Apple Maps Flattens Public Sculpture

Most two-dimensional art attempts to represent a 3D world. Apple created a quick-and-dirty algorithm to do just that for its iOS 6 Maps app. Its draws on 2D satellite and aerial photography to generate a 3D world the touch screen user can rotate and experience from all angles, like a collector fondling a Renaissance bronze. Maps is best described as a beta release, and for all its trouble, Apple got nothing but grief. Tumblrs and Pinterest boards were devoted to its 3D rendering fails.

It’s a little late in the day to add to that chorus, but here goes: The fails can be interesting.

Above is the Apple Maps version of Chris Burden’s Urban Light and Robert Irwin’s LACMA Palm Garden. The Burden is buzz-cut to a square of Velcro hooks. The Irwin takes on a sunshine-and-noir dimension with the shadows upstaging the paradise.

For the record Apple Maps renders a few big city sculptures faithfully enough. The Statue of Liberty is almost as realistic as you could expect for an iPhone screen. I’m more impressed yet with Apple’s version of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate. Its shiny simulacrum reflects the Chicago skyline. Don’t go by the still images here. It’s the ability to move the viewpoint at will that sets it apart.

Los Angeles doesn’t come off so well. The Watts Towers are illegible—it appears that database redlining offers only low-res coverage of South Central. In general Apple Maps has trouble displaying sculptures that aren’t a solid mass. Martin Puryear’s That Profile becomes a CSI outline splayed onto the travertine.

The only L.A. sculpture I found (in a quick survey) that is satisfyingly 3D is Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass. Apple must have devoted special attention to it because of the press coverage. The less topical reproduction of Michelangelo’s David at Forest Lawn Glendale is steamrollered to an empty pedestal with de Chirico shadow.

When life hands you a bug, make it a feature. Below is J. Seward Johnson’s Unconditional Surrender, the ground truth of its recent display in San Diego (left) and Apple Maps’ sketchy virtuality (right). Which do you prefer?

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