A pile of smashed glass. A urinal repurposed as sculpture. A croissant dangling in a museum. Is it art? It's an age-old question, but one that gets asked relentlessly. Which is why the Pittsburgh-based contemporary arts center the Mattress Factory, teamed up with technology marketing firm Deeplocal, to produce a tongue-in-cheek iPhone application that will answer the question for you.
Hold your phone up to a work, snap a picture using the "Is This Art?" application, and the app will declare whether what you're looking at is art. Among the one-liners it delivers: "Sister Wendy would not find God in this, therefore THIS IS NOT ART." Users can then send the image to isthisart.org, where everyone can debate an object's art-worthiness. (Full disclosure: I wrote these one-liners in collaboration with conservator Rosa Lowinger.)
Interestingly, the project was inspired by an off-the-cuff Tweet by art blogger Nina K. Simon, which joked that the Mattress Factory develop just such an app. Jeffrey Inscho, the museum's media and public relations director, ran with the idea. (This isn't the first time the museum has been involved in a guerrilla tech piece: they once helped transform their local stretch of Google Street View into a work of performance-based art.) The museum then teamed up with Deeplocal, a Pittsburgh development and marketing firm founded by Nathan Martin (an artist himself). They designed and built the application. Within a few days -- and a bunch of one-liners later -- we had an app.
It couldn't come at a better time: the Whitney Biennial is on view, the Guggenheim stands empty in the name of performance art, Armory Week gets rolling on March 4th and a mere 10 days later, MoMA will unveil a retrospective of work by Marina Abramovic, in which visitors will be invited to sit and stare at the artist. Everywhere, the boundaries of art are being prodded.
"My favorite thing is that we probably won't have any control over it," says Inscho. "But, my hope is that people will use it to think about their surroundings differently." Perhaps the things that least resemble art as we know it are the ones that people will ultimately find most memorable.