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Can Instagram‘s Algorithm Curate an Exhibition Better Than a Human? A London Show Aims to Find Out


What happens when an algorithm curates an exhibition? It’s a question that Laura Herman, a doctoral researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, is unpacking in “The Algorithmic Pedestal,” a show she has spearheaded at J/M Gallery in London. 

She has invited two curators, one human and one machine, to bring together works for display by drawing from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Open Access collection.

The living curator is London-based artist Fabienne Hess, who has picked artworks related to the theme of loss, calling upon such universal human experiences as patience and curiosity. Her array of works are part of “Dataset of Loss,” a collection of images (including some of her own) that she has built over three years to counter algorithm-powered perceptions. 

One of the pieces selected by Fabienne Hess for “The Algorithmic Pedestal.” André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, Louis Revoil (1865–75). Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005.

The exhibition’s other curator is, well, Instagram. Since November 2022, organizers have uploaded images from the Met’s collection of public domain works to the @thealgorithmicpedestal account on Instagram. Whichever posts the platform’s algorithm opted to display in other users’ Home feeds are what made it into the show. 

For Herman, the exhibition, which also serves as her doctoral project, is not the only example of curation exercised by algorithmic calculation. In her view, Instagram’s “‘black box’ algorithm” is already influencing its “users’ experience of visual culture.”

“Many of these algorithmic platforms,” she said, “were not created with the intention of artistic display. They have very different goals: enabling connection between friends, selling ads, gaining attention, serving as a marketplace, and so on. This means that the underlying formulas according to which they operate are not tuned to artistic considerations of aesthetics, beauty, novelty, or even creativity.”

A preview of works picked by Instagram. Photo: @thealgorithmicpedestal on Instagram

In effect, she added, “We are outsourcing decisions about our visual culture to an inanimate machine with very different ways of seeing.”

Such a view into a social media platform’s “perceptual mechanisms” is all the more pressing, in Herman’s view, as A.I. generators, fast gaining in popularity, are bound to generate a bounty of content in need of sorting or curating. Artists, too, might feel compelled to create work preferred by algorithms.

Thus the exhibition’s interactive elements, including QR codes which visitors can scan to receive prompts about the exhibition, and submit their reflections on the differences between Hess’s and Instagram’s curation, and how these different views shape what and how they see. This audience impact will inform Oxford Internet Institute’s ongoing research into the capabilities and biases of recommendation algorithms—an “urgent” issue, added Herman, as visual culture becomes ever-more intertwined with machine intelligence.

“The ever-expanding sea of content will be impossible to traverse without the ability to consume thousands, if not millions, images in a nanosecond,” she said. “Of course, no human has this ability, leading us to become completely reliant on the discernment and decision-making of algorithmic platforms.”

“The Algorithmic Pedestal” is on view at J/M Gallery, 230 Portobello Road, London, January 11–17, 2023. The exhibition is free to attend.

 

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Libbie Mugrabi’s Legal Issues Multiply, Art Advisor Appears to Photoshop Herself Into Instagram Snaps, & More Art-World Gossip


Every week, Midnight Publishing Group News Pro brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops reported and written by Nate Freeman. If you have a tip, email Nate at [email protected]

 

THE ROLLER COASTER PANDEMIC LIFE OF LIBBIE MUGRABI

Last Saturday, Libbie Mugrabi, the ex-wife of mega-collector David Mugrabi, posted what seemed like an innocuous-looking Instagram from the Water Mill home she won in the divorce, lounging on the couch under a painting from Richard Prince’s “After Dark” series.

In fact, the post could be interpreted as a coded message. This was, after all, the same couch, under the same Richard Prince, where she reportedly found her husband naked with another woman. Libbie Mugrabi, perhaps, was sending a signal: She was not yet done with David Mugrabi. 

Sure enough, days later, her attorneys filed documents in Manhattan Supreme Court to reopen her divorce proceedings, despite settling last year. (No figure was made public but a source told Avenue that she “asked for $100 million.”) The papers have since been sealed, but the New York Post took a peek and found that the latest plot twist in this saga hinges on David’s agreed-upon transfer of works by Warhol and Basquiat to Libbie. According to Libbie’s camp, the works arrived damaged—and thus worth considerably less than their court-assigned value. 

