Oliver Grau (born 24 October 1965) is a German art historian and media theoretician with a focus on image science, modernity and media art as well as culture of the 19th century and Italian art of the Renaissance. Main Areas of Research are: Digital Art, Media Art History, immersion, digital humanities, documentation and conservation strategies of born-digital media art.
Oliver Grau is Chair Professor at the Center for Image Science at the Danube University Krems. He was invited to more than 350 lectures and keynotes and has conducted international lecture tours, received numerous awards, and produced international publications in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Serbian, Macedonian, Slovenian, Korean, Chinese. After studying in Hamburg, Siena, and London, earning a master's degree under Martin Warnke, among others, and a doctorate in Berlin under Horst Bredekamp and Friedrich Kittler, Grau taught and conducted research at the Humboldt University in Berlin, spent time as a guest researcher at institutions in Japan and the United States, and, after completing his habilitation at the University of Art in Linz in 2004, worked as a professor at universities. Since 2005 he has held the first chair for image sciences in the German-speaking world and headed the Department of Image Science at Danube University Krems. He turned down calls to the University of Siegen and the City University of Hong Kong after negotiations to remain there. His main research interests in image science focus on the histories of media art, immersion (virtual reality), and emotion, as well as the history, idea, and culture of artificial life, "living" and telematic imagery, telepresence and the development of digital humanities through tools such as online image and video databases.
Grau's book Virtual Art, which belongs with more than 2000 citations to the most quoted art history books since the year 2000, received more than 70 reviews, offered for the first time a historic comparison in image-viewer theory of immersion as well as a systematic analysis of the triad of artist, work and viewer on conditions of digital art. The research is linked to the novel model of an evolutionary history of illusionistic which results on the one hand from a relative dependence on new sensual potentials of suggestion and on the other hand from the variable strength of alienation of the viewer (media competence) (Grau 2000).
Using an interdisciplinary approach Grau also analysed methods which elicit or heighten the impression of immersion in digital image spaces for the viewer. He found that this is primarily induced by interaction; reaction of the images in real-time to the viewer's movements (Grau 1999–2007), the utilisation of evolutionary image processes — for example, genetic algorithms — (Grau 1997 and 2001), haptic feedback, the natural design of the interface (Grau 2002), the impression of telematic presence (Grau 2000), and particularly the dimensions and design of the image display, which must fill the viewer's field of vision completely and extend up to 360° both horizontally and vertically (Grau 2001 and 2003). These studies sought to transcend customary single media approaches in research on perceptual illusions and to introduce concepts such as polysensuality, suggestive potential, image space, disposition of the individual observer, and evolution of the visual media as well as to expand the theoretical work on distance by Ernst Cassirer and Erwin Panofsky, amongst others. In addition Grau undertook studies of innovative linkages of architecture and immersive moving images (Grau 2003,etc.), as well as of immersion in the history of film (Grau 2006 and 2007). The majority of these publications resulted from two research projects of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG — German Research Foundation): Art History and Media Theories of Virtual Reality, 1998–2002, and Immersive Art, 2002–2005.
Several research projects conducted at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the German Academyof Sciences Leopoldina and two summer academies supported by the Volkswagen Foundation gave rise to an interdisciplinary study on the history of managing feelings through images and sound (Grau 2005). Building on the work of Antonio Damasio, Joseph LeDoux, and Wolf Singer, and using the examples of Matthias Grünewald's Isenheimer Altarpiece, Leni Riefenstahl's film Triumph of the Will, and the computer game “America’s Army”, it was demonstrated how emotional experiences with images can forge a sense of community; in this way a contribution was made to research on a problematic key concept of image science.
Since 2002 Grau has initiated interdisciplinary meetings and world conferences of scholars working on media art and its history (cf. Grau 2007); the first conference on the history of media art was held in Banff, Canada, in 2005. With further conferences organised in Berlin (2007), Melbourne (2009), Liverpool (2011), Riga (2013), Montreal (2015), Krems, Göttweig Abbey and Vienna (2017) and Aalborg (2019), the international field was established, drawing particularly from art history, media- and filmstudies, history of technology and science, as well as incorporating digital humanities, sound studies, anthropology, and philosophy. His volumes "Imagery in the 21st Century" (2011), "Museum and Archive on the Move" (2017), "Digital Art through the Looking Glass" (2019) and "Retracing Political Dimensions: Strategies in Contemporary New Media Art" (2021) expanded the context of Image Science.
In 2018 Grau was a speaker at the Chicago New Media Symposium which was held as part of the Chicago New Media 1973-1992 Exhibition. The Exhibition was curated by jonCates.
