Fifty years ago, in their March/April 1966 issue, the journal Art in America posed the question, “what will artists be doing in fifty or a hundred years?” How did it hold up?
Journal editor Nan Rosenthal Piene envisioned that in fifty years the “creation of art objects as objects will no longer be the aim of [artists’] activity,” with the articulation of light serving as an example the future of conceptual, ephemeral art.1 She also pointed to the increased use of industrial materials, mechanical and electrical machines, and paintings programmed by computers. At the time a computer was large enough to fill a room and unavailable to the consumer public, but her predictions proved true.
In a featured essay, the environmental critic Allon Schoener attempted to predict the art world even further down the line, in 2066. But many of the innovations he described have already arrived: “Presently, we are creating vast reservoirs of computerized tape information in business, industry, education and entertainment. When the existing systems of electronic communication -- telephone, telegraph, radio, and television -- are unified as an information-utility, all of this computerized information will become available to anyone, located anywhere, who has access to this information-utility system. Therefore, the art museum will become a link in this vast electronic-computer network.”2
He foresaw the benefits of digital reproduction: “An individual who wants to see a particular collection of paintings in his home will be able to dial the art museum on his video phone and request that the tape of this collection be made available to him.”3
Some elements of his vision are still in an embryonic stage: he looked forward to three-dimensional holographic reproductions of art objects reducing the need for physical holdings, and allowing individuals to “walk around the object as though it were three-dimensional reality.”4
The highlight of Art in America's glimpse into the future is French architect Francois Dallegret’s vision for the future artist, Cosmic-Opera Suit. A silhouette is dressed in “electropuncture armor,” that serves as a “portable factory” that not only replaces the “khakis and shirt worn by today’s artist but also his studio,” “[enlarging] the mental and physical powers of the wearer.”5
While we can already access vast museum collections on our
video smartphones, we’re still waiting on our Cosmic-Opera Suits.
Allon Schoener was right that computerized information would make vast reservoirs of content available worldwide, but not everything has found its way online: issues of Art in America from before 1980 have not yet been digitized and are only available in print. CCA’s Meyer Library in Oakland has print issues of Art in America from 1958 to today available to browse, and online access to issues published from 2002 onwards through the Art Source database.
1. Nan Rosenthal Piene, "What's Next After Next?," Art in America 54, no. 2 (1966): 31.
2. Allon Schoener, "2066 And All That," Art in America 54, no. 2 (1966): 43.
5. Francois Dallegret, "Francois Dallegret's Art Fiction," Art in America 54, no. 2 (1966): 44-50.
Digital reproduction of Cosmic-Opera Suit courtesy Domus.