“The ‘online-only’ exhibition of net art at a museum website seems to have advantages in that it preserves the original context of how the art is supposed to be seen, but poses the problem that the institution has only limited control over how a work is experienced by the viewer.”

– Christiane Paul, Artport Curator [1]

Last week, when Dr. Paul spoke to us about her curatorial work with digital art at the Whitney, she stressed the importance of distinguishing between the archival collections of text, photographs, and interactive elements that comprise most online gallery “exhibitions,” and the (web)site specific installations that exist solely online, portals to art made for and experienced on your personal computer screen. Artport, the Whitney Museum’s space for net art, which is curated by Dr. Paul, is not a digital representation of art shown in a gallery, but the gallery for the art it contains, pieces commissioned by the Whitney and created specifically for the web. It is a true exhibition space.

The works exhibited on Artport are material in nature, though they exist on a digital plane. Since their only true, physical manifestation is perhaps a server somewhere; their birthplace is the net, their language code, their materiality radically different than traditional artworks. The visitor browses through Artport from the comfort of their own home, office, or local coffee shop, the experience is vastly different than visiting an actual gallery. However, like the online representations of physical exhibitions, these works would lose their true context (or aura) were they to be shown within the confines of a typical exhibition space. The engagement is different, but if the interest is there, no less active.

There are small, unimposing descriptions for each featured work, with links to longer articles presented separately from the work.  The art is clearly the focal point, and dozens of artists are featured along with several commissioned works, and an extensive network of links to other sites that if followed, could lead to a very engaging and interactive experience in the realm of net art, or the “page not found” message of a broken link.

“On the Internet, the spatial distance that would divide the centre from the margin or text from context in the physical world, is subordinated by the temporality of the link.” [2]

-Christiane Paul, Artport Curator

Artport is divided into five sections:

The Gate, a collection of links to net artists’ works.

Abe and Mo Sing The Blogs

Up until February 2006, a different artist or collective was presented. These “Gates” consist of a small, page specific work and links to the artist’s website and other projects featured online.

A Commissions area that presents original net art projects commissioned by the Whitney. Most capitalize on the collaborative nature of the web, and ask different artists to submit parts of a sum. One such project CODeDOC, we saw last week.

Screening Circle

Another notable collaborative effort is called Screening Circle and is like a digital form of quilting, it is a screen-based project derived from the very material traditions of a quilting circle. Site visitors are asked to submit squares to the whole, much like a circle of grandmothers, and the results are woven into a sort of pixilated textile.

An Exhibitions space which gives information about and links to current and past net art and digital arts exhibitions at the ‘material’ Whitney museum.

An exhibition called Follow Through from 2006 is shown as current. The exhibition was site-specific and designed as a replacement for traditional audio guide tours. It used mobile device and audio-visual artwork and was intended to encourage visitors to interact differently with the art they were seeing

A Resources archive that suggests other notable galleries, networks, festivals, museums, online exhibitions, and digital publications relating to net art and the digital arts. According to Dr. Paul, this archive is constantly evolving which provides “contextualism” [3]

An area that archives the works of net art and digital art in the Whitney Museum’s permanent collection, one project, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, Douglas Davis, 1994.

Except to include links to a new net art project on and the blog of their performance artist in residence, the website seems to not have been updated since 2006. Dr. Paul mentioned that it is in the process of a major overhaul and I am excited to see the new design. A lot of the art is interactive, but the site’s color palette, schematic design, and outdated use of media promote passive viewing. The overall effect is rather strange and almost nostalgic, due to the fact that the site was launched almost a decade ago, an eon in Internet time. The feel of the site conflicts with the contemporary nature of the art it exhibits. Though, the temporal instability of the internet adds an interesting layer to a viewer’s experience, each work acting as a snapshot of a particular moment in the evolution of the aesthetic of the web and net art.

Screen Shot from Voyeur_Web

For example, Voyeur_web, a project from 2001 that included streaming webcam footage, is no longer active. However, you can click on the original, linked blueprint that was used in the project to see static archival photos of the artist. Unlike the four, white walls of a gallery, where exhibitions are hung and removed, this art is shown indefinitely, as long as the links hold up.

As we look towards the exhibitions we will create, Artport provides two important lessons:

  1. The power of a space on the web (an “immaterial realm”) that exists solely to showcase content created for the web that can be viewed by anyone, anywhere as long as they own a PC. It made me think about the possibility of “cellular art,” created and distributed specifically for our handheld devices…perhaps taking Narcissus Narcosis one step further (at least for the artist). An “app only” exhibition?
  2. Site design and overall “look and feel” is immensely important in conveying an exhibition’s message, and the re-launch of Artport is absolutely necessary. For, if the medium is the message, then this site is sending a fax when it should be re-tweeted.

Works Cited

1 Christiane Paul, “Flexible Contexts, Democratic Filtering and Computer-Aided Curating: Models for Online Curatorial Practice” In Joasia Krysa, Ed., Curating, Immateriality, Systems: On Curating Digital Media, Data Browser Series Vol. 3 (Autonomedia Press: New York, 2006): 93

2 IBID: 90-91

3 IDID: 95

Post Script:

Sunrise and Sunset

Dr. Paul has also curated a series of projects worth noting, created specifically for the website. Each project unfolds for ten to thirty seconds at sunrise and sunset (New York time), and a new one will be shown every few months.

From the website:

These projects “use as their habitat, disrupting, replacing, or engaging with the museum website as an information environment…this form of engagement captures the core of artistic practice on the Internet, the intervention in existing online spaces.”

This project is interesting because it combines one of the most natural, material aspects of life, sunrise and sunset, with the immateriality of an institution’s website. Viewers can choose to visit the site at specific times to view the exhibition, or can be bombarded with images while planning a visit to the museum. To me, it is like street art for the net, a visual treat in a public space.

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