What’s New in 2014? The Art Genome Project Introduces the Year’s Favorite New Categories

The Art Genome Project
Dec 18, 2014 5:16PM

2014 was an important year for The Art Genome Project. Our team of 16 experts continued to analyze the artists and works on Artsy—from over 350 museums and non-profits and 2,500 galleries—and revise our evolving vocabulary. We have now applied our categories to over 130,000 artworks and 14,000 artists. Artsy has grown into the largest online, freely accessible repository of modern and contemporary art that includes sophisticated, human-annotated metadata.

The Art Genome Project continues to be an iterative study, a dialogue with artists, art historians, our partners, and the public, and in 2014 alone we added almost 100 categories. Why do we need to add new categories? Because art and culture evolve, because we realize that ideas we thought were similar are actually different, and because just as soon as you can put your finger on a discrete development, artists riff on it and problematize it.

We’re excited to share a selection of new categories created by The Art Genome Project over the past year.

We kicked off the year with a feature on the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk,” a stunning survey of the designer who brought us Madonna’s corsets, skirts for men, punk as haute couture, and a whole slew of gender-bending genre-defying designs. Until then, we addressed garments, fashion, and other wearable art with a category called “Related to Fashion,” which also included fashion photography and art that takes fashion as its subject matter. Given the recent popularity of fashion exhibitions (witness also the 650,000 visitors to Alexander McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2011), it was the perfect occasion to add a category specifically to capture fashion design.

Our category Ukiyo-e (translated as “Pictures of the Floating World”) offers a vibrant glimpse into the urban pleasure quarters of the Edo Period (1603-1868) in Japan. These woodblock prints and paintings were produced for collectors and popular consumption alike, and depicted dramatic landscapes, glamorous courtesans, theater scenes, and erotica. Ukiyo-e masters created some of the most recognizable works of Japanese art, including Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. We owe our library of Ukiyo-e to a host of institutional collections and special exhibitions features, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The British Museum, The Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Galleries, and The Art Institute of Chicago.

“Polychromy” refers to the process of decorating sculpture or architecture with a variety of colors. Greek and Roman sculpture was often richly decorated with colorful paints and pigments, but for centuries, the world believed that ancient sculpture was monochromatic. Thus good taste came to be associated with balance, restraint and, first and foremost, a lack of color. (The theorist David Batchelor has recently explored this legacy in his book Chromophobia, meaning “fear of color”). Thumbing his nose at this ever-present taboo, the American sculptor Jeff Koons, whose blockbuster retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York closed in October, creates elaborately produced replicas of toys, knick-knacks, and other banal objects, rendered in exuberant hues. Traditionally, the term polychromy refers to art from antiquity through the Baroque—in other words, it’s not generally part of the vocabulary art historians use to describe modern and contemporary art. After much deliberation (we considered the work of Koons, John Chamberlain, Stephan Balkenhol, Carole A. Feuerman, Takashi Murakami, and many others), we felt cross-temporal connections enabled by an expansive understanding of this technique were important. 

This category brings together Japanese photographers, including the are, bure, boke (rough, blurred, and out of focus) street photography of photo-masters Daido Moriyama and Takuma Nakahira; the erotic bondage captured by Nobuyoshi Araki; Hiroshi Sugimoto’s meditations on time; and the work of other post-war photographers, such as Masahisa Fukase and Yasuhiro Ishimoto. This category also includes contemporary Japanese photographers like Ken Kitano and Kenji Wakasugi

We’ve long had categories to describe highly detailed works, such as paintings with a dense composition, intricately sculpted objects, or a preponderance of ornamentation. What was lacking in all these terms was something to capture dizzying amounts of detail that enter with their complexity, such as the famed ceiling of the Alhambra or the infinitely zoomable compositions of Michelle Hinebrook

To capture trends and identify tendencies in contemporary art, we have created a series of categories called “Contemporary Tendencies,” which includes things like Contemporary Pop or Realist Portraiture. We acknowledge the risks involved in trying to characterize a development in art without the benefit of hindsight, before it’s canonized by critics, artists, and the public, so we do our best to reassess and reconsider these categories regularly. Contemporary Archaeological, for example, looks at contemporary art and design that engages ideas of the distant past or prehistory, often through a worn or “stone-age” appearance. Artists who work in this vein, like Salvatore Arancio, Ben Sansbury, and Yves Dana, are often commenting on the impact of advancements in technology, or on modernity and progress in general.

The internet has an aesthetic, a logic, and a repertoire, which are constantly in flux, and yet utterly distinct from the physical world. In 2014, many artists bridged the digital divide not by going digital—creating computer art and net art—but by going analogue. Patrick Lichty, Cory Arcangel, and Petra Cortright are only some of the many artists today who realize immaterial digital structures in physical forms (think pixelated paintings or analogue memes), a tendency we call “Digital as Manual.” We added this category to complement our growing catalogue of terms related to the non-physical world, from Computer Art, Net Art, and Website to Digital Culture, Glitch Aesthetic, and Technology.

Jessica Backus, Director of The Art Genome Project, and Olivia Jené-Fagon, Project Manager and Researcher on The Art Genome Project

Explore the rest of our 2014 highlights and find out what to look out for in 2015.

The Art Genome Project