interesting wired article about net art...

Lile Elam ((no email))
Mon, 29 Nov 1999 12:43:35 -0800

iHi fellow artists,

I read this today and thought it was pretty interesting.
Would like to hear your thoughts...

I love the last statement... it's so true.


> From Wired News, available online at:,1294,32658,00.html

Net Art: Hard to Hold
by Marisa S. Olson

3:00 a.m. 29.Nov.1999 PST
As every imaginable commodity becomes available for purchase on the
Web, online sales of art are also skyrocketing. Ironically, though,
most of the art being collected is analog.

"We need to collect 'Net art' for the same reason that we collect any
art: because it is beautiful and important," said Aaron Betsky,
curator of architecture, design, and digital projects at The San
Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

See also: Fine Art Buyers Beware
More culture reading

There are complications, however, associated with starting such a
collection. According to Joanne Chan, executive director of Gen Art
SF, the nonprofit publishers of A Beginner's Guide to Collecting Art,
there are three main difficulties associated with taking your
aesthetics online.

Net art is hard to display and it's hard to archive, because the
technology used in the work changes so rapidly. The sale of this art
also raises questions about rights for both artists and software

Discussing Net art inevitably leads to a discussion of how to display
it. Web artist and Razorfish creative director Erik Loyer, whose
project "The Lair of the Marrow Monkey" was recently curated by SFMOMA
and whose upcoming project, "Chroma," has been supported by a
Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, forecasts that the future might
bring LCD touch-screens hanging on people's walls with art Web sites
displayed on them, but for now he thinks collected pieces will sit in
the CD-ROM bin with all the collector's other software, waiting to be
dropped in the CD drive. Alternately, SF Camerawork's associate
director, Alicia Miller, suggests that artists themselves or people
who purchase Net art could establish private, password-protected Web
galleries to keep the art live.

Betsky says finding good work can be a huge problem and compares
curating Net art to sifting through thousands of pieces in hundreds of
galleries to find paintings worth collecting. Because Net art sales
are uncommon, determining fair market value is quite a chore, making a
collector's work is all the more laborious.

The challenge of displaying Net art goes hand-in-hand with the problem
of archiving it. After a work has been sold, preserving it as it was
intended to be seen is extremely difficult because of frequent changes
in both hardware and software. With operating systems changing every
other month, on some platforms the chances of collecting a piece
that's 100 percent compatible with your system are slim. Plus, though
you may have all the latest plug-ins, offline display of Net art
designed with non-freeware software that you don't own (i.e.,
Dreamweaver) could translate into a nonlinear, illogical nightmare.
Given the volatility of the Web, and the fact that no real record can
be kept of its complete state at any given time, Loyer thinks that
offline versions of Web art could still be quite interesting to

"As physical objects, these 'frozen moments' of Web-time might not be
more appealing or different from any other packaged software, but the
data they contain would be a direct link to the past," he said. He
points to the many emulators and emulation sites on the Web, which are
popular in gaming circles, as evidence that many would-be collectors
are interested in running dated operating systems and software on
their new machines, "just for nostalgia's sake." Though tricking your
PC into acting like a Sega Dreamcast in order to save a few dollars
differs greatly from deciding to run Mac OS 5.0, in art-viewing
intervals, just for old time's sake, Loyer hints that increasing
savvyness on the part of the digerati is breeding a residual affinity
for the machines of the past.

Considerations of display and archiving come after dealing with the
issue of artists' rights, and those of the software companies
implicated in purchases. Many digital projects use a fair number of
embedded programs and applets that the artist sometimes doesn't even
know about, let alone have the right to sell along with his or her
creation. Curators and private collectors must be aware of who has the
right to what, and how it can be used.

Loyer plans to get around this issue by selling high-performance
CD-ROM versions of his sites. In this case, a collector would not be
buying the actual work and all the intellectual property rights
related to it, but simply a license to use the work in a particular

Conceding that this would make the work less valuable to collectors,
Loyer says he sees no value in giving away the rights he, as the
artist, intends to continue exploiting.

Despite seemingly inherent difficulties, Aaron Betsky argues the
importance of collecting Net art: "Good art is a condensed
representation of our world that, through its very presence, changes
the very way we understand that reality. Good digital projects should
have the same result."

Related Wired Links:

Art for Auction's Sake

Video as High Art

Digital Artists Can Starve, Too

Copyright 1994-99 Wired Digital Inc. All rights reserved.