Google Joins Forces With Art Basel in Hong Kong to Boost VR Art

Cao Fei, Robin Rhode, boychild, and other stars take the plunge.

Robin Rhode working to create virtual art. Courtesy of the artist.
Robin Rhode working to create virtual art. Courtesy of the artist.

The art world is infatuated with VR art. The latest? At its upcoming 2017 edition, Art Basel in Hong Kong is teaming up with Google Arts & Culture and a clutch of art stars to present newly created work using Google’s Tilt Brush app, which allows the user to draw and paint in a 3-D virtual space.

Titled “Virtual Frontiers: Artists Experimenting With Tilt Brush,” the show will feature work from an impressive roster of artists, including Cao Fei, fresh from a retrospective at MoMA PS1 in New York, and South Africa’s Robin Rhode, known for witty, graffiti-inspired art.

Other participants in the VR experiment are the buzzy, gender-bending performance artist and Instagram star known as boychild; the experimental painter Sun Xun; and Yang Yongliang, known for fusing classical Chinese art with new-media aesthetics.

In order to master the new technology, the artists attended multi-day residencies with Google in Beijing and Paris. By donning virtual reality headsets, visitors to the fair will be able to explore the works created using Tilt Brush, which runs on Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.

“This collaboration extends Art Basel’s interest in the digital realm and how artists approach this topic on different levels,” Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s global director, said in a press release. “‘Virtual Frontiers’ allows internationally renowned artists to experiment with new technology and to expand their practice into another dimension.”

boychild, Untitled Series of Hand Dances (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

boychild, Untitled Series of Hand Dances (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

What to expect? For Eternal Landscape, Yongliang brings the Chinese tradition of shan shui ink landscape painting into the digital age, allowing the viewer to step into the painting, reimagining it in an immersive virtual world. Sun’s Tilt Brush piece, The Previous Life of the Yimatu Mountain, also draws on Chinese history, imagining a past life in his hometown of Yimatu, the tallest mountain in the Liaoning Province, a recurring subject in his work.

In contrast, boychild has gone more conceptual, creating Untitled: Series of Hand Dances through improvised “hand dances” that allowed her to capture and translate motion into a virtual space.

Sun Xun, The Previous Life of the Yimatu Mountain (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

Sun Xun, The Previous Life of the Yimatu Mountain (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

The search engine’s art initiative has previously launched a website and app offering online access to the world’s museums, and attempted to harness the power of artificial intelligence to organize and identify similarities between images of artworks. Another Google project documents ephemeral street art.

“Virtual Frontiers” sounds more like a product demo for Google than anything else. Visitors to the Art Basel in Hong Kong fair, however, may well stand to see virtual reality works for sale in the main fair. Just recently in New York, the Moving Image fair brought a volley of VR works to Armory Show Week.

Art Basel in Hong Kong will be on view at Convention & Exhibition Centre, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, March 21–March 25, 2017. 


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