All posts in “Art”

Snapchat to launch augmented reality art platform tomorrow


Snapchat plans to launch a new augmented reality art platform featuring pop artist Jeff Koons and others. It will allow art to be pinned to specific locations in augmented reality so users can see it when they hold up their phones in the right spot. Snapchat will solicit sign-ups from artists who want their art added to the platform.

Snapchat plans to roll out the feature with Koons’s art around the world as seen in these photos from Las Vegas, Sydney and Paris. A source tells TechCrunch the feature is based on technology from Cimagine, an Israeli AR startup Snapchat acquired in December. Similar tech powers its World Lens, like the dancing hot dog that got more than 1.5 billion views on Snapchat, plus its new Sponsored World Lens ads.

How Snapchat leaked its own launch

Today a strange “art.snapchat.com” URL appeared, featuring a countdown to 3PM eastern time Tuesday over a photo of Central Park and New York’s skyline. When TechCrunch asked Snapchat about it, a company spokesperson told us “😊 we’re excited to share more soon.”

But our savvy readers discovered that using a time hack, you could trick the site to show what will be launched, ruining Snapchat’s big countdown. Now Snapchat has apparently disabled the hack method, but we’ve collected all the details. The countdown expiration and launched are timed with Snap CEO Evan Spiegel’s talk at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit.

TechCrunch reader Paul Stamatiou sent us this video rip via Jonah Grant that depicts a now-removed YouTube video detailing a Snapchat partnership with Jeff Koons that puts one of his iconic blow-up animal balloon pop-art sculptures in Central Park. Unfortunately the video is silent, but you can get the gist of it.

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Essentially, when users are nearby a piece of Snapchat ART, they’ll see a special Lens available. An indicator will direct them which direction to look until the location marker is in frame, at which point they’ll see the AR art on their phone. Perhaps users will be able to find Snapchat ART on the app’s SnapMap, though we can’t confirm that yet.

Koons, famous for his giant balloon animal sculptures, is the featured artist for the launch. “Discover Koons’s innovative digital installations scattered across the world to experience them for yourself, and learn a little more about them,” Snapchat wrote on the leaked launch site. Digital installations from Koons will be available in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Toronto, Sydney, London, Paris and Rio de Janeiro.

But Koons won’t be alone. The sign-up form below will allow artists to submit their art to be added to Snap’s platform.

Facebook announced in April its plans to pin augmented reality art to real-world locations. But its preview of art by Heather Day akin to a graffiti mural was much smaller than the massive installation art pieces shown off in Snapchat’s photos and video shown above. Snapchat seems to have beaten Facebook to the punch.

The ART launch could help reinvigorate Snapchat; as user growth has slowed, revenue expectations were missed, and competition from Facebook and Instagram Stories remains fierce. At least its share price has perked up a bit since hitting a low in August after botched earnings.

AR can hide content on a digital plane within the real world, thereby making you curious of what could be lingering around you if you just held up your phone. That could be an appealing reason to whip out Snapchat wherever you go. Snapchat has already used this feature with its stylized geofilters, goading users to swipe after Snapping to see if a cool filter is available for their location.

If the launch goes well, it could get people flocking to physical locations in mobs reminiscent of Pokémon GO. As people hold up their phones in glee, passersby are sure to ask what they’re doing, and potentially download or re-open Snapchat to join in the fun.

The question will be whether Snapchat’s platform approach to ART can fill the vast physical world with AR such that not just users in top cities can play along. As I wrote in April, Snapchat would need help from outside developers or artists in order to make AR scale. To really move the needle, Snapchat needs ART everywhere.

[Update: When we first spotted the countdown site, I originally speculated that “If I had to guess based on zero information, I’d say that Snapchat will launch a feature that lets you pin augmented reality art you create at real-life locations that other users can then view when nearby.” Now we know that was pretty close. This article has been heavily edited to reflect the leaked details.]

This clock is an eyeful

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Y Combinator-backed VIDA turns artwork into fashion, accessories and more


VIDA, an e-commerce startup that allows artists to upload their designs to be printed on real-world materials – like fabric, leather, metal and more – which are then sold as unique products, has grown its community of artists to over 100,000 members since its launch a few years ago. The company is now participating in startup accelerator Y Combinator, following its recent collaborations with big names, including Cher, Steve Madden, Warner Bros. and others.

The idea for VIDA comes from founder Umaimah Mendhro, originally from Pakistan, a Harvard Business School grad who has worked in the past at Microsoft and San Francisco-based market accelerator West.

Mendhro had once wanted to be an artist, having taught herself to cut, sketch, sew, stitch, screen print, paint, and more. But she was worried that she couldn’t make a living by way of art alone, which eventually led her to take another path.