Now, Wet Paint can reveal that’s just the latest legal drama ensnaring Ms. Mugrabi. Somehow, hosting an indoor, no-mask, peak-pandemic party in Miami where she reportedly climbed on top of a Damien Hirst statue was not the most memorable Libbie Mugrabi moment of the last year.

In March, she was sued by Dr. Kathryn Smerling, the Upper East Side psychotherapist who, according to court papers, took Libbie on as a client in September 2019. Smerling’s previously unreported complaint alleges that Libbie neglected to pay for her sessions in November, December, January, or February. Smerling now wants her client to make good on nearly $10,000 in therapy bills wracked up at the peak of her divorce proceedings. 

Libbie Mugrabi and David Mugrabi attend 92nd Street Y Annual Spring Gala. (Photo by WILL RAGOZZINO/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

The suit comes after a previously reported suit alleged that Libbie also skipped out on months of rent, with her former landlord alleging that she owes $569,504.25 in unpaid bills. (In the latest divorce filing, per the Post, Libbie claims David failed to pay his “support obligation for at least the five months” before she signed the separation agreement.)

Plus, there’s the matter of a certain podcast appearance that has made the rounds in the last few weeks. Libbie went on “Artlife with Avery Andon“—yes, that Avery Andon, the brother and dealer for that artist with all the charisma of a board game, Alec Monopoly—and betrayed zero remorse for throwing an indoor rager in December, but recoils when she hears that her pod host has antibodies.

When Andon noted that COVID “has disproportionately affected the lower class, the server industry, the hospitality industry, they’re getting crushed,” she responds with a laugh, “Are they? I don’t know, nobody wants to give me a discount on any service.”

But nothing beats this exchange:

Mugrabi: There’s a woman by the name of Marina Abramović…

Andon: Yeah, of course, one of the best performance artists in the world, ever.

Mugrabi: Oh, no no—is she… an artist?

Andon: Yeah, she’s a performance artist. 

Mugrabi: She is?

Andon: Yeah, or am I thinking of someone else?

Mugrabi: Maria? Maybe Maria. She’s very goth-looking to me.

AndonMarina Abramović is a performance artist.

Mugrabi: She has black hair…

Andon: Yeah, Marina Abramović is a performance artist.

Mugrabi: I didn’t know she was an artist.

Andon: You have some homework to do!

Nothing like having Marina Abramović mansplained to you by Alec Monopoly’s brother. 

Mugrabi did not respond to a request for comment, and her lawyer said on the phone that he could not comment now that the court documents had been sealed. Lawyers for Smerling did not respond to a request to comment. 

 

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT PHOTOSHOP

Maria Brito attends the Hugo Boss Prize 2018 Artists Dinner at the Guggenheim Museum. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Hugo Boss Prize 2018)

Let’s cut to the chase here—art advisor to the stars Maria Brito has, it might appear, been photoshopping herself into pictures of art galleries, and then posting the pictures on her Instagram. A tipster directed Wet Paint to her feed, and while some posts appear to show an actual human present in a white cube, others are a lot less clear. 

Take this photo of Brito, whose clients have included Diddy, Gwyneth Paltrow, and celebrity trainer Tracey Anderson, at Gagosian. If you’re scrolling through the feed double-tapping rapid style, such a picture might not look off to you. But then you look at her heels, and… well, they’re not quite on the ground. 

Same deal with a snap from the Ugo Rondinone show at Barbara Gladstone—the shoes float oh-so-slightly above the concrete floor, placing the image somewhere in the uncanny valley. Maybe she’s doing it for scale? Maybe she knows people are more likely to engage with an image of an artwork if there is a woman standing next to it?

One can’t be faulted for looking at Brito at the Carol Bove show at David Zwirner and thinking, “Is this picture real?”

