Sometimes it’s not so much about who did something first, but who did it best. In the technology start-up world, it doesn’t matter that dozens of other companies were creating video upload sites before YouTube; YouTube just hit the right combination of community, buzz, and content. Art history is the same. Enduring fame, of the centuries-long variety, doesn’t come to the artist who first followed through on an idea, but to the one who did it the most prominently.
Originality is the eternal question investigated by a new Tumblr-based website called Who Wore It Better, created by Alison Feldish and Derek Frech. The site presents single works by two different artists who use similar aesthetic strategies juxtaposed side-by-side and asks viewers to think about which one is more successful. The somewhat snarky name comes from a fashion meme that compares two celebrities wearing the same dress — which one has the better outfit? Of course, there’s a little more than runway success that’s at stake when it comes to artistic originality.
Who Wore It Better is currently focusing on younger artists who work with the aesthetics of thr internet and digital art. It pits a static-inspired, colorful abstraction by Tauba Auerbach against a glitched-out photograph by Paul Graham and compares moire-derived paintings by Anoka Faruqee and Garth Weiser (for my money, Faruqee’s luminescent colors make her the clear winner). In another incisive pairing, two well-known internet-related artists go at it: Harm van Dorpel’s “Texture Mapping,” a cube-based sculpture whose surfaces are covered in digitized patterns, is presented against a similar piece from Parker Ito’s exhibition The Agony and the Ecstasy. Who wins? I’m not sure.
Thus comes a problem with Who Wore It Better. The site is reductive in the extreme: It simply shows two pictures next to each other. The pieces may look similar, but that doesn’t mean their processes or their conceptual backgrounds are the same. That said, there are still a few art historical Who Wore It Better matchups that we’d like to see. Check them out below.