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Art and Tech Have a Really Cool Baby at a San Francisco Museum

A walk through an exhibition where technical innovation is elemental.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

“Artists are their own engineers,” Renny Pritikin, the relatively new (as of last year) curator of the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, said as he walked through a seductive, immersive exhibition dubbed NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology. “They don’t need to be paired with scientists. They are their own.”

Pritikin is comparing the current collection to the 1967 exhibition Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), which paired Bell Labs engineers with well-known artists of the time and kicked off a movement exploring ways in which technological advances could enable art. The movement peaked at the 1970 Expo in Osaka, Japan, with a fog sculpture inside a dome-shaped pavilion, in which hologram-like images floated. At the time, this was the bleeding edge of both tech and culture.

These days, sleek video phones are in the grubby hands of toddlers and pulsing LED-embedded t-shirts clog the clearance bin at Hot Topic. Tech isn’t the future; it’s here, taught at the most prestigious art schools. So what does art look like when technical innovations are as common as paintbrushes and chisels?

The exhibition opened in October and will be on view until Jan. 17, 2016. Since the work can’t be reproduced in book form, the CJM has taken the unusual step of making the catalog digital and available free on the museum’s website. Here’s a taste, though.

It’s clear to even a casual observer that programming, compressed memory, digital animation and interactive apps are the palette of today’s most daring artists.

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