Behold! These are the world's most famous artworks — but good luck recognizing any of them
Adrienne Crossman remakes masterpieces for the digital age
The Last Supper, American Gothic, The Girl With the Pearl Earring: each and every one is a masterpiece — by Adrienne Crossman.
Crossman, 29, is a slightly less famous name than Da Vinci, Wood or Vermeer, but she's this week's Exhibitionist in Residence.
Currently a grad student at the University of Windsor, Crossman has directed music videos for artists like Austra and Pale Eyes — or you might remember her from this episode of our web series, This Art Works — and her more recent work typically involves sculpture and installation.
What you're about to see, though, is glitch art based on some of the most famous artworks in Western history.
Crossman had recently graduated from OCAD University when the project began. She was Eurotripping, as recent university grads are wont to do, when she made a visit to the Louvre.
"I was just travelling and seeing the way that people experience works of art through their devices," she says.
It was 2012-13. The selfie stick wouldn't become Time Magazine's invention of the year until 2014 — and the Louvre wouldn't consider banning them for another year after that. Instagram Stories were still four years off. But screens? Screens were everywhere, and Crossman thought it was hilarious.
While the tourists were taking photos of the Mona Lisa, Crossman was taking photos of them.
I don't really understand why you would take a video of a painting [...] but I'm interested in why people do that.- Adrienne Crossman, artist
"It's like, 'You're here. Why not be in the moment?'"
And while that question might sound like something your mom has said at every family dinner since the dawn of the smartphone, the situation reminded Crossman of an idea that you'll probably find in your Art History 101 textbook, right next to pictures of all the famous paintings and sculptures she was watching tourists save to their camera rolls.
It's the concept of the "aura," which throws back to Walter Benjamin's 1935 essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" — the notion that an original artwork like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre is more "authentic" than a reproduction, whether that's a print or a postcard a .jpg on a thumbdrive that can be copied infinite times.
"There's a lot of writing about painting as having this aura because only one of them exists, and it's this very powerful thing that contributes to its value," says Crossman. "When you have a digital file where you could print the same version of multiple times — does it increase its value because of the ability to multiply it so many times or does it decrease its value because it can be reproduced so many times? I find those questions are connected."
Chances are, you're familiar with every work of art that Crossman's glitched, and it's because they've been reproduced countless times over.
And beyond that, they're all easily accessed online. That's actually how Crossman got the source material for each piece. She starts with found footage, usually tourist videos uploaded to YouTube — grainy clips of a Warhol or a Seurat. (Her Trevi series, however, plays with professional video of the famous fountain in Rome.) By blending every frame of the video into a dripping, abstracted blur, the results, she says, are "reinterpretations of these master paintings."
Everything in art history is now a Google search away. Her work asks how that changes the way people actually experience art.
On the surface, anyway — and that's not a reference to a certain Microsoft product — we're experiencing it through screens.
"I don't really understand why you would take a video of a painting," says Crossman. "I don't really understand why you would do that, but I'm interested in why people do that."
Check out her work.
Girl with the Pearl Earring
La Grande Jatte
The Last Supper
Warhol Soup Cans
Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists online or on CBC Television. Tune in Friday nights at 12:30am (1am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT).