DevArt: Google’s powerful new move to arts patronage. The Guardian. February 2014.
This long-form essay looks what’s at stake in terms of patronage, power, and artistic possibility with Google (and other large tech companies) move into arts sponsorship.
The commission was, Google announced excitedly, part of a whole new movement in art which they christened ‘DevArt’ – art which was ‘made with code, by developers that push the possibilities of creativity and technology’.
For anyone with any knowledge of art history, this claim comes across as somewhat tin-eared. Computer, or digital, art has been around for over 50 years: in the early 1960s Desmond Paul Henry and A. Michael Noll explored what artistic practices could be engendered through computer programs, and Manfred Mohr ran the first ever computer-generated art show in 1971. But pulling back to the wider history of arts patronage, and the relationship between technology and the arts, highlights that Google’s sponsorship might indeed usher forth a new form of artistic engagement – but not necessarily in the way that’s being presented.
Patronage of the arts has been going on for a very long time, as the legacies of the Catholic and Protestant churches can attest to, and with any form of sponsorship comes issues around power, control, and freedom of expression. At the Royal Academy, the success of artists depended on whether their work would be hung by a committee of ‘Hangmen’ in line of sight of visitors (a process not dissimilar to how products such as breakfast cereal are displayed in supermarkets). As Alice Bell has discussed, the problematic nature of oil and gas companies’ sponsorship of several of London cultural institutions has been held up for debate, not least by activist groups such as Art Not Oil.