Regarding Brito in front of a Keith Haring, the mind goes to a place of self-reflection. Is Maria Brito really, truly everywhere? Am I truly anywhere? Does anything matter?

Think about it… If Maria Brito wasn’t physically standing in front of this Frank Stella, but her 138,000 followers think that she is, who am I to say she was not physically there?

Brito, for her part, maintains she was most certainly there. “Let them comment whatever they want!” she told Wet Paint. “I was in all those shows and I have tons of pictures to prove it. Not new in this biz. 12 years and counting. If there’s anyone who sees all the shows in NYC, and the galleries know, that’s me. Love my haters. LOL.”

 

POP QUIZ

We have winners! But not too many winners—once again, the Quiz HQ hit readers with a bit of a trick question. The image was not Martin Kippenberger’s Paris Bar (1991), a depiction of the famous Berlin watering hole that once hung on the boîte’s wall but was sold to Charles Saatchi to pay off debts, and then auctioned off by Saatchi in 2009, when it was bought by the house’s owner François Pinault. (We understand the confusion: that one just went back on view at Monsieur Pinault’s new museum.) Alas, it was actually Daniel Richter’s new version of the work, Paris Bar, 2. Version (2011), which is still hanging on the wall at Paris Bar, the backdrop of many a wine-soaked evening. 

Here are the winners: Brussels-based curator Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte; collector and patron Scott Lorinsky—who happens to be a host on this week’s edition of Nota Bene, check it out; Dan Desmond, executive director of the Blue Rider Group at Morgan Stanley; Suzanne Geiss, founder of the Suzanne Geiss Company and board president of Performance Space New York; Mary Rozell, global head of the UBS Art Collection; the artist Victor de Matha; and Winter Street Gallery co-founder George Newall

Here’s this week’s quiz: Who is the notable person here and who made the work behind them?

Send guesses to [email protected]. Winner get hats and bragging rights, forever.

 

WE HEAR…

The new home of Skarstedt Paris. Photo courtesy Skarstedt.

… Run, don’t walk: The first new work by Cady Noland in decades has been secretly installed, by Noland, at Galerie Buchholz in New York on the occasion of Noland’s new book with Rhea Anastas, The Clip-On Method … Per Skarstedt is expanding his empire to the City of Light, opening an outpost on the hot hot hot Avenue Matignon, right across from Christie’s, and poached Maria Cifuentes from Phillips Paris to run the shop … Still House artist Alex Perweiler has opened a Los Angeles project space called Manuel Arts in a casita behind a Los Feliz home—the first show was Brook Hsu, and now there’s a Dozie Kanu presentation up, roll through …. The real estate heiress and collector Jordana Reuben is flipping a 2020 Anna Weyant drawing she bought from Nino Mier, and the flipping is happening at Phillips

Korakrit Arunanondchai Untitled (History painting_ (2013). Photo courtesy the Nasher.

… The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University—a truly world-class institution at a school that educated yours truly—has acquired a painting by Korakrit ArunanondchaiJulian Schnabel will have the first post-pandemic show at the Brant Foundation, it opens in September … Artist Andrew Kuo is publishing a book about the NBA, The Joy of Basketball, with his Cookies podcast co-host Ben Detrick .… Wildly popular West Village cocktail bar Dante is opening a space in Aspen, spitting distance from all the galleries …. Streaming continuously on Ramiken’s website is Transfer Station (2021), an oddly compelling work of Land art, which also functions as a video-work-slash-performance, by the intriguing emerging artist Plano Lee: a feed of the dump across the street from the gallery, trucks churning waste all day and night, and Ramiken founder Mike Egan says the “best times to view the most action are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

A screen grab of Transfer Station (2021), a work by Plano Lee. Photo courtesy Ramiken.

 

SPOTTED

Two of these guys have plead guilty to insider trading and racketeering. Photo courtesy a tipster.

