Sunrise/Sunset and letting artists take over the museum

Colin Brooks
Aug 13 · 2 min read
Images of artworks on the online collection replaced with wooden boards, over a black background and greyed-out text
Images of artworks on the online collection replaced with wooden boards, over a black background and greyed-out text
Screenshot of American Artist’s Looted at sunset, from whitney.org.

Recently we published a new Sunrise/Sunset on whitney.org by American Artist, called Looted. The artist and project has been written about elsewhere, and while the most important thing I can say is go check it out, I think it’s also a good moment to talk about why Sunrise/Sunset is such an important, and unique series.

Since 2009 at sunrise and sunset (New York City time) whitney.org has been taken over by artists. For those 30 or so seconds twice a day, what happens on whitney.org is up to them. We’ve hosted figure eight balls, glowing orbs of light, color swatches of real sky, talking AI assistants, and 3d animated seabirds among others before most recently boarding up all images on the site. We’ve done this across 3 different iterations of whitney.org, and just watching the recordings can feel like a trip into the Wayback Machine.

As a developer, Sunrise/Sunset is my favorite part of my job. Working with these artists to help realize a vision is a direct connection to supporting their work, something that can otherwise feel abstracted. The process of receiving a project that may be fully or partially baked, and adapting it to operate within the structures of whitney.org is a rewarding challenge that changes from work to work. The web has evolved a lot in a decade, and it shows as these artists adapt the medium to their uses. Whether that’s the proliferation of Canvas, or CSS animation, or the birth and subsequent death of unmuted autoplaying video.

Most broadly, I think the series speaks to something deeper about what a museum can be. Sunrise/Sunset is a wholesale handing over of institutional space in a way you rarely see IRL. While an exhibition or installation might receive significant input from an artist on its design, you just can’t tear out the walls of a multi-million dollar building like you can tear down elements in the DOM. Sunrise/Sunset lets an artist come in, change anything they want about a museum space, and do it differently tomorrow.

Next sunrise is 6:05am, EST.

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