song dynasty (960 – 1279). It is still a major commercial city today and it is famous for its well-preserved Suzhou Classical Gardens, which made collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Suzhou Museum’s new buildings are designed by I.M. Pei, the Chinese-American architect, who also designed the National Gallery of Art East Buildings and the Louvre Pyramid. In fact, Suzhou is where Pei’s family ancestral residence located and he also stayed in Suzhou and Shanghai during his childhood before he came to America. The famous Lion Grove Garden, which located very near to the Suzhou Museum’s new buildings, was once the private garden of Pei’s family. I.M. Pei also lived in Lion Grove Garden with his grandfather during his summer vacation. He said “Shanghai…was very international in character and therefore open-minded and tolerant. The new buildings that went up in Shanghai obviously had an influence on me…In Suzhou, I was very much conscious of the past, but in Shanghai I saw the future” (Slavicek & Pei, 2009). Thus, it is truly interesting to see how he combined his childhood memory of Suzhou and what he learned in the West to present the final Suzhou Museum new buildings.



In this essay, I choose to use Suzhou Museum to illustrate how the museum architecture and its inside space for presenting artworks work together to interact with the audience. In look deep into this case, Suzhou museum provides itself as a good example of how the new design that balances Chineseness and the West-ness, tradition and the modern to present these dynamic dialogues among the museum, artworks, viewers, and the city. 


Dialogues: The Space, Artworks, and The City

The style of the Suzhou Museum

Seeing from the outside, it is clear that Suzhou Museum uses the classical Jiangnan (Literally means “South of the Yangtze River”) architecture style – black (the actual color is more like a dark grey) bricks and white walls.

                      Suzhou Museum                                                               Ke Garden

However, it is also very “untraditional”. The most obvious geometric shape in Suzhou Museum is its cube-like top. Lu (2017) suggests that Pei usually uses the combination of square torsion and overlap it with octagon shape, which he concludes as “Pei theme” – “it can be used in the oriental ancient street, and also used in the young cities in Western countries; it can be used in China while also used in Islamic countries. As it has the characteristic of universal, it is not local”.

A: Suzhou Museum; B: Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America; C: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

Photo credit: Lu Dazhi

Although it used the geometric forms that indicate the sense of modern, it also infusion with the traditional Jiangnan style. The west building in Suzhou Museum presents a similar shape of Horsehead wall of Hui-style architecture by using the modern geometric forms. The recognizable symbol of the Horsehead wall is its stairs-down shape, which in the case of Suzhou Museum it is used as a more simplified element.

Photo credit: UniDesignLab Photo credit: Sensen/Shutterstock Photo credit: (Shi et al., 2012)

Moreover, its ceiling is another good example. Using ceilings to let the light pass through and made the whole place have natural light and get a sense of pleasure is one of the important marks in I.M Pei’s designs. In the National Gallery of Art East Buildings in Washington D.C., the triangle and square shapes constitute the pyramid shape glass ceilings, which make the light be cut into different triangle shapes of light. Comparing with the Suzhou Museum’s ceilings, we can see in the main building, it also has a pyramid-like shape as the ceiling, however, it uses the more oriental-familiar material and shapes to balance the modern or western-ness in the example of Suzhou Museum.

Photo credit:

Suzhou Museum

Cultivation Garden

It is clear in the photo that the ceiling is made of bamboo or wood-like long strips. When sunlight passes through it, it is finally shaped like what the traditional bamboo-made curtain will make, which is a familiar element that Chinese people will recognize it but also see the modern twist. It may also raise a sense of familiarity with the Western audience that its light shape is also similar to what the blinds curtain will make. In the context of Suzhou, however, people will more feel normal to see the light shapes due to the traditional window frames that Chinese Classical architectures will use, which is also a combination of different geometric shapes in a more “Chineseness” way. Thus, in the Suzhou Museum, the design of ceilings creates a combination of Chineseness and Modern sense. It is something new but also people will find its connections to the local culture.

Suzhou Museum walkway  

Photo credit: biwanersuzhou

 Light shape of bamboo curtain

 Photo credit: Fdenyvssilver

  Light shape of Blinds

Another interesting design is the windows in Suzhou Museum, which chooses a wide margin of grey and uses octagon shape. Most window frames in Suzhou Classical Gardens have a circle or square shape frame with combinations of geomatic shapes inside. Thus, the window in the Suzhou Museum is more like a moon door in Classical Gardens instead of the shape for windows. At the same time, it still uses the “enframed scenery” which widely used in Classical Gardens, which means that the frame of the window serves just like a painting frame that can “capture” and “frame” the “painting” – the beautiful scenery outside the wall. Comparing it with the window view in Cultivation Garden, it is common to set stones and plants as the view. In this way, as the visitors appreciate the artworks, they can constantly view the central garden view through the windows on the walkways.

Photo credit: Wu Ruolin

By using the familiar traditional symbols and elements that deeply embedded in Chinese culture and infused with modern twists, the general outlook of Suzhou Museum shows how it widely utilizes the classical design of traditional architecture as well as modern principles. It shows the uniqueness of the city and creates an ideal environment for the curators to present the artworks in the context of Suzhou. In this way, the Suzhou Museum architecture itself can better serve as the “cultural repository” and “dynamic civic space” (Sirefman, 1999). When the audience enjoys the artworks that highly related to local culture, the environment around it will at the same time contribute to it. I will further discuss in the next part.


Artworks and its Space

The most important artwork in Suzhou Museum is the porcelain tea bowl that created during Five dynasties period (907 – 979) from Yueyao kiln: The Lotus Bowl. It is displayed in the center of the room, behind it is a French window and around it is the other artworks which discovered in the same place as The Lotus Bowl (Huqiu tower in the north part of Suzhou). The whole room artworks are all from the Huqiu tower and named as “Treasures in Huqiu”. Thus, it is clear that the curators decided to arrange it according to culture history to “gave the visitor the feeling of walking through different stages of national history” (in this context, the Suzhou city history) (Alexander, 2007).

