Jeremy Bailey has intense, questioning blue eyes. They peer at me from banner space as I wander across the far flung reaches of the Internet, trying my very best to ignore them. In one Facebook ad, he holds a geometric sculpture in his palm, inviting me to purchase a $25 tote bag printed with the same image. “You believe in essential form,” the ad states. “You are tasteful and timeless.” I can’t help but click.
I see Bailey’s face most places now because I signed up for the You Museum — the “world’s first and only personalized museum that’s with you wherever you go.” After filling out a questionnaire that gleaned my personality and preferences — “reserved & measured,” “geometric & pointy,” “small & discreet” — the You Museum began filling up my ad space with personalized “exhibitions” of Bailey carrying various decorative art objects. They reach me (regrettably) across 98% of the internet, and if I like what I see, owning it is only a quick credit card transaction away.
Here, the curator is an algorithm and the artwork is a product, unlike older ad replacement services like Add-Art, which had no commercial aspirations. Audiences never have to view anything too far outside their comfort zone (at least theoretically speaking), and the artist in turn gets to become what most of us only ever dream of: Internet Famous. As Bailey, who refers to himself as a “Famous New Media Artist,” explained in one of his YouTube videos, “For me, the internet has always been this place where I went to get famous … that was all about my face and about getting my face in front of as many eyeballs as possible … my face really was, or is, the artwork typically, because it’s so bold, so powerful, so inspirational.”
Bailey’s satirical You Museum — whose branding recalls that of online gallery Artsy —reflects on a strange madness that has overtaken the art world in the internet age. Today, we can buy paintings on Amazon or eBay without ever seeing them in real life. With the right move and lots of luck, we can become as famous as Andy Warhol literally overnight. And the artwork doesn’t even have to be good. Some of the garish sculptures Bailey holds up seem to defy the laws of gravity; they look like they’d topple over in real life.
But the project, Bailey claims, also has political undertones. He conceived it while on a Moving Museum residency in Istanbul, where in 2013 protests at Gezi Park and their social media support provoked the government’s digital surveillance of its citizens. Just like the Turkish government or the NSA, Bailey infiltrates the internet through retargeting technology; the You Museum will eventually send users curated exhibition emails based on their Google history. It’s definitely a discomfiting thought. Still, it’s questionable how deeply these events really influenced the project. Every artist seems to have a political cause nowadays, and it seems probable that Bailey’s just lampooning that, too.