Von ammon co, a new commercial gallery specializing in digital art, opens in D.C. on Saturday, and its first show, “Tabor Robak: Mental,” promises to transport viewers to a future where mass media has mutated into something strange and unsettling.
Robak, a New York-based artist whose trippy computer animations have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art and projected on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, has created nine never-before-seen sculptures for “Mental,” his first D.C. show.
“Each piece is a different reflection on the mind in relationship to technology, positive and negative, and they’re all a little psychedelic,” Robak says.
In “MiniJumbo,” Robak has created a miniature version of a Jumbotron, like one you might see hanging at the center of a sports arena. A chandelier of four 27-inch monitors and four scrolling LED marquees will display slogans generated by a neural network that’s been fed the language of modern advertising.
“I browse through the algorithm’s output and look for latent poetry, like ‘Work hard, have fun, burn alive,’ which subverts this capitalistic ideology,” Robak says.
While “MiniJumbo” shrinks present-day technology, Robak’s “Neuron” is like an appliance from the future. A 7-by-7-foot light box, the piece “suggests an alien vending machine for medical procedures,” Robak says. The machine scrolls automatically through 72 options — including “Social Enhancer” ($16.85) and “Lung Transplant” ($797,200) — and then shows animated visualizations of each treatment.
“You can’t help but be reminded how inaccessible health care is,” the artist says.
Perhaps the trippiest piece in the show is “Buzzsaw,” which projects imaginary company logos on a rotating blade to create a holographic effect. The companies, which Robak invented, span the past, present and future of technology, from stone-cutting tools to lab-grown meat.
“I’m playing with the idea that technological progress is coming at you too fast, so fast it’s a little dangerous,” he says.
Gallery owner Todd von Ammon says “Mental” is the perfect way to launch von ammon co in D.C. “Tabor is part of this lineage of post-internet artists who are unpacking all these technologies that have gripped society, like artificial intelligence and neural networks, and reflecting on how they affect our rapidly changing reality,” von Ammon says.
The gallery will present a new, free showcase of contemporary sculpture every few months, says von Ammon, who will pay the bills by selling the art. This is the first gallery for von Ammon, previously a curator at Team Gallery in New York. It’s a gamble, especially in a city known for being culturally conservative, but von Ammon believes that D.C. is ready to embrace the future.
“Given how many people here are interested in art, my theory is that if I show very cutting-edge, radical stuff, it will have a draw,” von Ammon says.
Plus, rent in Georgetown is more affordable than it is in Manhattan, where von Ammon used to live and work.
“I got access to this beautiful early-20th-century warehouse space right off M Street in Cady’s Alley,” he says. “Having 3,500 square feet of exhibit space that you can do whatever you want with is unheard-of in New York.”
Von ammon co, 3330 Cady’s Alley NW; Sat. through May 25, free.