Judging by the crowds who showed up at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery this Presidents’ Day weekend, Washingtonians were very exited at the idea of mixing art and wearable technology. I know I was. I must confess, when I first read about David Datuna’s “Portrait of America” piece I didn’t entirely grasp the concept. I just thought, ooh, cool, google glasses and art! Let’s check it out. My husband and I I showed up at 11:15 on Sunday without even knowing that the Portrait Gallery only opened at 11:30. We entered on the G street Street side, slowly made our way to the line via a leisurely walk through the “Retratos: 2000 Years of Latin American Portraits” exhibit only to find out that, at 11:40 (so barely 10 minutes after the museum opened) we would be in for a good hour and a half wait for our 3-minutes experience at Portrait of America. We opted to map out the quickest way to get to the piece and decided, since we live close by anyway, that we would just be a little more strategic about it the next day.
And more strategic we were… when we showed up at 11:10 on Monday, the line was already 30 people long but we managed to get a better spot in line while inside, minimizing our way to 30 minutes. Was it worth it? Well… I’m not sure 3 minutes in front of one art piece is ever worth that long a wait, whether google glasses are involved or not. But it was my first time putting on Google Glasses, and it was my first time experiencing art that way… so I think it was, though I wish I had had more time to experience the videos.
Let’s talk about the piece itself. Portrait of America is a 12-foot art installation that chronicles the journey of a diverse nation through its collective experience. At first sight, it’s a big patriotic American flag. Upon closer look, you notice that the flag is actually made of 2,000 eyeglass lenses. Behind those lenses, are small pictures of events and people that helped define American culture. Add GPS locators beneath the canvas and Google Glasses and you get an interactive work of art. Depending on where you look at the piece, you may experience a video of “I Love Lucy,” a Kennedy campaign ad or a Madonna video clip. And that’s just based on my 3-minutes personal experience…. everyone gets different 20 seconds clips meant to provoke a reaction from the audience—one that is then recorded and shared in a live stream on the artist’s personal website.
Unfortunately, due to the popularity of Portrait of America (up to three hours wait in the afternoon) visitors were limited to three minutes at the piece with the Google Glasses. This didn’t really give me enough time to think about the questions I was being asked (like, “what’s the first thing you would do if you were elected president), learn to navigate the new technology of the Google Glasses, watch the videos and reflect on the experience. Over the next several years, David Datuna plans to create similar pieces of art for 10 countries around the world, including France. Eventually, he plans to have them connect in a “Viewpoint of Billions” series that will reflect the many people and objects that have shaped and will continue to shape the world.
I love that idea… and I’d line up for more than 3 hours to see the final result!