As the audience stepping into this room, they will automatically see the beautiful Lotus Bowl together with the background of Bamboo forest through the French window. Most audiences will naturally go around to see from the different angles to observe the Lotus Bowl and then appreciate the other artworks inside the room. In this circumstance, during the first-look, the bamboo background simultaneously joins the interpretation process of the artwork. The background not only reminds the audience it is an artwork made by craftsman thousands of years ago but also notice them they are appreciating it in the present time. The bamboo or the other traditional elements inside and outside buildings echoes with the historical and cultural meaning of the Lotus bowl, however, the glass cover and artificial light also serve to reminds the audience that in this modern time, they are standing in front of an ancient treasure and they can see the physical historical trace on that bowl. Though, the present has some limitations, such as some people may confuse with the actual function of the Lotus Bowl due to the limited information on the label. Because the size and shape of this bowl is bigger than the normal teacups that people familiar with in the later dynasties and modern times. Though, they can still observe its aesthetic beauty.

In this space, the French window always draws the audience’s attention due to that it is the main natural light and the only window in this room. After finishing viewing all the artworks in this room, people love to come closer to the window to see the outside. The window links the inside space and outside garden together, extend the room for interpretation and thus increase the interesting values for viewing. It also awakes the interests of the viewers to continue visiting and to see more about the outside.


Photo credit: Suzhou Museum Photo credit:

Another important scenery inside the west building is the lotus pool and waterfall behind the stairs. The grey bricks and the straight lines and sharp angles make it more modern instead of tradition while the lotus leaves added as a familiar element.

After viewing all the artworks from the past in the west building, the audience will pass through the central garden in Suzhou Museum to the east building, where hosts all the contemporary artworks. Walking on the bridge across the pool, the left hand is the stone mountain view and the right hand is the entrance building and many lotuses on the pool. Mountain-and-water is always the main theme in traditional Chinese painting and in Garden design, passing it creates a sense of go through the past to the modern world – which at the end of the bridge is the modern artworks displace space. I remember there once displayed a modern artwork that combines the traditional elements of mountains and lakes with modern painting skills, which may parallel what Suzhou Museum new buildings trying to say – how we speak to the past and preserving it and answer it in the “now” context.

Photo credit: Sensen/Shutterstock Photo credit: Chenxinmi

The stone mountain view is a good illustration of the “now” context. It uses modern sculpture skills and new stone material instead of the traditional ones. And it made the white wall as its xuan paper. All of these elements remind the viewers of the traditional mountain and water paintings.


City as Context

Suzhou Museum is located in a very important place inside the old city area of Suzhou, which uses the old place of King Zhongwang’s Residence of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdoms and besides the Humble Administrator’s Garden. The buildings around it are all the actual old buildings that stand there for hundreds of years. Thus, it is a challenge for the Suzhou Museum to be harmonious within these neighbors. It also causes several arguments about whether Suzhou should use this important place to build new modern buildings. And after all, we now know it is successfully made itself fit in this environment.

Photo credit: MoreChina

From the beginning of viewing to the end, the maker of “Suzhou” can be seen everywhere, the black bricks and white wall, the stone mountain view behind the pool, the bamboo forest scenery, etc. And the museum architecture itself continually joins in the dialogues between viewers and the artworks. The viewer cannot ignore the architecture itself as they in many other museums did. Just like they cannot go to the east building without passing the central garden to see the stone mountain and wingding bridge. The Suzhou Museum architecture plays an indispensable role in the display. It not only present how they balance the tradition and modern but also remains the uniqueness of Suzhou, the characteristics of this city, which audience will find it connects to the traditional version of Suzhou city and made it fit the modern world.

In the conversations around the artworks, the space, and the audience, Suzhou Museum architecture servers as the frame for the city narratives – how the curators use this framework to retell the stories of Suzhou city in the present day. Most tourists will visit the Suzhou Museum and the Suzhou Classical Garden during their trips in Suzhou. And it is natural for them to compare the past with the present. Just as Chen (2016) comments that “no matter how it (Suzhou Museum) utilized the traditional symbols, the ‘tradition’ is told in the context of ‘present’, have a strong mark of ‘present’, thus, this narrative is a modern image of the combination of tradition and modern”. As the most artworks in Suzhou Museum are those originally discover in Suzhou and most paintings in it are the traditional Chinese paintings that authors belong to or have connections with the southern part of China, it preserves the city heritages and functions as a cultural encyclopedia and also as the archive of city collective memory. The Suzhou Museum also can be seen as a good metaphor of the modern Suzhou city – the main region of Suzhou is still that old historical site with old city walls and tourists can see the most traditional things here, while it also has the “modern” region around it to showcase its modernization and its sophisticated industries. They preserve the past and carry it to present, and now seek to new breakthroughs.

This can also be supported by the design of the Chinese wisteria flower garden inside the east building. I.M Pei insists to use the branch of the old wisteria tree’s that planted by Zhengming Wen (the Suzhou famous painter, calligrapher, and poet during the Ming dynasty and who also lives in the Humble Administrator’s Garden beside the Suzhou Museum) to grow the current wisteria tree inside the small garden for visitors to have a rest after the visit.

Photo credit: Yaomuyan



Suzhou Museum has a great chance to build new buildings to better present their artworks and culture. In the new buildings, we can see the symbols from traditional Suzhou Classical Garden and also the very modern geometric shapes and ways to display the artworks. It balances the modern and the tradition, the Chineseness and the Western-ness. Architecture plays a key role in the artwork’s interpretation process and fits in the city context. It demonstrates “a strong symbiotic relationship not only with its contents but with its context – the city” (Sirefman, 1999). The example of Suzhou Museum showcases how a modern museum can as a tool to link the cultural heritage with the modern city changes. It provides a public space for the citizens to recall the past and enjoy the moments in the museum. For tourists, it becomes a perfect choice for them to explore and experience the new infusion and know more about the city culture.




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Improving Overall Experience of the Art Museum with Digital Mediums


Every business and institution are going digitized because the Internet has become an increasingly major medium for people to search for, absorb, and internalize information. Art museums are surely no exception. However, curators, experience designers, and directors from museums around the world are striving to find a way to deliver better digital experience to the audience which is as important as the traditional visit experience. This essay seeks to explore how to improve the overall experience of the art museum with digital mediums and technologies, followed with some potential design solutions for digital interfaces. The design thinking process devised by Stanford is used as the main methodology in this essay and primary American modern art museums, such as San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), are analyzed as examples throughout the essay.

Keywords: museum, experience, digital, interface



         Digital mediums have a significant influence on today’s art museums in the way of storing, managing, and presenting information. Museums carefully curate their digital presence as one of the pillars of their branding strategies. They also employed digital mediums, such as website and mobile app, to guide the audience to plan their visits, buy the tickets, and purchase the membership. Some of them not only showcase the relevant information about the artworks on exhibit but also create a “virtual museum” online.

