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Artwork in Progress: In Conversation With Daniel Birnbaum

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  • PHI Centre

“The future of the museum? You can find inspiration in thinkers like Marshall McLuhan, Cedric Price and Buckminster Fuller. It will not necessarily be the big blockbuster museum, it will be lighter forms of architecture that are linked with new technology,” says Daniel Birnbaum, Director and Curator of Acute Art.

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Credit: Courtesy of Acute Art

This is not a new conversation. It’s one that has inspired big thinkers of the past, and continues to inspire countless artists and art institutions today. Especially when it comes to the relationship between art, audience and the environment within which they experience it. And how technology is continually transforming this relationship.

Birnbaum is one such thinker, and his eclectic background in art history, philosophy, and as a former curator for numerous experimental art schools —from dean of Frankfurt’s Städelschule school to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm—goes a long way to helping understand the why of AR, and where it’s heading.

What is new, is that the transformation of this relationship between art, audience and environment, has considerably accelerated due to the pandemic. “There’s a sociologist that everybody loves to quote from France called Bruno Latour,” says Birnbaum, “who along with Noam Chomsky claims that the pandemic is a kind of a dress rehearsal for a bigger issue, you know, behaviour and a way of inhabiting the planet having to do with the climate crisis.”

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Case in point is Apparition, running until January 16 at the PHI Centre, a low impact, augmented reality tour created by Acute Art. Where technology, in this case an app, serves as a digital bridge between visitors to the PHI and the virtual work of four artists within the four floors of the building. It’s an eclectic mix from four unique voices: Marco Brambilla—a video and film director; Bjarne Melgaard—a painter, sculptor, filmmaker, fashion designer; Koo Jeong A—a multidisciplinary artist; and Darren Bader—a New York-based conceptual artist and AR pioneer.

Birnbaum postulates how Apparition and other virtual exhibitions of this nature could be expanded around the world, without requiring the major set-up, and significant carbon footprint of today’s art fairs. “Some sort of future institution maybe doesn’t need big institutional architecture. Maybe it needs smaller sheds, you know, maybe the future of the art world could either be totally local, and everyone in Montreal, you know, uses local art and you have festivals and the same thing could happen in Stockholm and Oslo and even in London.”

And the PHI Centre / Acute Art collaboration is an outstanding example of the potential of this type of localized exhibition model. Says Birnbaum: “We have had a lot of wonderful conversations with the PHI Centre. We knew that they were the best when it comes to certain institutional takes on this whole world of new media and they’re so interesting because they’re branching out when it comes to disciplines coming together between film and performance and new media and I don’t think there’s any institution in the world that does it better.”

For more on how Acute Art collaborates with the world’s leading contemporary artists to translate their creative vision into digital mediums, visit

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