The influential gallery held a contest honoring artistic achievement in the internet's favorite image medium.
The Saatchi Gallery in London is one of the world's foremost curators of contemporary art. It launched the career of Damien Hirst and brought Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary to America, a painting Rudy Giuliani called "disgusting" and "degenerate." When the Saatchi Gallery makes a statement about contemporary art, people pay attention. And now, according to the Saatchi Gallery, the humble GIF is a legitimate artistic medium called "motion photography."
Let's think about that for a moment. "Motion photography" is both an accurate and pretentious description of what a GIF can be. "Motion photography" is a somewhat contradictory title, but it captures the spirit of the not-quite-photograph, not-quite-video in-betweenness of GIFs. GIFs are the closest thing on Earth to living paintings. On the other hand, "motion photography" is perhaps an overly highbrow title to give a genre that has given us such dubious and disreputable creations as this.
There is no denying that these GIFs are well-crafted and artistic. The contest itself was a co-production by the Saatchi Gallery and Google+. In the open application process, GIFsmiths from all over the world uploaded their creations to Saatchi Gallery's Google+ page, which was whittled down to a shortlist of 60. From there, winners were chosen in six categories (landscape, lifestyle, action, night, people, and urban), and then a winner was selected by judges including photography legend Cindy Sherman and film director Baz Luhrmann. This is the winning GIF, by Brooklyn-based artist Christina Rinaldi.
Cindy Sherman said this "almost transcends the GIF medium by turning the soapy water into brushstrokes." It's pretty and hypnotic, sure, but Sherman's analysis highlights how little pre-internet artists understand the purely digital. Praising this GIF for its painterly quality undermines that fact that is completely made of pixels, not paint. By comparing it to a very different medium, Sherman doesn't allow the GIF to exist on its own merits. It shows that the GIF still has a very long way to go before its accepted as a legitimate art form in and of itself. In fact, this is one of the least GIF-y GIFs of any of the submissions, which indicates a hesitance to embrace the GIF.
There are shortlisted GIFs that didn't make it to the finals that are better representations of what GIFs-as-art can look like, like Gerardo Juarez's endless kickflip:
This is a better reflection of the weird sense of humor, the youthful anarchic energy, and the general interests of the internet. Some of the other finalists have their own beauty and subtlety, like Micael Reynaud's from the "Action" category:
And Matthew Clarke's finalist from the "Night" category.
Most of the shortlisted GIFs, all of which can be seen here and will be on display at the Saatchi Gallery through May 24th, are interesting, but none of them have anything on this GIF, which may confirm forever that GIFs are best suited for comedy, not fine art.
Images via Saatchi Gallery.