         Although museums are investing more and more resources in building their digital platforms, users are not necessarily getting more satisfied with them. According to Atkinson (2013), The Guardian’s G2 supplement published an article listing a couple of museums around the globe with the best online experiences, but the readers expressed their discontent regarding to the design of their websites.

         Nowadays, consumers from any section are looking for a good experience, rather than a specific good product or service. Apple set its business strategy as “committed to bringing the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software and services (“Form 10-K of Apple Inc.”, 2018).” This is the main reason why Apple secures its current position as the most influential tech company in the world. Non-profit organizations though most of the art museums are, they still depend on people’s attention and financial support to fulfill their missions continuously to withstand the test of time. Thus, it’s critical for the museum to build a good overall experience consisting of both on-site experience and digital experience.

         This essay seeks for the answer to the question that is perplexing a lot of museum practitioners – how to create an exceptional and seamless experience for the audience of the art museum with the help of the digital medium and technologies. I apply Stanford’s Design Thinking Process – empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test – as the primary methodology and structure for this research and remediation process. The first part of this essay is to define the problem based on the theories of scholars including Alexander, Parry and Dillon, and leading art museums such as SFMOMA as case study. First, I summarize the audience’s kernel needs for museums and museums’ core missions by analyzing the good practices of traditional (physical) art museums such as SFMOMA. Then, I compare the strengths and shortcomings of museums’ digital mediums to locate the pain points of the audience. The second part is to remediate and redesign the digital medium of today’s art museums. This essay only includes the ideation and analysis of the potential design solutions for good overall museum experience and leaves out the parts of prototype and following testing.

Interpret Museums’ Core Missions and Visitors’ Needs

         To understand what kind of overall experience the museum’s audience are expecting for, we need to look back into the typical exceptional experience of the physical museum and interpret and visitors’ needs. For any museum that strives to create an enjoyable experience, they have to bridge the gap between museums’ core missions and the audience’s anticipation.

Collect and Conserve

          Alexander and Alexander (2008) contend that “conservative museum directors sometimes consider collecting far and away the most important museum function” (p. 8) and “collectors have always taken care of their hoards, oftentimes with miserly devotion” (p.8).  Collecting and conserving artworks are the bedrock of an art museum. Without a tool kit of advanced techniques to obtain and maintain their artworks, a museum will lose its charm and attraction.

         SFMOMA knows this well. During the transformation and expansion from 2013 to 2016, SFMOMA renovated its Collections Center which houses its archives and collections that are not on exhibit. Apart from simply archiving these artworks, SFMOMA also updated it into a better research facility for scholars and students so that the public can have access to all the collections if needed. SFMOMA is also the leader in the field that artists are put at the center of the conservation because it believes that it is vital for the conservers to understand how the artists make their works and how they want their works to evolve over time.

Educate and Edify

         Museums have shouldered the responsibility to educate the public for hundreds of years. Since the French Evolution, many European art museums have acted as the educator to edify and inspire the lower classes.  Nowadays, almost every art museum in the United States emphasizes its educational purpose, not only for the artists, craftsman, and designers, but also for the public (Alexander and Alexander, 2008).

         SFMOMA’s function as an educational facility is fulfilled in two ways. First, it is for the public. The curators guide the audience to interpret artworks, art movements, and the relationships lying between them through an array of well-orchestrated exhibitions. Similarly, it offers a wide range of programs such as SFMOMA 101 which is an introductory series of talks and conversations. Second, it offers free tours to the academic community at the Collections Center.

Facilitate Dialogues

         Art museum, as an institution for the public, should act as a public space to spark dialogues between art and people as well as between people themselves. Arends et al. (2011) suggest that the goals of museums “are not only to educate and inform the visitor, but also to install a bidirectional interaction where the museum can announce special events and have a discussion with the visitor” (p.5).

         Many art movements are triggered by the public exhibition where people hold different opinions about artworks, artists, and even art itself. SFMOMA is one of the first art museums in the world that consider photography as a form of fine arts. Its collections of photography consisting of more than 17,800 photographic works, joined with many other efforts, facilitate the dialogue between the public and the art world, changing people’s perception about photography and art.

         Before SFMOMA’s reopen in 2016, Mario Botta, the architect of the old building, makes the architecture like an exclusive temple because he believes as churches drift away from the center of modern people’s life, museums become the more pervasive shelter for the soul (see Figure 1). Influenced by this structure and atmosphere, visitors were limited to the conversation between the artworks and themselves in a quiet and respectful way.

Figure 1. Musi, Pino. (n.d.) Atrium of old SFMOMA [photography]. dezeen.

         However, Snøhetta transformed the museum into a public space with more spacious room and more natural light to lighten the atmosphere and create a sense of openness (see Figure 2). More space is carefully designed for visitors to take a break and exchange words with each other.

Figure 2. Goldberg, Jeff. (n.d.) Atrium of redesigned SFMOMA [photography]. TEECOM.

         To conclude, museums’ core missions, regardless of the time and the medium, can be generally summarized as collect and conserve, educate and edify, and facilitate dialogues. These three aspects also constitute the basic needs of the audience for the art museums. That is to say, any practitioner who designs the museum experience for the visitors should bear these in mind and any curation, presentation, and edification should be based on them.

Look into Museums’ Digital Mediums

         Understanding museums’ missions and visitors’ needs alone is far from enough to craft an exceptional overall experience since digital mediums have become an integral interface between people and art. It is not only because the medium is the message, but also due to the underlying characteristics – both merits and demerits – of the digital mediums will affect the interaction between the institution and the audience. In order to discover the ideal experience that the art museum can incubate in the digital era, we need to look into the advantages and disadvantages of their digital mediums.


         Digital mediums not only break the physical walls of the museums but also reconstruct the way they present information.

First, digital platforms such as website and mobile app make museums more affordable and accessible. On the one hand, museums can leverage digital mediums as marketing tools to communicate its exhibitions, events, and missions to an unprecedentedly wide range of people. On the other hand, the digitization of artworks converts museums into a 24/7 available source of aesthetic enjoyment and knowledge. For example, during the COVID-19 outbreak, almost all the museums around the world are temporarily closed to champion public health. However, museums are not actually “closed” (see Figure 3); instead, people can still access the information about the artists and the exhibitions on their website. Some art museums also organize various online campaigns to bring people closer to the art.

