‘The code is the paint and the screen is the canvas’ - Niio's online art

Tel Aviv start-up Niio makes art accessible online.

Quayola (UK), Camouflage (2018)  (photo credit: NIIO)
Quayola (UK), Camouflage (2018)
(photo credit: NIIO)
By now, we’d all love to have an exciting new background for our Zoom meetings, and Niio, a Tel Aviv-based start-up that provides art for the digital age, has a free solution.
Users can go to a link on its website and choose from many options. You can make it look as if you are in a beautiful room in a mansion with a video art collection on the walls, or you can choose a single video artwork to fill your background.
CEO Rob Anders, who founded Niio in 2014 with CTO Oren Moshe, hopes that many people will be intrigued by the idea of a combining Zoom with art and will take an interest in the start-up’s main offering: its moving-image art platform.
Hosting 12,000 video artworks, with a network of 4,000 artists and institutions operating in 42 countries, Niio is the largest moving-image art platform in the world. Its technology enables streaming of artworks to any screen, anywhere in the world.
“We are creating an art-on-demand model that will be to moving-image art what Netflix and Spotify are to television and music,” said Anders in a Zoom interview from his home in the Neve Tzedek section of Tel Aviv, emphasizing that Niio wants to redefine the screen as an art destination, accessible to all.
Anders hopes that the Zoom backgrounds, showing rooms and art, which have become especially popular with all the online meetings taking place during the novel coronavirus pandemic, are giving people a glimpse into the world of moving-image art.
“It’s kind of interesting now with the virtual meetings, there’s a kind of social currency to people’s virtual space, like how their office looks and how they dress. It’s another way to express themselves and their individuality and a new way to showcase art.”
Although music, drama and almost every kind of creative work are found in abundance online, the art world has lagged behind, partly due to concerns about security and piracy, partly due to reluctance of artists to give up control of how their art is viewed, and partly due to the lack of dedicated technology tools and standards for the market.
But these barriers are breaking down, gradually, said Anders. While once art was sold in a “scarcity market,” meaning artworks were either one-of-a-kind, or released in limited-edition series, now “technology is enabling new models which make art more accessible to a broader audience.”
Niio works with a variety of audiences: businesses, such as high-end hotels; real-estate developments; corporations that want to showcase a different and varied kind of artwork in their public spaces and offices; collectors; personal consumers who are interested in displaying art in their homes; and media artists who are looking for a new way to connect with art lovers.
Niio offers curated digital art galleries that can be displayed in public spaces, such as the Norman, a celebrated boutique hotel in Tel Aviv. The artwork available on Niio is curated by acclaimed artists and experienced art gallery curators from around the world. Typically, the digital art will be displayed on a screen in which the images move and change.
“At the Norman, our art is available on screens in the rooms and in the bar and the restaurant.” Niio also has a global partnership with the Marriott and Hilton hotel chains. “We are redefining how the screen is used.”
THIS KIND of curated digital art is attractive to businesses like the Norman that constantly need to refresh the art they display, as well as to individual consumers who want to enjoy many works of art but don’t necessarily have a great deal of wall space on which to display them.
“We let the galleries and curators choose what is shown, they are in charge of the curated art collections and what best suits specific customer locations. We will soon launch a new smart-TV version, alongside our mobile app, which will offer a much broader discovery experience where users will login and choose curated playlists that is shown from our homepage, the way they choose what shows to watch on Netflix.”
Anders says they worked hard to win over artists and galleries that were reluctant to have their premium video art available on such a unified platform.
“They are always in control of their artwork. What is available publicly, under what business model, etc. and they are reassured that Niio is securing the work and always ensuring its played exactly as intended. Furthermore, Niio’s introduction of unique subscription models has proven to offer new sustainable revenue streams for artists. Now that galleries and museums around the world have been impacted by the coronavirus, they understand the logic of making their work available in other ways.”
The British-born Anders, who moved to Israel more than 20 years ago, says Israel is particularly strong in the digital art world, since Israelis tend to be in the forefront of technology, and digital art combines artistic creativity with cutting-edge technology.
For Anders, digital art is a natural development.
“Let’s put this in context. Art accompanies society forever. It reflects the world we live in and it is connected to that world.... Artists have always told their story using the tools of their generation. Da Vinci used viewfinders to create perspective. When technology created the ability to put paint into a tube, artists could paint outside.... The way I like to think of what’s happening now is that the code is the paint and the screen is a canvas.”
When Anders saw which way the digital wind was blowing, he teamed up with Moshe, a senior lecturer and the head of Interactive Design Studies, Department of Visual Communication at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, to create Niio.
He feels that although the current crisis has accelerated the development of digital art, the technology would have become more popular no matter what, and that it has only begun to develop.
“We are now also looking at new approaches to curation with human curators, and also using artificial intelligence to mine data sets to look at emotional reactions to art,” Anders said. ”So we are both mapping facial expressions using tech, but also using low-tech questionnaires to gauge peoples response. There are a lot of different ways to measure the impact of art today.”
In the long run, he said, the digital art experience will only become more personal and tailored to each user.
“We’re bombarded by digital noise in this crazy new world,” he added. “And we wanted to connect and inspire people through a more meaningful digital experience, specifically through moving-image art, while empowering the artists to reach the widest possible audience.”
To download Zoom backgrounds, go to niio.com/zoom. For more about Niio, go to niio.com