At New York art event, Google shows off its primary colors

Marissa Mayer, Google vice president and unofficial culture liaison, invites artists, designers, and plenty of press to a soiree to show off the company's new iGoogle Artist Themes.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read
Google executive Marissa Mayer shows off one of the iGoogle Artist Themes designs by fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg. Ironically, von Furstenberg is married to Barry Diller, whose InterActiveCorp runs would-be Google rival Ask.com. Caroline McCarthy/CNET Networks

NEW YORK--There were massive video animations projected on the sides of post-industrial buildings, trippy progressive songs blasted into the streets, and famed artists and designers hobnobbing with software developers over an open bar. A white tent emblazoned with Google's iconic logo sprawled across the cobble-stoned Gansevoort Square, and Thursday night's bubbly partygoers surveyed the scene in awe.

Even for New York's Meatpacking District, the grit-meets-glamour setting of innumerable Sex and the City episodes, it was an odd display.

Earlier this week, Google had announced iGoogle Artist Themes, a new set of designs for its personalized-home page product, with contributions by more than 70 artists, designers, and pop-culture figures.

On Thursday night, Google executive Marissa Mayer welcomed many of the artists, as well as a bevy of journalists both local and international, photographers, and art enthusiasts, to the candle-lit One nightclub for a celebration. And that celebration entailed enormous animated projections of the Artist Themes onto several surrounding buildings.

It was a step shy of the bungee-hopping interpretive dancers that Microsoft brought to the neighborhood last year, but still, quite it was a spectacle.

In between rounds of an open bar, Mayer hosted a panel with four of the iGoogle artists--architect Michael Graves, photographer Anne Geddes, artist Jeff Koons, designer Marc Ecko, and New Yorker cartoon editor Robert Mankoff--to discuss their participation in the project and views on how the Internet is changing their industry.

iGoogle Artist Themes, Mayer asserted, "represent one of the first times that artists have had to interact with a person's daily routine." The fashionable Mayer, in addition to being Google's first female engineer, and vice president of search and user experience, seems to have taken on the additional (and unofficial) role of the company's patroness of the arts.

Early last year, Mayer keynoted a daylong event at the historic New York Public Library, extolling Google's book-archiving project as the company's contribution to the literary world. (The publishing industry, fearing lost profits, still isn't sold.) Later in 2007, she was one of the executives present at a mixer at the company's Gotham offices so that employees of the Valley mainstay could get to know New York's media elite.

But on Thursday night, Mayer was playing hostess to a crowd that heretofore had not had much to do with the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech company. Architect Graves, who jokingly said he only signed on to the program because he thought he'd get Google stock in exchange, admitted that the world of googling is new to him. And Mankoff said "there are still librarians who remember things that no search algorithm can find."

But for the most part, the artists welcomed the iGoogle partnership as a way to reach new audiences and adapt to the inevitable new climate of the Digital Age.

"There's the printing press, there's the moving image, and there's Google," Marc Ecko exalted. The colorful streetwear designer, who said his iGoogle theme was "a love letter to graffiti," described the anyone-can-be-famous nature of the Internet as "the American dream...God bless America."

Geddes interjected facetiously. "Excuse me, but I'm Australian."

Ecko responded, "Google's from America!"