"Digital Art" Archives
That Digital Art Has been Brought
Inside the Museum, Will the ArtWorld
Take it Seriously?
Jack Miles & Douglas McLennan
There is a tendency among some to want to make an “art” of anything… the art
of business, the art of tennis, the art of the Dow Jones...
But acknowledging that there is an “art” to doing something
well, and declaring something to be an art are entirely
different things. There is clearly an art, for example, to creating good computer
programs. But is there such a thing as digital art?
a clarification of terms. Digitized art is what you get when
Canada, the United States, and Mexico collaborate in an exhibition
American landscape art [CBC]
that is displayed only in cyberspace. Or when the Canadian
government offers an online gallery [CBC]
of 200,000 images—everything from the Group of Seven to Inuit
sculpture. It's not actual art but the digital representation
of actual art.
Digitized art spawns the virtual gallery or museum. The Smithsonian
Museum of American Art [New Jersey
Online] is attracting more visitors per month (60,000)
to the virtual images on its website since it physically closed
for renovations than it attracted “live” visitors (54,000)
during the last month its building was open.
the commercial marketplace, enormous digital image archives
have been assembled by companies such as Corbis and Getty
Images. Neil Rudenstine, stepping down as president of Harvard
University, recently said he will head an effort to create
a mammoth digitized art archive [New
But digital art is something quite different from digitized
art. A generation of artists working in pixels and logarithms
and CART monitors proclaims that digital is a new medium,
a fully legitimate medium in which 0’s and 1’s replace paint
Getting critics and curators to agree,
however, has been more complicated. Despite numerous websites
devoted to digital art and thousands of practitioners, many
mainstream art critics have maintained that digital as an artform has not
yet really taken shape [New York
Times]. What hasn’t really taken shape, however, may
be, more exactly, a framework, a vocabulary in which digital
art can be discussed and appreciated by non-practitioners.
The online world has promised us
a new, more democratic way of doing things, where innovation
and understanding of the world are untethered from the traditional
arbiters of taste and legitimacy.
But the online world, for all its innovation and vibrancy, can itself be quite
exclusive, and it has taken recognition by a more traditional
but ultimately more accessible authority– the museum – to
push digital art into the wider world.
The Whitney’s first digital acquisition was made as far
back as 1994 [The Art Newspaper].
Last year for the first time, the Whitney Biennial (the show
everyone loves to hate) included art in a digital medium,
serving notice that the larger artworld was paying increasing
attention. Also last year the San
Francisco Museum of Modern Art awarded a prize [Wired]
for digital art.
as the clock ticked 01:01 on January 1, 2001 (01/01/01), SFMOMA,
its doors closed and locked, opened 010101: Art in Technological
Times for online viewing. Director David Ross, a longtime
champion of art in/and/about digital technology staked an
for the medium [Wired] and
for his own institution.
Now, a few months later, digital art may have achieved
some critical mass [New York Magazine]
with the opening of BitStreams on March 22, 2001, the
Whitney’s first major
exhibition devoted to the practitioners of a kind of art that
even now few
can yet define [The New Republic]
and some still say does not yet exist.
are signs that longer term admittance to the art club is shaping
up as well. The Walker
Art Center in Minneapolis, by way of a gift from AOL,
has assembled the first-ever museum
collection [The Art Newspaper]
of internet art.
its most immediate ancestor, video art, which has struggled
for decades for legitimacy, digital art is finally in play
in the larger artworld, and discussions about how it can be
defined are now taking place well outside of the immediate
COMING OF AGE
“Digital art is like soccer—it never attracted the best athletes until this
generation,” asserts Mark Tribe, founder of the pioneering
art site Rhizome.org…. ‘As a practical matter…, we’ve
now reached a tipping point’” [New
art reaches the tipping point when it successfully turns the
wired world to artistic ends remote from those envisioned
by the engineers who brought that digital fusion of the telephone,
the television, and the computer into existence.
D. Lowry of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan explains:
“The digital reproduction of works of art on the Internet
is just that, but the experience of works of art uniquely
created for the
Net is a fundamentally different category”
[New York Times]. A stored Winslow Homer is digitized
art. Jeremy Blake’s Station to Station, “a series
of five monitors on which geometric forms and landscape images
disappear in a fairly complex contrapuntal sequence” [The
New Republic] is digital art.
Station to Station, a part of BitStreams, does
not quite break the mold of purchase and display by private
or public collectors, other digital art does, and some of
its creators, though trained conventionally as painters, prize
it for its power to “thwart conventional
categorization” [New York Times].
despite “uncertainty surrounding what it means to own, exhibit,
create, or simply view works, computer-aided art is gaining
credibility from collectors and institutions, who are not
only buying it but commissioning it too.
Last summer, Magdalena Sawon, co-director of Manhattan’s Postmasters Gallery,
sold two editions, for $15,000 each, of Text Rain (2000),
a digital work by Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv. "This
first time a substantial interactive computer installation
was bought, [ArtNews] by people
who were also buying this for the first time," says Sawon.
history of digital art may go through a set of steps increasingly
familiar in cyberspace. First, creative amateurs circulate
their own work without charge partly because there is still
no market for it and partly because no one quite knows how
to charge for it.
confer legitimacy [New York Times]
upon and provide protective custody for the kids while
introducing them to the right people. Third, a true market
emerges, and the kids get rich, if they are lucky, or are
cast aside, if they are not.
The combination of 010101
and BitStreams may mark digital art’s passage from
the first stage to the second as “digital artists…break down
another boundary: the one between
them and the art world’s upper echelons” [New
it also expands a discussion once confined to a truly
tiny coterie of freaks and geeks [San
Francisco Chronicle]. Though major shows on the left
and right coasts may mark a museum breakthrough in North America,
there are, in fact, more digital
artists in Europe [The Art Newspaper].
the Europeans, the American shows may provoke something less
like imitation than refutation. Some refutations will be of
the “there is no such thing” sort. When digital goes critical,
art goes epistemological
[Feed]. Others will be of the
“been there, done
that” sort [Wired].
But such dismissals may, in turn, provoke a counter-attack
from a nontraditional constituency excited above all by the
technology and inclined to dismiss more narrowly art-critical dismissals
as elitist [New Republic].
Of such assertions and counter-assertions are vocabularies
created and art historical canons established – essential
conversations which help to establish and extend any artform.
One thing is certain though, digital art is here to stay.
As David Ross put it when the SFMOMA show opened, “We’re all frogs in the
slowly boiling pot, …and we’re not jumping out” [New
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