*** “Junk bond king” Michael Milken at the Mets game Monday, in the owner’s box with mega-collectin’ Amazins head honcho Steve Cohen, Mets beat the Cubs 5–2 *** Artist Pat Steir and publisher Joost Elffers at Bar Pitti, with actor John Turturro a table over *** Brian Donnelly at Barclays watching the Nets win, which makes sense, as the Nets are kind of like the KAWS of the NBA, just think about it *** Inigo Philbrick baby mama Victoria Baker-Harber back on Made in Chelsea *** Jake Gyllenhaal at Pastis, still rocking the mask, do you, king *** Tomás Saraceno off the artist roster at Esther Schipper *** Emmanuel Perrotin at the rooftop party he hosted at Galerie Perrotin’s Orchard Street digs as New York ended all restrictions after 15 months—once again, no need for virtual events anymore *** Richard Prince at One Gun Ranch in Malibu to celebrate the potent seedlings he planted last fall, now blossomed and smokable, with Jonas Wood and Benny Blanco lounging on the dope couches Prince made with collector and designer Darren Romanelli ***

PARTING SHOT

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Are NFTs a Shrinking Market or the Next Amazon? Kenny Schachter Wages War With Crypto-Cynics and One Irksome NFT Terrorist


Joshua Decter is a “writer, curator, theorist, educator, and editor” who really, really loathes NFTs, so much so he has been engaged in a months-long, cross-platform attack against me on everything from Twitter to Instagram, culminating in his threat last week to have his beef with me spill over onto the streets of New York. (He’s certainly not the first—or last presumably—to threaten to beat me up.) Decter is adamant that NFTs are divorced from art and exist as nothing more than a debased cryptocurrency scam. I am sorry to persist in pushing back on this, but his wholesale dismissal is entirely misplaced. He also happens to be the author of a 2013 book entitled Art Is a Problem. I’d suggest the real problem is more likely his intemperate machismo and childish, obstinate shortsightedness.

Let’s make something abundantly clear, once and (one hopes) for all: People think of NFTs as a thinly veiled currency (at best), which couldn’t be further from the truth. That became all too clear with the rapid rise of Ethereum, which all but violently thwarted NFT sales as the art couldn’t compete with the underlying crypto it’s traded in. To illustrate, the closing price of ETH on March 11th, the day of Beeple’s Christie’s sale was $1,826; since then, on May 11, ETH hit a high of $4,178. (As I write its fluctuating around $3,800.) If Vignesh Sundaresan (aka Metakovan) kept his hand off his keyboard during the frenzied Beeple bidding war, the 37,787 ETH he purchased it with—the equivalent of $69 million then—would have reached a high of $157,876,232 less than two months after his prescient (eye roll) acquisition! Regardless of ETHs trajectory, I’d hazard a guess that the present actual value of Beeple’s best is less than $10 million.

Video killed the radio star and NFTs killed the NFT star—by fueling ETH inflation. NiftyGateway, the highest-profile NFT platform, is cancelling hundreds of drops due to the fact that the torrent of content creation isn’t commensurate with today’s shrinking marketplace. (Incidentally, I have my do-or-die third NiftyGateway release coinciding with publication of this article. Fingers crossed.)

 

“The Hoarder” is included in Kenny Schachter’s NiftyGateway drop.

Larva Labs, programmers of 10,000 unique CryptoPunks (2017), a group of which fetched $17 million at Christie’s last week, rushed to market with their latest project, 20,000 Meebits, on the back of the Punks’ auction hype. Some complained they were aping “Bored Apes” by the Bored Ape Yacht Club (another collection of 10,000 “unique” NFTs). Are you following? The salient point is that “Meebits” are trading well below their launch price due to the overall constricting of NFT valuations, though creators Matt Hall and John Watkinson did bank another $75 million after their “Punks” auction. It’s revenge of the nerds—on amphetamines.

 

This Meebits video is also included in Kenny Schachter’s Nifty drop.

