What if we could see how famous artists would have painted, drawn, or sculpted our own corner of the world? A new exhibition at the National Gallery of the Faroe Islands attempts to do just that, showcasing 40 artworks portraying the archipelago’s rocky, volcanic landscapes in the styles of artists including Vincent van Gogh, Hilma af Klint, and Louise Bourgeois — all created using the artificial intelligence (AI) image generator Midjourney.
In a riff on Andy Warhol’s Shot Marilyns series, one work on view is a two-by-two collage of the Faroe Islands’ native sheep imprinted in contrasting, bright color combinations. Faroe sheep are a hallmark of the North Atlantic island nation, and are known for naturally occurring in over 300 different fleece colors. They outnumber the human population on the islands by a factor of two.
A vertical work features lush, upward-reaching yellow-orange flowers in the style of Swedish mystical artist Hilma af Klint. It commemorates, perhaps, the national flower of the Faroe Islands, the buttercup, a perennial plant that has especially hardy roots.
And a rendering of Louise Bourgeois’s work places her iconic arachnid form on the beaches of an island on a foggy, brisk day — not an impossible juxtaposition, given that Bourgeois once staged her sculptural work “Eyes” (1997) on a waterfront in Oslo. Another work prompted by her style represents the Atlantic puffin, the most populous bird on the islands, as an elegant two-headed being with its two-toned body and distinctive blood orange beak.
Finally, prodded to spit out a Vincent van Gogh take on the seascape of the Faroe Islands, Midjourney produced a “Starry Night”-esque image of the island’s sea cliffs — the highest in all of Europe — sandwiched between calm waters and a tempestuous night sky.
Titled Imagine the Faroe Islands, the exhibition encourages viewers to reconsider what they think of as art. Midjourney is similar to other algorithmic image generators like DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and Craiyon (formerly known as DALL-E Mini), all of which convert text prompts into visual imagery through pattern recognition, drawing on an expansive library of images paired with textual description.
Are the images that come out of these platforms uncreative or unworthy of the label of “art” — even when a human being has to craft the language that goes into making it? The museum wants people to think about questions like these, Lykke Grand, its director, told Smithsonian magazine. It has designed curriculum materials to aid students who visit the gallery to reflect on the broad-reaching influence AI already has in their lives, be it through Siri’s voice assistance, navigation apps, or customer service chatbots. With computer stations set up throughout the space, visitors can also create their own AI-generated images.