Alex Israel turns the Bass museum into an AR playground

Los Angeles-based artist joins with Snapchat’s tech team to produce AR works designed to make even the most jaded art audiences smile

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Alex Israel’s Self-Portrait (Palm) (2019) at the Bass . Visitors can experience the artist’s works through the Snapchat app on their phones Photo: Benoit Florencon; courtesy of The Bass Museum

Alex Israel’s Self-Portrait (Palm) (2019) at the Bass . Visitors can experience the artist’s works through the Snapchat app on their phones Photo: Benoit Florencon; courtesy of The Bass Museum

For Alex Israel x Snapchat at the Bass, the artist—who is known for his embrace and infiltration of pop culture—has teamed up with the social media giant to give his works an augmented reality boost. Five of Israel’s Alfred Hitchock-inspired self-portrait silhouette paintings—a long-running series for the artist—are on display at the museum, and when viewed through the Snapchat app, each creates a dynamic, augmented reality (AR) experience that Israel designed in collaboration with the AR team at Snap Inc.—the social media app’s parent company.

“It really is a collaboration between the artist and the technology team,” explains Silvia Karman Cubiñá, the museum’s executive director and chief curator. The kitschy, maximalist effects vary from painting to painting: one self-portrait prompts a psychedelic drive through Los Angeles (where the artist and Snap Inc. are both based), others have a palm tree or a pelican protruding from them, while another depicts the artist as if he were trapped in his own self-portrait. And while such iconography is distinctly LA, it translates seamlessly to the Miami landscape.

“For quite a bit now we’ve been looking for artists who use technology to produce their work,” Cubiñá says. “We hadn’t really found an AR project that would work for our audiences and would resonate with the museum, what we do, and who we serve. What excited me about the project was that it brought in technology in a way that didn’t interfere with the art. This feels like the technology is the medium and the artist is comfortable using it, and Snapchat really got what it was to work with him.”

I think museums are sometimes afraid to talk about having fun, but we’re not
Silvia Karman Cubiñá, chief curator

Another AR opportunity exists in front of the museum, where the show is extended through a piece in which an avatar of the artist interacts with the building, turning the structure into a pedestal for his own likeness and toying with Sylvie Fleury’s neon Eternity Now (2015) on its façade. “The outside marker is really interesting because it makes it very democratic,” Cubiñá says. “There are a lot of people who are not interested in walking into a museum, so this work can be experienced by those that will enter the museum and those who won’t. Anyone can make it work and enjoy it from the outside.” In keeping with this democratic ethos, the museum has phones available to loan for visitors whose own devices are not Snapchat compatible.

“We’re constantly looking for those entry points,” Cubiñá says. “Not distinguishing high art and low art, but understanding that our mission is to serve everyone. So it’s our job—the museum, the curators and our education department—to seek out opportunities to do this. I think museums are sometimes afraid to talk about having fun, but we’re not. We place a lot of importance on having fun. Especially after the past year and a half, it’s really important to experience some joy.”

Alex Israel x Snapchat, The Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, until May 1 2022

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