Grau has conceived new scientific tools for the humanities/digital humanities, he led the project "Immersive Art" of the German Research Foundation (DFG) whose team started developing in 1998 the first international archive for digital art written on an open source platform, hosted by the Danube-University Krems and has since been followed up by a number of spin-off projects. As the first online archive streamed, the Database of Virtual Art (DVA) has regularly provided video documentation since 2000. ADA has been further developed into the first web 2.0, 3.0 online archive of art history with funding from the FWF since 2012. In addition, a bridgingthesaurus was developed to connect media art and its art historical precursors. Since 2020, ADA has been expanded into a research and teaching platform for universities through funding of 1.2 million euros from the Austrian Federal Ministry.
The Archive of Digital Art, ADA, former Database of Virtual Art since 2000, aprox. 3500 commented artworks, www.digitalartarchive.at. Since 2014 ADA publishes the Oeuvre of leading media artists: Bill Seaman (2021), Uršula Berlot (2020), Banz & Bowinkel (2020), Andres Burbano (2019), Maurice Benayoun, Oeuvre Complète (2019), Marta de Menezes, Retrospective, Oeuvre Complète (2017), Chris Salter. Retrospective, (2017), Jody Zellen (2016), Simon Biggs (2016), Olga Kisseleva Retrospective (2016), Tamiko Thiel (2015), Lev Manovich. Works & Texts (2015), Giselle Beiguelman. Retrospective (2015), Jeffrey Shaw: Oeuvre Complète (2015), Tamas Waliczky, Retrospective (2015), Warren Neidich. Retrospective (2015), Sean Cubitt, scholar feature (2015), Ryzsard Kluszcynski, scholar feature (2015), Denisa Kera, scholar feature (2015), Seiko MIKAMI Oeuvre Complète (2015), Paolo Cirio Retrospective (2015), Scenocosme Retrospective (2014).
Since 2005 Grau is head of the database of Goettweigs Graphic Collection, Austria's largest private graphic collection that contains 32,000 works, ranging from Albrecht Dürer to Gustav Klimt. Graphische Sammlung Göttweig, www.gssg.at. The GSSG published already since 2007 in Cooperation mit Martin Gregor Lechner Virtual Exhibitions: Unter Deinen Schutz: Das Marienbild in Göttweig (2007), Venezianische Veduten (2008), Lieben und Leiden der Götter: Antikenrezeption in der Druckgraphik (2009), Barocke Bilder-Eytelkeit: Personifikation, Allegorie und Symbol (2010), Das Barocke Thesenblatt (2011), Theorie der Architektur (2011), Künstlerporträts (2012), Das Geistliche Porträt (2013).
Grau developed new international curricula for image sciences: MediaArtHistories MA, academic expert programs in Digital Collection Management and Exhibit Design, Visual Competencies and the masters course in Image Science. Moreover, with the Danube Telelectures a new interactive format of lectures and debates came into being that is streamed worldwide. In 2015, together with the universities of Aalborg, Lodz and the City University of Hong Kong (since 2019 Lassale Art School, Singapore), the Erasmus Excellence Joint Master in MediaArtCultures was launched, supported by the EU with a total of 5.5 million euros.
After his studies in Hamburg, Siena and Berlin and his doctoral work, Grau lectured at the Humboldt University Berlin, was a guest researcher in several research labs in Japan and USA and following his post-doctoral lecture qualification (habilitation) in 2003, he worked as professor at different international universities. He has acted as an adviser for international professional journals and different associations. Grau manages different conferences. Since 2002 Grau tried to bring together the research on media art and its history which is dispersed over many fields and therefore was founding director of Refresh! First International Conference on the History of Media Art, Science and Technology, Banff 2005 (2007 Berlin, 2009 Melbourne, 2011 Liverpool, 2013 Riga, 2015 Montreal, 2017 Krems, Göttweig Abbey and Vienna). O. Grau: MediaArtHistories, MIT-Press 2007 and the online text archive mediaarthistory.org result from the world conference series.
Awards among other things: 2001 voted into Young Academy of the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Scientific Academy and the Leopoldina; 2002 InterNations/Goethe Institute; 2003 Book of the Month, Scientific American; 2003 Research Scholarship from the German-Italian Center Villa Vigoni; 2004 Media Award of the Humboldt University Society. 2008 he was invited to the official cultural program of the XXIX Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, 2010 to lecture at G-20 summit/“tech+ forum by Ministry of Knowledge Economy of the Republic of Korea and 2011 for the opening lecture of the international Dongkuk Humanities Series for Nobel Prize laureates at POSTECH. 2014 he received an honorary doctorate and in 2015 he was elected into the Academia Europaea. In Nov. 2016, the Open Univ. of Israel hosted an honorary symposium on Oliver Grau's research; in 2019, Grau received the Science Award of the State of Lower Austria.