Figure 3. #MuseumFromHome campaign of SFMOMA during COVID-19 [screen shot]. Retrieved May 1, 2020 from

         Second, museums can take digital mediums as a vehicle for broader and deeper information. Traditionally, visitors can hardly explore the story of the museum itself at the physical museum, but any website for an organization includes information about itself at a prominent place as a way to communicate its identity and values. Besides, without digital mediums, it is hard to establish an efficient mechanism for communication between the audience and the artists. However, digital mediums are widely utilized to smooth out the audience’s interpretation of art. For instance, many museums install screens to display interviews of the artist in the gallery. In this way, the audience can toggle between the independent interpretation and the official narrative without difficulty.

         Third, museums’ digital mediums allow the audience to “curate” the artworks by themselves.  To be more accurate, the idea of “virtual museums” did not receive powerful impetus from the World Wide Web; instead, “the invention of the hypertext in the 1960s may, in the long term, have been a more decisive influence, pointing out the possibility of creating huge non-linear data-architectures (Parry, 2010, pp. 121-122).” With the hypertext, users can easily jump to another page by clicking, for example, the artist’s name (see Figure 4). Additionally, they can also explore artworks in their preferable sequence rather than following the logic pre-set by the curator (see Figure 5).

Figure 4. Artwork info page of SFMOMA website [screen shot]. Retrieved May 1, 2020 from

Figure 5. Google Arts & Culture “explore” webpage [screen shot]. Retrieved by May 1, 2020 from


         However, the digital museum is also restrained by its inherent characteristics.

         To begin with, museums’ digital mediums are usually positioned as an online repository of information rather than a dynamic network of curations. It is a common practice for museum websites to designate a tab on the navigation bar as a portal to the “virtual collections center” where the audience can browse all the artworks on exhibit and/or in archive, including SFMOMA (see Figure 6). However, as we’ve already discussed, one of the main goals of the museum is to educate and edify the audience. Apparently, a sea of images and texts without professional guidance can not serve that purpose at all.

Figure 6. “Artists + Artworks” page of SFMOMA website [screen shot]. Retrieved May 1, 2020 from

         In addition, the digital mediums of the art museum cannot imitate some of the traits of museums’ physical medium. Even though digital mediums can re-mediate the artworks and enable the reproduction of them, they cannot imitate the aura which historically relies on the presence, the authenticity, and the materiality of the artefacts (Benjamin, 2010). That is to say, visitors can never experience the same feeling as actually standing in front of a piece of art and the uniqueness of this experience on any digital platform. Another limitation of the digital medium is that no matter how high the resolution of the image is and how freely the user can zoom in or zoom out, they cannot get an intuitive feeling of the scale of the artwork which used to be achieved by the comparison between the size of the artwork and other artworks in the same room, the space of the gallery, or the visitors themselves.

         Furthermore, the physical space along with its associated contents cannot be reproduced by the digital medium. When a visitor enters a museum, it is not only the artworks that they are interacting with; instead, the interactions between them and the architecture as well as other visitors are also an irreplaceable part of a physic visit to the museum. However, virtual museums are constrained in the screens of various sizes and can only happen between the digital interface and a single user. Museums’ important role as a public space to facilitate dialogues is deactivated to some extent.

Remediate the Overall Museum Experience

         After examining the disadvantages of the digital mediums, it’s safe for us to believe, for art museums, the digital mediums will not completely replace the traditional medium, at least for a very long time. However, their advantages also prove to us that digital mediums need to be leveraged if we want to deliver the museum experience that is compatible with the digital world. To achieve that, an urgent problem to tackle with is how to make the trade-off between the digital medium and the physical medium of art museums. I believe there are two aspects to start with.

Redesign Museum Website

         Newhouse (2005) suggests that “technology can extend an institution far beyond its physical confines” (p. 12). The website is currently the most comprehensive digital medium for art museums to communicate their message and collections. From the perspective of user experience, the website is also a typical entry point of a product, an organization, or an experience. For all these reasons, we can improve the overall experience of the art museum by redesigning the website.

         First and foremost, more emphasis should be put on the part of “curation”. As we’ve discussed above, it is the art museum’s duty to educate, enlighten, and empower the public. To be more specific, an art museum is supposed to subtly lead the visitor to discover the meanings behind the artwork, and even further, the dialogue between one piece of art and the art world as a whole. Nonetheless, a website with endless grids of images will only overwhelm the visitors and push them away before they get to stare at one of them (see Figure 7). Virtual museums need well-orchestrated collections as well.

Figure 7. Grids of images from the website of Google Art & Culture [screen shot]. Retrieved May 1, 2020 from

         In fact, digital museums do not necessarily need to follow the same logic of traditional curation. Both the content and the form can be adjusted to get aligned with the medium. For example, it’s a good practice that the Hirshhorn Museum includes a curation called “Maker Morning” on its homepage which will lead to a collection of artworks created by non-artists. Technologies such as AI might also be leveraged to generate customized curation for visitors based on their preference and taste.

         In addition, the museum website should also adopt a new way of “installation”. According to Dillon (2012), the museum website should be designed for expressing the museum’s physical space as a whole instead of a system for retrieving information (Bolchini and Mylopoulos, 2003). At a physical museum, artworks are usually interpreted in a context – either a section of the architecture such as the dome, or a dialogue with the broader art world such as a collection. This traditional experience has deeply rooted in our mind and shaped the way we perceive things. Thus, art museums need to “install” (display) the works in the context as well. One way is to record the actual physical installation and reproduce it on the digital platform just as what Google Art & Culture does (see Figure 8). Alternatively, the context itself can be remediated to blend into the digital medium. For instance, the curator can provide a set of background images which will inspire the visitors to draw the connections between the artwork and the context (background).

Figure 8. “View in Street View” function of Google Arts & Culture [screen shot]. Retrieved May 1, 2020 from

         Moreover, the design of “navigation” is essential to the digital experience of the art museum. It must be painful when a visitor stands in the atrium of a museum having no idea which collection to start with or how to get to a specific gallery. It applies to the digital museum too. Unlike the traditional medium like a booklet or a sign post, the website relies on its navigation bar to guide the visitor through the space.

         On the one hand, the global navigation bar should consist of the most essential portals that meet the users’ requirements. As a good example, Keir Winesmith (2015), the head of Web + Digital Platforms at SFMOMA, divides the navigation bar of the remodeled into two parts: a navigation for exploration and a navigation for doing (see Figure 9). This two feature groups are transparent for the users and can efficiently lead them through every corner of the museum.