If you’ve ever seen Midnight Publishing Group News’s ace reporter Nate Freeman about town at a local watering hole, he resembles a throwback to a 1950s-era newshound, often clad in a brown tweed blazer with a notepad in one hand and martini in the other. But when it comes to NFTs, his mindset is as antediluvian as his attire. His Wet Paint column is nothing short of a relentless broadside against digital art and the cryptocurrency that underpins it. He recently complained that the Christie’s CryptoPunks buyer was host of a consortium of investors with a portfolio of Punks. Actually, that’s not altogether different from the Mugrabi clan and their passel of Basquiats, Warhols, Condos, et al.—who also happened to underbid on Urs Fischer’s recent NFT drop on Loïc Gouzer’s Fair Warning auction app. At least they have the foresight to adapt to a changing technologically enabled world, unlike my esteemed Midnight Publishing Group colleague.

Similarly, Tim Schneider, of Midnight Publishing Group News Pro’s The Gray Market recently authored a column headed: “Why NFTs Aren’t the Solution to Museums’ Deaccessioning Dilemmas or Any Other Big Problems, Either.” That was before the storied Uffizi Gallery in Florence sold an NFT of the Michelangelo painting “Doni Tondo” (1505-06) for €140,000 ($170,000). Not to gloat, but… I have been saying for ages (most recently in Austria’s Der Standard newspaper), that museums should sell NFTs alongside posters and postcards instead of deaccessioning art. Max Hollein, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whom I count as a friend (and who I hope won’t be offended), said in an interview that NFT deals are primarily propaganda for speculating in cryptocurrencies. He might reconsider before commencing a deaccessioning campaign of his own.

When it comes to NFTs, as Katharina Rustler of <em>Der Standard</em> interpreted it, “Grab chance by the eggs!" Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

When it comes to NFTs, as Katharina Rustler of Der Standard interpreted it, “Grab chance by the eggs!” Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

It’s not just Old Masters teaching the new by taking a lead in combating the staggering loss of revenues that COVID has wrought on art institutions, but commercial stalwarts like Art Basel and even eBay are getting in on the NFT game. Bitsky (Banksy’s Russian cousin?) is yet another startup that just raised $19 million from the likes of Serena Williams and Jay-Z, led by Marc Andreessen (who bears a striking resemblance to a Conehead of “Saturday Night Live” fame) of Andreessen Horowitz, a $16.6 billion tech fund that has cemented a chokehold on the NFT market, indicating a fervently bullish long-term view. (They’ve also been throwing gasoline on the NFT speculation fire through Clubhouse, the live convo app they’re backing that seems to host a different NFT hypefest every 10 minutes.) Bitski, for its part, is meant to employ a rudimentary consumer interface, creating ease for the crafting of NFTs payable by credit card and sidestepping the fear and hesitancy of crypto-cynics.

German art royalty: Johann Koenig (who’s got a few new ideas up his sleeve when it comes to role of art dealer) and Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne, which is coming up in November’s return to normalcy. Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

German art royalty: Johann Koenig (who’s got a few new ideas up his sleeve when it comes to role of art dealer) and Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne, which is coming up in November’s return to normalcy. Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

Bafflingly, it is the historically staid auction houses, instead of galleries, that have been at the forefront of acclimating to the changing landscape of the art world vis-à-vis technological innovation. Except, that is, for Johann König and Nagel Draxler—at whose Cologne gallery I curated “Breadcrumbs: Art in the Age of NFTism,” through August 21. König has gone as far as staging auctions and initiating his own platform with Dapper Labs— the marketplace known for CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot Moments—to sell NFTs, while also potentially offering fractionalized ownership opportunities for emerging artworks, just like the wildly popular stock-trading app Robinhood does for meme stocks. I asked Johann, “What are you trying to be with all this frenetic activity?” He replied, without missing a beat: “Amazon!” The question of whether (or not) there is a mass public business for art rivaling Apple and Alibaba remains to be seen.

Here’s a video starring a Paul Thek that is part of Kenny Schachter’s NiftyGateway drop.

Christian Nagel, for his part, is a pillar of the German gallery scene, having opened his first space in Munich in 1986 and, four years later, in Cologne, where he began exhibiting works by the likes of Martin Kippenberger, Franz West, Günther Förg, Michael Krebber, Cosima von Bonin, Andrea Fraser, Charline von Heyl, and Martha Rosler. Saskia Draxler, a philosopher and cultural critic, joined as a partner in 2009. As far as NFTs? Nagel informed me that, were it not for a Clubhouse chatroom when a critic questioned the gallery’s commitment (or rather antipathy) to crypto art, I wouldn’t have found myself in Cologne curating what might well be the first meatspace NFT art show in a conceptual art gallery.

