The Art of the GIF: At a Dallas Gallery, Looking for Beauty in the Internet's Favorite Toy

Categories: Visual Art

WWF legend The Ultimate Warrior stands in front of a U.W. branded background, shirtless and in full guise. His chest is wet with sweat, muscles flexed to full suspension and nipples sharp enough to gouge the canvas mat. What was probably a reactionary response to an interviewer's mention of arch-nemesis The Undertaker, the GIF has captured our warrior in a fit of testosterone-fueled rage, head-banging, mouth ajar, eyes-squinted.

We'll never know the cause or effect. But to Bradly Brown, whose HOMECOMING! Committee recently exhibited a collection of GIFs, that's the point.

"It's a very coded language, like a bunch on inside jokes," he says. "A lot of people don't get it, but I think that's the idea, that's part of it"

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Brown is less interested in the "Art" of the GIF than with the potential conversations and questions that arise from seeing exhibits like the one he threw Saturday in the Deep Ellum Windows project, called GIF THE FUCK OUT.

"I think it's more about artist practice rather than about GIFs," he says. "What art can be, what a gallery opening can be and the role technology plays as well. ... There's always an audience participatory element to our shows, we are trying to create community and networking, but at the same time, we're spurring conversation around very significant contemporary commentary."

The Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, was introduced in the late 1980s by commercial online service provider CompuServe, as a portable and compressed way to display moving images. Original GIFs could handle up to 8 bits per pixel and used over 250 colors. Because of their ability to store multiple images in one file, the '90s saw business using GIFs for online advertising and marketing tools, like web banners.

Brown saw a perfect opportunity to subvert the standard pro-quo of corporations taking cues from new art mediums for advertising campaigns, and play a wry game of role-reversal.

"That's where the beauty lies," he says. "Usually the roles are reversed, and the market takes the trends from the artists and exploits them in a way. But the GIF was a simple marketing tool to get attention on a static internet page, and was then co-opted by the artist. It has become a new medium for creative production."

GIF exhibits are popular around the country and abroad. Recently there have been shows at London's The Photographers Gallery, The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, at this year's Art Basel Miami and multiple universities across the country.

Brown says the idea for a local exhibit had been tossed around for a while, based on his experiences producing a similar exhibit while working for an advertising company in NYC.

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