Figure 9. Navigation bar of redesigned [screen shot]. Retrieved October, 2015 from

         On the other hand, navigation should also be remediated to be aligned with the digital medium. Although the construction of a virtual museum is basically two-dimensional, it doesn’t mean that the connections between elements should be linear. Instead, when appreciating a piece of artwork, visitors should have easy access to more hypertexts and relevant information such as collections that include it and art movements that are influenced by it. In this way, visitors can decode the meaning of it as well as the ongoing dialogue about it.

Incorporate Digital Experience in Physical Visit

         Since the digitization of the art museum cannot replace the physical visit experience, the best way to make use of the digital medium is to incorporate the digital experience in the physical visit. Art museums should strive to create an exceptional experience for the visitors by seamlessly combining technologies with the physical space.

         First, the way to independently explore a museum should be upgraded. Traditionally, a self-guided tour at a museum means carrying a device, taping a corresponding number on it, and listening to an explanatory introduction to the artwork. Visitors deserve a smoother experience in their exploration and more tools should be provided for them. For instance, SFMOMA launched a mobile app that “was designed to keep your phone in your pocket and your eyes on the art” as it reopened to the public in 2016 (Chun, 2016). This app can triangulate a visitor’s location accurately and play stories featuring personalities for the visitor. Additionally, this app will automatically change the sequence of its audios as the visitor wanders around the museum. To make it even better, I think multimedia contents should also be produced and included in the app so that the visitor will be empowered to unlock more doors to interpret the meanings.

         Second, museums’ mission of facilitating dialogues can be fulfilled by the digital medium as well. For instance, when a visitor is appreciating a piece of art, they can leave their comments or feelings towards it through the mobile app, and then, they will be notified who else currently at the museum has expressed the same attitude. If desired, they can communicate with the fellow visitor through direct messages in the app and even grab a coffee at the café or the terrace to develop deeper conversations.


         This essay summarizes the core missions of the museum as collect and conserve, educate and edify, and facilitate dialogues which should be seen as the foundation when museum practitioners develop their own strategies aligned with the digital world. Besides the core missions, interpreting the inherent characteristics of museums’ digital mediums is also a critical step to remediate the museum. To inspire better ideas, possible design solutions centering on the website experience and the combination of digital and physical experience are presented.

To conclude, the ever-evolving digital medium is transforming the way people experience, perceive, and interact with the museum. To better serve the public as a constitution, the art museum should carefully redesign its overall experience with the help of the digital medium and emerging technologies.




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Arends, Max, Doron Goldfarb, Deiter Merkl, Martin Weingertner. “Interaction with Art Museums of the Web.” Proceedings of the IADIS Int’l Conference WWW/Internet, Rome, Italy, 2009: 117-125. Web. 15 Ocotober 2011.

Benjamin, W., & Jennings, M. (2010). The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility [First Version]. Grey Room, (39), 11-38. Retrieved April 15, 2020, from

Bolchini, D., & Mylopoulos, J. (2003). From task-oriented to goal-oriented Web requirements analysis. Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Web Information Systems Engineering, 2003. WISE 2003, 166–175.

Chun, R. (2016, May 5). The SFMOMA’s New App Will Forever Change How You Enjoy Museums. Wired.

Dillon, A. (2012). Mediating the Musuem: Investigating Institutional Goals in Physical and Digital Space. Georgetown University.

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Keir Winesmith. (2015, October). The New · SFMOMA. SFMOMA.

Musi, P. (n.d.) Atrium of old SFMOMA [photography]. dezeen.

Newhouse, V. (2005). Art and the power of placement. New York, N.Y: Monacelli Press.

Parry, R. (Ed.). (2010). Museums in a digital age. Retrieved from

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Zhang Dali: The Street Art Trespassed Beijing City


During the whole process of Zhang Dali’s practice and creation of The Dialogue and Demolition (对话与拆), he kept adjusting the way to present his idea and the way how he used different media as interfaces to connect with the city and talk with audiences. The development of using different interfaces also reflected the changing of how Chinese citizens, especially local inhabitants in Beijing city, thought of street art and how they reacted to it. The artist used various methods of combing art and media to create diverse interfaces, trying to connect Beijing citizens with the city space and invoke their contemplation through the procedure of questioning and interpreting his artwork, which was new and strange to Beijing at that time. The transformation of interfaces used shows the artist’s effort to get into the dialogue with the city and break up the silence towards the tremendous changes in Beijing city. Meanwhile, it also shows his effort in promoting the understanding of contemporary graffiti as art. This article will focus on how Zhang used different interface to create the dialogue context, and how he made changes adapting to different reactions from audiences. Furthermore, by discussing how the artist used various channels to build a conversation with viewers, the article also sheds light on how Beijing citizens interpreted street art and how they changed their attitude towards it. At the end of the article, an exhibition curation plan will be presented. The exhibition will focus on showing the alteration of how the artist tried to reach out to audiences and the alteration of “dialogue” in a different context, trying to help audiences learn about Zhang’s street artworks in the context of how street art entered Beijing city and how Beijing adjusted it and developed to embraces global contemporary art and to become a more open and cosmopolitan city for cultural communication.

Before the street art

After graduating from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, Zhang Dali did not go to the unit(Danwei, 单位) allocated by the school, which was located in Heilongjiang Province. He chose to stay in Beijing. The time he spent in Beijing was recorded as part of the documentary, Liulang Beijing 流浪北京 (Bumming in Beijing), produced by Wu Wenguang, who is widely believed as the pioneer of Chinese documentary. In this documentary, Wu recorded the young artists in Beijing City from the 1980s to the 1990s. At that time, younger artists believed that staying in Beijing means more chances to do art. Those artists were called Mang Liu (盲流) Artists by newspaper critiques. The word refers to those who did not follow the life that someone else arranged for him/her. During this time, Zhang’s focus was on ink painting in the traditional Chinese style.

However, he did not find a way to make it survive as an artist in the late 1980s in Beijing. What’s more, a considerable number of Chinese artists chose to go abroad after the 1989 student protest at Tiananmen Square. Zhang was a member of them. He went to Bologna, Italy, and started with making oriental paintings for a gallery. The physical detachment from Chinese society and Chinese culture made him rethink his art style and art creation. He found that, in Europe, people were talking about Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, and Jannis Kounellis. Influenced by them, Zhang started to think of the question of what is the role of a contemporary artist and what question he should focus on. He also saw some walls covered with murals, tags, and slogans. After seeing graffiti in Bologna’s street, he found the possibilities of interluding in the street and city.