With VIDA, Mendhro merges her interests in art and technology by offering a platform where artists can submit their designs, which then become clothing through VIDA’s use of direct-to-fabric digital printing and, more recently, other methods to expand printing to harder materials.

With the digital printing technique, the process of transferring a design to fabric is quicker than traditional methods. This allows VIDA to print items on demand at scale, instead of holding inventory. It’s also now using 3D printing to design the molds for its jewelry collections, and plans to soon move into other areas, like 3D knitting and laser cutting.

Once printed, VIDA creates a branded page for its artists which they can promote however they see fit. The artists recoup 10 percent of the net sales of all their products sold on VIDA, as VIDA handles everything else associated with the manufacturing and sale of those items beyond the design.

When it first launched, VIDA had only a couple of types of products available – silk tops and a few styles of scarves.

Today, the company has branched out to numerous areas – tops, bottoms, wraps, bags, scarves, items for the home like pillows and tapestries, pocket squares, bags, jewelry, and more. It has also grown its community to over 100,000 artists and creatives from over 150 countries worldwide. The site hosts over 2 million individual SKUs, and is adding around 5,000 more daily.

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VIDA isn’t sharing customer numbers or sales figures, but it worked with Cher this year, in a collaboration with HSN. It also worked with Warner Bros. on a collection of Wonder Woman-inspired items, also for HSN.

While VIDA’s larger vision is about making a platform where any idea can become a product, Mendhro says it also appeals to a new kind of consumer.

“We’re rejecting the standardized, mass-produced goods that have been dominating in the retail industry. We want something that’s unique, that tells a story, that has a part of us in there, and something that feels authentic and genuine,” she says.

Despite the custom-made nature of the products, many are surprisingly affordable. For example, the custom bags are in the $40 to $50 range – lower than a new Nine West purse or other mass market brand.

The company also appeals to the socially conscious shopper, as it gives back to those manufacturing its goods in factories through initiatives like its literacy programs and women’s empowerment programs in Pakistan, India and Turkey.

The team of just over a dozen is based in San Francisco, and plans to raise additional funds following Y Combinator’s Demo Day to expand beyond fabrics and further scale the business.

The startup is backed by $5.5 million in funding from Google Ventures, Azure Capital, and Slow Ventures. This is a continuation of the $1.3 million seed round TechCrunch previously reported in 2014, when VIDA was in an earlier stage.

Artist ironically uses AI to make portraits of people with jobs likely displaced by AI

The Most Famous Artist is all about reverse-engineering art to find what works on social media. In his latest project, he’s using artificial intelligence to create like-able and sell-able work that also comments on AI’s potential to kill jobs and industries.

Earlier this month the artist, known as Matty Mo, painted three soon-to-be demolished houses in Los Angeles bright pink. They became a hit for photoshoots and selfies, or in Mo’s parlance, an “Instagram honeypot.” He’s moved onto his next project looking into AI and tech. The show kicked off Tuesday with a one-day gallery pop-up in downtown San Francisco.

Mo said his big, public stunts like the pink houses are what he considers “interrogations.” For that project he was looking into gentrification and community. With his latest project, “Artificial Intelligence: The End of Art As We Know It” he’s starting a conversation about big data, robots,and AI in everyday life.

He worked with anonymous hackers to create large portraits of digitized and filtered faces of factory workers, art dealers, pilots, artists, taxi drivers — all professions he believes won’t exist once machines can do a better job.

To make the portraits he built his own proprietary AI-assisted computer program that takes images and online filters to create stylized prints of everyday people and celebrities, like Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, performer Kanye West, and reality show star Kim Kardashian West. Mo says all these people will be impacted by an AI takeover or are helping propel this technology.

For his gallery show he used only filters based on the artist Chuck Close — but his program can take in any style and photo (he looked for iconic images online) and create large pieces that he tests out on Instagram to see how many likes and purchase clicks he gets.

Elon Musk with a Chuck Close-style filter.

Elon Musk with a Chuck Close-style filter.

At the gallery Tuesday afternoon Mo said “great artists use the tools of our time to tell the story of our time.” He wanted to present the work in a traditional art space to show how something can be perceived as beautiful art without knowing that a robot or computer program made the work. He believes knowing how it’s made can change its perception.

Pilots, factory workers, and taxi drivers are getting pushed out by AI.

Pilots, factory workers, and taxi drivers are getting pushed out by AI.

After Tuesday’s showing, the work lives on online, where the portraits are going for about $500. His computer program is still being shaped and learning his preferences as he trains it to eventually create stylized prints that are optimized to do well on a platform like Instagram. 

As Mo said, “It’s AI assisting artists or artists assisting AI.”

Welcome to the future.

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