in other words

Everything you ever wanted to know about the art market but didn't know who to ask

#54 Artist Ian Cheng: “The best art is like a Trojan horse”


Guest Ian Cheng. Photo: Matthew Magelof

Art Agency, Partners
#54 Artist Ian Cheng: "The best art is like a Trojan horse"

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

Ian Cheng wants to change the way you think. “I really want to make art that taps into some part of a viewer’s neurology and gets them into a different state,” Cheng says to host Charlotte Burns during this In Other Words podcast. The wide-ranging conversation covers topics from the freedom afforded humans by AI, to the genius of The Real Housewives television show.

Cheng creates art with a nervous system: his practice often involves computer simulations that resemble video games—albeit ones that play themselves. His current exhibition “BOB: Bag of Beliefs” centers around an AI lifeform whose evolution is shaped by viewers who can make offerings—both poisonous and benign—to BOB via an app. Cheng has created his own form of art; a work that is mesmerizing and surprisingly moving (at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York until 23 March).

“It’s a funny time we live in,” says Cheng, who studied both cognitive science and art. He wants his work to tap into our limbic systems (“the most easily triggered and exploitable” part of the brain) with the goal of making us “feel safe enough to be explorative, to be open-minded, to be conscientious”.

Following in the footsteps of artists and storytellers across the centuries, Cheng is spinning tales that might better help us understand our world, using cutting-edge technology to do so.

Click here for the full transcript.

Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words, where we cover everything you wanted to know about the art world but didn’t know who to ask. I’m your host, Charlotte Burns and today I’m joined by Ian Cheng, a New York-based artist whose work has its own nervous system.

Cheng has in many ways created his own form of art and his current exhibition BOB—which is Bag of Beliefs—is on show at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York until 23 March. It centers around an AI lifeform. The work is mesmerizing and surprisingly moving.

Ian Cheng: I feel free to play; free to take risks; free to explore things I don’t yet know; free to entertain dangerous or bad ideas. And I think fundamentally, that could be the cultural role of an artist.

Before we get into the episode, here’s a reminder to subscribe to our In Other Words newsletter at artagencypartners. 

And now, onto today’s show. Thank you for joining me Ian.


Ian Cheng


Ian Cheng (b. 1984, Los Angeles) is a New York-based artist whose work utilizes computer simulation as a way to understand and relate to continual change.

Cheng has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Gladstone Gallery (2019), Serpentine Galleries (2018), MoMA PS1, New York (2017); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2017); Migros Museum, Zurich (2016); Pilar Corrias Gallery, London (2015); Triennale di Milano (2014); among others. His work has been included in group exhibitions at the Louisiana Museum, Copenhagen (2017); Yokohama Triennale (2017); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. (2016); the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016); Taipei Biennial (2014); 12th Biennale de Lyon (2013); and Sculpture Center (2012). Cheng holds an MFA from Columbia University (2009) and a dual BA in Cognitive Science and Art Practice from the University of California, Berkeley (2006).

Charlotte Burns

executive editor of In Other Words

Charlotte Burns is the editor of In Other Words, our weekly newsletters and podcasts. She was previously the US news and market editor for The Art Newspaper, as well as a regular correspondent for publications such as the Guardian and Monocle. Previously, she worked with the London dealer Anthony d’Offay on special projects. For several years, she was a consultant at the cultural communications agency, Bolton & Quinn. She also worked at Hauser & Wirth in London.

Burns received a Masters degree (with Merit) from the Courtauld Institute in Art and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1890-1945, as well as a first-class B.A. honors degree in English and History of Art from Birmingham University. She moved to New York in 2010.

Where to look

In Pictures, Ian Cheng’s “BOB: Bag of Beliefs" at Gladstone Gallery

7 Images

The live record

Behind the Scenes with Ian Cheng and Charlotte Burns

7 Images

For More on Ian Cheng:

  1. “Emissaries Guide to Worlding” by Ian Cheng, published by Serpentine Galleries and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo
  2. Ian Cheng’s A.I. Artwork Has Come to Seduce You,” published by GARAGE magazine
  3. Down an Internet Rabbit Hole With an Artist as Your Guide,” published by The New York Times
  4. Ian Cheng’s Videogames Take On a Life of Their Own,” published by The Wall Street Journal

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