Anatomy of the Dialogue and Demolition

In 1992, Zhang Dali created the pattern according to the figure of his head, which later became his icon in Bologna street. He titled it as the Dialogue.

Figure 1. Dialogue, Zhang Dali, 1989, Bologna, via Wu Lung

Zhang regards this figure as a self-portrait as well as a way to engage in the city and create a dialogue with the city, that’s the reason why this project was title as the Dialogue. The first Dialogue work in Bologna received responses. Showed as the above picture, according to Wu Lung’s interview with Zhang, the illustration around the two bald-head figures were drawn by others that they created a conversation with Zhang through interacting with the original painting by Zhang(Wu Lung, 2000).

  1. Development of The Dialogue and Demolition (Duihua yu Chai 对话与拆) in Beijing

In 1992, Zhang returned to Beijing. The China society in the early 1990s was experiencing tremendous transformation due to the “open door” policy, both in the economic realm and the cultural realm. Beijing, as the capital of the country, was also the center of numerous fierce changes. High-rises were building everywhere, and traditional houses and buildings like Siheyuan(四合院) and hutong(胡同) were destroyed and demolished. Commercialized advertisements showed up frequently on the streets. People flooded in for chances. Vitality coexists with chances, but also along with chaos. Inhabitants were forced to follow all the changes to adapt to the new city. Pushed by the fast pace of social development, people hardly noticed what was missing. That was what Zhang wanted to point out. He tried to “reach out to the Beijing population and force people to react to the transformation of their city”(Broudehoux, Anne-Marie, 2004). He tried to use his project to express the protest against the city’s unbridled modernization and invoke people’s awareness of the collapse and compromise of the old city under the pressure of modernization, which was caused by the urban renewal. People need to be sensitized of how urban transformation influences them in daily life. Silence needs to be broken. He wants the public to join in the conversation of the material and spiritual change of the metropolis. 

Since 1995, Zhang Dali started to put his spray-painted bald-headed man on the walls in Beijing. This period lasted for 11 years until 2006, during which the iconic head figure showed up in different spots of streets in Beijing. He sometimes put them on walls that were about to be bulldozed or next to the 拆(chai) character sprayed on the wall indicating a scheduled demolishment by authorities. In The Dialogue and Demolition, Zhang Dali used three iconic symbols in this serial works. The first one is the simplified outline of his head, representing the identity of himself in an abstract shape. The second one is the word “AK-47”, the name of a rifle to represent violence. The third one is the word “18K” to symbolize wealth(Genis, 2014), which was brought about along with urbanization and commercialized society. 

As Zhang explained in the interview with Vice, he used these three elements spraying on walls to express the situation of Beijing at that time. By using these three symbols, Zhang Dali created a meaning system that incorporated his idea of questioning the urbanization and breaking into the conversation with the city into these three symbols. However, as for general citizens, it was hard to interpret. In the video produced by ABS Australia, the journalist asked several passers-by how they thought of such a work on the wall, none of them tried to interpret them in the way Zhang expected. They all felt confused and did not know what exactly this pattern was. At that time, the people in Beijing hadn’t learned about the language of street art. They could hardly join in the dialogue with the artists. The Dialogue and Demolition works, however, achieved the goal of creating a connection with the city and breaking up the well-regulated physical city environment but failed to enter the civilian discourse space. 

However, even if audiences did not respond to his works through active behavior that Zhang experienced in Europe, they did have reactions towards those mysterious vague-meaning “invaders.” Zhang decided to capture those reactions. He began to spend some time hanging around the locations he sprayed the bald-head figures and collecting people’s reactions by using a camera. From 1995 to 1997, according to Wu, Zhang spent a lot of time collecting what people thought and said about his work(Wu Lung, 2000). There was still not an ongoing conversation with audiences that happened, though. Photography helped Zhang record people’s instantaneous reactions and kept them eternal. The physical space surrounding the street art became the space of second creation. In this scenario, Zhang himself became invisible and got out of the frame. The photos he took became the interface of the dialogue between his artworks and people. 

Figure 2. Dialogue and Demolition, Zhang Dali, Beijing, via

Not until the press reacted to his street art did Zhang and his works have the chance to enter the wide-ranging public discussion. Zhang regarded the press as one of the channels through which The Dialogue and Demolition with the Beijing population could be realized. In early 1998, some of Beijing’s cultural newspapers and magazines presented the debate among Zhang’s street artwork, which later invited Zhang to join, abandoning his anonymity. And street art, from then, finally came into the public discourse realm and started to be realized by Beijing citizens.

2. Dialogue and walls culture

Zhang Dali claimed in an interview that he chose walls since they were the screen onto which the show of the city was projected. The culture of walls in China is characteristic. The city structure of Beijing is a concentrated showcase of the traditional culture. As Yang Dongping said in his book Chengshijifeng, the whole Chinese society is a land of the “walled culture,” where “the walls not only block people’s vision, they build up psychological barriers for city people”(Yang, 2004). From the Yuan Dynasty, the inner city and outer city was divided by the walls surrounded. Walls marked the division between each subsidiary unites from the inner city down to the rural area. The walls represent the discourse of authorities, while Zhang’s work, which is based on the permeability feature of the walls in Chinese culture, is trying to break it up and incite the conversation by drawing public awareness and attention to the metaphor of the material walls.

Walls in the city legitimize the secure space of coexistence. They separate and allocate space for people and leave no space of suspicion. They function as a tool to create a regulated and orderly city space and spatial arrangement. However, the emergence of street art break reverses the tide. Street art trespassed in this well-regulated physical space. It takes up an area of the wall and uses it for free conversation and creation. Zhang entered people’s life and opened the dialogue with them. He broke up the still and quiet city space, making people notice his artwork, the exotic invader. He forced people to notice the changes, leading them to see the city’s changing and invoke their contemplation.

Moreover, at that time, walls were used as a medium of communication as well. Slogans and orders from the government were sprayed on walls with color, being a tool of informing and ordering. The Chinese character 拆(chāi), which means to demolish, was printed by government departments on structures to indicate a scheduled demolition for urban construction and renewal purpose. Also, notice about parking or parking ban were put up on walls. Walls were used as the bulletin board. In these cases, a wall itself was an interface and a format of mass media. However, it is a one-sided monologue. It does not require feedback and response. Audiences do not have the right as well as channels to reply to these orders since they did not paint on it as the response. However, Zhang did respond to these orders on the wall. He used his stylized head to be the answer and the interruption to them.

