MoMA acquiring Bjork’s phone app, shows pixels are as vital as paint

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has collected video games (Pac-Man, anyone?), digital fonts and the @ symbol. Now it has added a downloadable app to its permanent collection: Bjork’s 2011 album “Biophilia,” which was made available as an app that played music along with some radical visualizations of what you were hearing.

“It’s very special,” says Paola Antonelli, a senior curator in MoMA’s department of architecture and design. “It was 2011. It had just been a year since the iPad had come out. Smartphones had been around for a long time, but the idea of a larger touch screen was quite revolutionary. There were many apps. Some were great. Some were less great. But ‘Biophilia’ was the first app that gave me the sense of the artistic possibilities: that visuals, music and touch could come together for a single experience.”

The app also allowed an unusually high degree of user interface for a work that was a collection of music. “The interactive graphics and animations of the mini-apps relate directly to the theme of each song and are the musical instruments,” Antontelli wrote in a very worthwhile blog post that detailed the acquisition. “In the song ‘Solstice,’ for example, players control the orbits, speed, and coordinates of planets orbiting a star.”

In the visualization for the song “Virus,” a healthy cell is attacked by a virus. The only way to halt it is to stop listening to the song.

When the museum acquired more than a dozen video games late last year, critic Jonathan Jones wrote a really cranky piece about it in the Guardian. Hopefully he’s gotten over that. Because the things artists can do with pixels can be just as dramatic as paint.


“It’s filled with poetry,” says Antonelli. “It was a beautiful example of what new technology could do coupled with great talent.”

Haven’t seen the app? Download “Biophilia” for Android and Mac.

Twitter: @cmonstah