Nagel Draxler gallerist Christian Nagel and me in my new show. Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

Nagel Draxler gallerist Christian Nagel and me in my new show. Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

The exhibitions itself is indistinguishable from a non-NFT show inasmuch as there is an installation-based framework upon which photos, computer printouts, paintings, and objects are presented—but it will have a parallel expression as a series of Non-Fungible Token drops, which will follow on OpenSea in the coming weeks. The artists range from such pioneers in the NFT space as R. Myers, Max Osiris, Dot Pigeon, Kevin Abosch, Robness, Osinachi, Ruylton Fyder, Sarah Friend, Olive Allen, and Anna Ridler, commingled with regulars on the contemporary gallery circuit like Tracey Emin, Darren Bader, Eva Beresin, Theo Triantafyllidis, and Koichi Sato (and me, of course!). The imprimatur of the venerated gallery Nagel Draxler is as significant as any of the participating artists in the exhibit, as the embrace of NFTs in such a context speaks volumes about their acceptance, legitimacy, and credibility.

In other news, I received an actual (if unusual) ransom letter last week from Alfred Itchcock, the buyer of the NFT I helped Jerry Saltz release for charity last month. In it, Itchcock stated this was nothing less than an act of digital terrorism and threatened to shred Jerry’s “The First 10,000” unless Saltz engaged in some specific acts regarding the smart contract accompanying his NFT that would entail paying a transaction fee of anywhere between approximately $2,000 to $10,000. Though it wasn’t entirely clear, the purported intent appeared to teach Saltz a lesson for initially criticizing and dismissing NFTs, and (maybe?) prove they have import and significance beyond the low effort Jerry expended on the creation of his.

The self-proclaimed crypto-tax fixer, sure to be the accounting world's busiest man! Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

The self-proclaimed crypto-tax fixer, sure to be the accounting world’s busiest man! Courtesy of Kenny Schachter.

In Alfred’s own (semi-legible) words: “A concrete consequence of “The First 10,000” being shred is that it stops being transferable. It’ll be “lost” in a sense that’s very real to people here. Not being transferable means it can’t ever be resold so you’ll never get royalties from secondary sales. Hence NFT terrorism 🙂 I don’t encourage burning/shredding NFTs since it’s unfair to the artist. One exception is when used as a counter-trolling move. “The First 10,000” isn’t shred yet, it can still be recovered by making one single Ethereum transaction. If that doesn’t happen by May 28 then surely it’ll be shred and lost forever. Luv you all, Best! Alfred”

He closed with line: “DONT PUT YOUR PRIVATE KEYS IN THE WRONG PLACE.” (Thanks for the heads-up, Alfred!) I responded with my inimitable diplomatic brusqueness, the sentiment of which Jerry was fully aligned with: “We wouldn’t pay 5 cents to save this NFT, so your point (whatever that may be) is moot. Knock yourself out and have a ball.” So long “The First 10,000”… till the next. This encounter affirmed one thing for sure: techies are weird.

An article on Paul Thek was published in The University Chicago Journal quoting the artist from 1965: “The world was falling apart, anyone could see it, I was a wreck, the block was a wreck, the city was a wreck; and I’d go to a gallery and there would be a lot of fancy people looking at a lot of stuff that didn’t say anything about anything to anyone.” At present, the world is a wreck. No, NFTism isn’t going to affect things in the big (or little) scheme of things overall—but art may very well instill a greater sense of empathy and humanism, so sorely missed across the globe in the face of war, Covid, and hatred. I am simply a proponent of more artistic expression and communication in whatever form pleases, and less irrational judgments and actions to the contrary.

 

This is some kind of commercial for Kenny’s Nifty drop, and it’s also included in Kenny’s Nifty drop.

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