Figure 3: The Dialogue and Demolition, Zhang Dali, Beijing, screenshot of the video produced by ABS Austrilia, 2000


3.The change and development of interfaces

In the process of Zhang’s developing the Dialogue in Beijing, multiple interfaces were created and used.

(1)Three symbolic patterns

Figure 4. Dialogue and Demolition, Zhang Dali, 1998, Beijing, © ifa gallery

The sprayed bald-head pattern, the “AK47” and “18K” texts work together being as medium connecting with the artist’s idea. The figure and the two text tags constitute a multiple visual language system.

First of all, Zhang used the bald-head figure to represent himself at first. As the representative of himself, he used this figure to indicate his presence in the streets of city space as well as his presence in the dialogue with the streets. Later in an interview, Zhang explained that the profile graudally transformed into an abstract concept of an empty man without identity. In this case, the head became the representative of a role to start a conversation. When the figure detached from the restriction of representing a specific person, it became an undefined concept. It could stand for anyone in the dialogue or is going to join the conversation.

Secondly, the tag “AK-47” is another element that Zhang frequently used, which later become the title of another series of his artwork. Using the text “AK-47” as a signifier, Zhang pointed to the concept of the exact type of weapon. AK-47 is a Soviet assault weapon. In the interview with the Asia Art Archive, Zhang mentioned that he used “AK-47” as his alias, indicating the change was hitting the Beijing city like gunfire. The text tag “AK-47” as a signifier refers to the concept of gun and weapon, by which the artist used to analogy the influence and his expectation of his artwork bringing to the city dialogue. What’s more, the weapon “AK-47” is also a symbol that refers to violence. Culturally learned, people easily connect the weapon with war and violence settings. By using this metaphor, Zhang also pointed out “the violence of a community being ripped apart” (Marinelli, 2004).

The third symbol is the tag “18K”. It stands for the 18-carat gold, functioned as the symbol of the economic and commercial aspect of city life, which was also the main concern of Zhang Dali towards the modernization and urbanization of Beijing. By using the connection between gold and wealth, Zhang used this metaphor to represent another main issue in his discussion: the emphasis on commercialization and people’s loss along with it.

Both the “AK-47” tag and the “18K” tag were used as word image that the word refers to a concept that is related and represented by the text, the concept itself could be used as a metaphor. The concept could also be a sign of another meaning. Through such word image signs, Zhang incorporated his idea and attitude towards the transformation of city space into the whole visual system. Along with the head figure, which represents himself, these three elements include the identity of the artist and his contemplation. His questions and thoughts were presented through those elements. He also created the dialogue by putting them on the walls in this city as “the incitement to discourse”(Marinelli, 2004).

 However, without the context of street art and graffiti art, it was hard for general audiences to be aware of their role to interpret. They were confused with these patterns and text tags. Even if it was easier for them to connect weapons with violence, or connect gold with wealth, it was still hard to interpret those symbols in the way Zhang expected without context. His work was labeled by the neighborhood as “sabotage” or borderline “vandalism” (Marinelli, 2004, during the earlier stage of his practice. However, it was undeniable that starting with questions of what was is and who did this, people in Beijing stepped closer to the conversation context more or less. Later, Zhang altered his strategy of creating a dialogue context.

(2)Walls as the interface

Just as Zhang said, “I choose these walls that are spray-painted with the image of a human head. They are the screens onto which the show of this city is projected. The screen becomes a normal but realistic working place … nothing else.”  As for The Dialogue and Demolition, how Zhang used the wall as the interface had two phases in which he used walls for different purposes.

In the first period, Zhang used the wall as the medium, in other words, as the canvas to host his pattern and painting. Since the walls and streets construct an open physical space for viewing and communicating, Zhang chose those open space as space where his dialogue should start. Not in a studio nor a museum, streets were the space for his artwork encountering audiences and for audiences interpreting and interacting with artworks. That physical space is an interface as well. In this period, he mainly spray-painted the bald-head on walls. The walls were the interface to present Zhang’s artworks to start a dialogue between them and the city space. Walls were also the medium connecting between audiences and his artworks.

In the second phase, which was after he started to use photography to capture audiences’ reactions, he used hammer and chisels to destroy the inner part of the head. In most cases during this period, the choice of sites became more crucial for the meaning of making and conversation creating. The location of the wall was also part of the design. He found the sites near other buildings or architectures he wanted to include in his dialogue, and used hammer and chisel to hollow it out. The outline of the head outlined the hollowed part through which people could see through the wall and find the other building in the distance, just as the picture below shows.

Figure 5. Dialogue and Demolition, Zhang Dali, 1998, Beijing, retrived from

In this picture, the wall connects the two radically contrastive settings. On the one side, the old buildings like the Forbidden City, which are praised as Chinese architecture masterpieces, were preserved and protected very well. On the other side, the old private houses were facing a more brutal situation that they were demolished and destroyed to rubble. The previous ones were protected under the policy and law, while the latter ones were destroyed in silence. Zhang intendedly chose the spot where the Forbidden City nearby could be seen from a particular perspective and interact with the broken walls, which he decided to engrave the head figure. By doing this, he created the visual connection to present the conflict of preservation and demolition, emphasizing the brutality of demolishing private houses.

Zhang created a constructive dialogue in the photography by contrasting the demolition and preservation: old private house versus preserved ancient landmark buildings, or sometimes was the demolished old walls and old houses versus the new building in the distance. By intentionally comparing two different conditions, Zhang drew people’s attention to the contrast of new and old things as well as the hierarchy of discourse and inequality when it came to the question of preserving.

When the audiences see the picture constructed in this way, they would be forced to confront such a fierce contrast and disharmony. That’s how Zhang’s wall functions as a visual element, as well as the junction. By using the wall as the interface connecting the preservation and demolition, connecting audience and city space, Zhang’s work can be interpreted as a criticism of the trend renewal under the demand of urbanization without taking into account any aesthetic and historical relationship with the pre-existing culture existence. In this case, walls associated two contrastive objects and the be interface of the dialogue based upon this contrast.

Moreover, compared with some other street artists or graffiti artists, what discriminate Zhang Dali was his choice of walls. He chose wrecked walls or walls to be demolished, which already had their personality and meaning itself. In most cases, walls are invisible due to their usefulness. Zhang interfered with this situation and made them visible. It destroyed the authorities’ monopoly on the usage of city walls. The demolished walls were also the symbol of reconstruction and renewal. They were the symbol of the ongoing urbanization process. The creation based on those walls adds up more layers of meaning and dialogues.

