The Washington Post

Gifs get legit at Art Basel Miami exhibit

They’ve spawned thousands of blogs and given cats all over the world a taste of instant stardom. Now, the Internet’s favorite graphic format (and the 2012 word of the year) also boasts a spot at Art Basel Miami Beach, arguably the country’s most important contemporary arts festival.

A skateboarder and pedestrian pass the entrance to Wynwood Walls in Miami. Tens of thousands of people are expected through Sunday at the fairs throughout Miami and South Beach. Street artists, including Shepard Fairey, have painted colorful new works onto the exteriors of the warehouses and building of the Wynwood district. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Moving the Still,” a GIF exhibit sponsored by online auction house Paddle8 and blog platform Tumblr, opened Thursday at a space in Miami’s Wynwood arts district. The exhibit features pieces crowd-sourced from the Tumblr community in October and selected by a panel of well-known creatives, including R.E.M. frontman Richard Phillips and design duo Rodarte.

The exhibited GIFs are mesmerizing, in their loopy, lo-fi way. Like their Tumbled and meme-ified kin, these GIFs play short, color-limited animations in a non-stop loop. In one piece highlighted on Moving the Still, a weird, tesselating orb spins over a field of hay. In another, a human outline walks through a screen of infinitely scrolling stripes.

Could CompuServe have envisioned this high-brow use for the “graphics interchange format” when the company introduced it 25 years ago? A claymation ad for the exhibit trumpets landmark GIFs like Internet Explorer’s animated logo and the cheesy Myspace graphics of the mid-eighties. Remember that creepy dancing baby from the ‘90s? Also a GIF, as it turns out.

But Art Basel is not the only organization to elevate the humble, 25-year-old format this year. Several galleries — including the Mulberry Gallery at Denison University and The Photographers Gallery in London — have also hosted exhibits. A number of news organizations used the animations to cover the summer Olympics. The Post even put a GIF on its homepage in October.

That doesn’t mean the GIF has forgotten its roots. Among the pieces contributed to “Moving The Still” are a cavorting otter and a Photoshopped kitten.

That can’t rival Lana Del Rey dancing on the presidential debate stage, of course, but GIFs remain the best way to watch the Internet’s littlest pleasures ... over and over and over again.

And because a post about GIFs wouldn’t be complete without one...

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (


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