(3)Photograph as the interface

In Zhang’s interview with Vice, he mentioned that “The bulldozers would come and destroy any trace of it. Of course, I would like to keep them, but this out of my power, nothing is lasting, life or art.”(Genis, 2014) As for him, due to the ephemerality of his artwork, (since walls would be demolished soon or later in the future), he deemed that the photograph could be a good way of keeping and recording his artworks. Other than this, he also made it an interface of his recreation based upon the artworks he painted on the walls.

Zhang’s use of the photograph as the interface could also be divided into two phases.  

Figure 6. Dialogue and Demolition (Xinglong hutong), Zhang Dali, 1995, Beijing, retrieved rom Google Arts and Culture

On the one hand, as mentioned before, after Zhang was disappointed by the fact that no one would respond to his street art through painting beside his work, he decided to capture people’s reactions towards his street art. The photograph was used as the recording of the dialogue. In this case, he was still pursuing the dialogue; however, this time, what he focused on was not the dialogue started from himself. He became the observer and made himself out of the conversation scenario. He became invisible and out of the frame. The dialogue would still happen, but this time, he conceived the dialogue happening between the people passing-by and his artwork. The photo was the recreation of the artist based on his previous artworks on the wall. It was also an icon to represent how the circumstances it depicts. However, even though he made it to capture the reaction from people, but the communication between his artwork and audiences was not interaction, neither was ongoing.

Figure 7. Dialogue and Demolition,, Zhang Dali, 1999, Beijing, ©MoMA

On the other hand, when he tried to use the architectural dialogue through the hollowed head outline, the photo became the interface to show that dialogue and interaction. When the artist-curated the setting and painted the figure on the walls. His art creation contained the interaction between his work, wrecked walls, and the surrounding physical environment. The city was his exhibition hall and studio. He curated the exhibition in the city, which was the recreation of his work. And the photograph through which the artist showed such a connection and interaction, was the third time creation.

From archiving purpose to the intended designed for pictorial artwork, we could see how Zhang kept exploring the way of triggering dialogue based on his original creation of The Dialogue and Demolition.

(4)Mass media as the interface

The newspaper had reported the mysterious and strange patterns and raised both confusion and complaint about it, making it a public issue. At the very beginning, negative attitude towards Zhang’s works on newspapers was very common. When Zhang abandoned his anonymity and joined the discussion through the press and publications, the communication, or in other words, the dialogue that Zhang had expected, to some extent, could be realized by the help of mass media. He directly address general audiences on how to interpret his work and told them what they were through newspaper. Through this public debate, Zhang’s art finally made it to reach the general audiences and open the gate for their self-interpretation. What’s more, the newspaper entered into filed of exchanging ideas. The debate focusing on Zhang’s work also led to the debate of large questions, such as public arts, artists’ responsibilities, and civic awareness. The mass media became the medium of artistic expression and communication.

4.Design the interface: an exhibition of the Dialogue and Demolition

In this part, I will design the interface of an exhibition for Zhang Dali’s the Dialogue and Demolition.

While helping audiences to interpret the artworks themselves is important in this exhibition, giving the idea of how the interface changed is also vital for them to know the historical context and the changes of street art’s existence and legitimacy at that time. How the artist changed the way to present and elucidate his work through different channels, is a mirror of the process of how street art entered the public discourse and discussion. Based on this idea, the exhibition will have four parts spanning the 11 years street art practice of Zhang Dali:

The first part will mainly focus on the early period of Zhang’s work when he spray-painted the head figure on the walls. In this part, a high-definition photo of Zhang’s work in 1995 would be printed as wallpaper and cover the wall. Otherwise, the artist, if possible, would be invited to spray-printed the head figure on the walls of the exhibition with the Chinese character “拆” (chai).

In this part, audiences will encounter the bald-head that has the same scale as the ones painted on the street walls. The same-scale painting will give viewers a physical sense of the painting. Meanwhile, headphones are provided through which the audiences could hear the street sound of Beijing Hutong in 1995. By providing such a multimedia experience to the audiences, this part aims to put audiences into the context of 1995 and help them imagine the physical environment of those works at that time.

The second part will mainly exhibit the photos that Zhang took to capture people’s reactions to his works on the street. By exhibiting photos that depict the scenario of how people react to his works, the audiences will get to know the dialogue between citizens and street art at that time. What’s more, helping people to understand photographs as an interface and a way to present the dialogue is another emphasis of this area. Through our onsite experience this semester, I learned the importance of the spatial arrangement of the museum in terms of helping people learn and interpret. Therefore, I propose to arrange this area next to the first part so that audiences could also observe how other audiences react to Zhang’s work on the wall. When they are observing others, they are in the same context as Zhang. This is how this part will help people to understand the way that photograph as the interface in Zhang’s art creation as well.

A visualization of the exhibition room area of part I and part II

The third part will focus on the period that Zhang chose a specific location to chisel his head figure and create the architectural dialogue. In this part, photos of related works will be exhibited. Meanwhile, the artist will be invited to create a chiseled head figure on a piece of the brick wall. The main point here also includes Zhang’s curatorial role of choosing the spot of his artworks and designing the scene to create the contrast of wrecked walls and buildings in the distance. If possible, the piece of the brick wall will be installed in front of the french window. What’s more, the dialogue of past and now is important for Zhang’s work even if since his first street art in Beijing, 25 years have passed. Beijing has changed a lot since then, and it entered a new era of urbanization. Zhang’s artwork in the 1990s became enlightenment and a memo that could remind us of the tremendous changes of the past 25 years. The contrast of the past and now reiterates the importance of having a dialogue with the city. Through the hollowed figure, audiences are invited to look far into the distance, seeing the modern building and urban view of the city, which makes it possible for them to connect past and now. Meanwhile, they could be viewing the scenario in a way that when Zhang curated his artwork did. This will help the audiences to understand how Zhang used the curated architectural dialogue to connect with the city space.

A visualization of the exhibition area of part III

The fourth part will focus on the mass media and their roles in the interpretation process of audiences and the conversation between the artist and audiences. In this part, the newspapers at that time discussing Zhang’s work will be provided, through which audiences could access to the dialogue and debate on mass media at that time. Moreover, videos in which Zhang gives an interpretation and explaining his work will also be shown through multimedia devices, which imitate how audiences in the 1990s got to learn Zhang’s art.



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