Marius Watz August 30, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Domenico may sound bleak, but he’s got a fairly good vantage point to make his assessment. How many museums collect “new media” works in a meaningful way? How many galleries in NYC, London and Berlin feature “new media” artists?

That the MoMA is only able to address these practices through its design department is a mixed blessing, to say the least.

Anonymous August 30, 2011 at 10:18 pm

I’m not saying there’s no truth to what he says (I literally say “there’s some truth to this”), I just think the current wave of new media interest should be acknowledged. I’ve written a lot on the problems of collecting new media work — internet based art in particular is incredibly hard to sell because the browser is always changing — but it’s simply not true that new media is absent from mainstream art magazines. Ryan Trecartin and Cory Arcangel demonstrated this in spades this summer. 

As for galleries featuring new media works in a meaningful way, that number is constantly increasing. Edward Winkleman, which has a very traditional program in my opinion, has shown the work of a lot of social media artists, there are tons of artist run tumblr galleries that have both a physical and virtual presence, and Lauren Christensen is opening a new media gallery in Chelsea this fall. This isn’t exactly a drop in the bucket. On the subject of MoMA — they are an admittedly shaky example to be using, since that show better belongs at the Museum of Natural History (they would have done a better job with it too). I believe MoMA’s Automatic Update though, featured works that had actually been bought by the museum. It’s not like they aren’t collecting new media, it’s just not a hell of a lot right now. 

Marius Watz August 31, 2011 at 8:41 am

I know you didn’t say the article was wrong, I’m responding because I’ve been running into the argument that New Media Art is doing swimmingly several times recently. And while I’m happy to note the enthusiasm but I’m not sure it’s supported by the cold facts. It’s nice to see Arcangel at the Whitney and Ryoji Ikeda at Park Ave Armory before that, but two isolated shows don’t change the fact that this work is barely shown in the US. 

Sure, a few notable galleries have picked up new media artists. Shockingly the work has even begun to sell a little, which is a huge improvement from 10 years ago. But walk through any art fair (except perhaps ARCO, which has always made media art a focus and does fairly well with it) and you’ll see precious few works that can be defined as media art. Maybe an Arcangel here, a Jim Campbell there and the spectre of a Hirschmann or a Lozano-Hemmer lurks around. But maybe 90-95% of media artists have no access to the market, and thus their work is known primarily from the European media art festival circuit and ceaseless self-publishing (in the case of net-based art.)

Meanwhile European funding for media art has just been decimated across the board, a move that is likely  to have significant repercussions. The large interactive installations of the mid-1990’s disappeared overnight the last time funding dropped away like this. And it’s no secret that many US-based artists have made their careers while showing primarily in Europe before gaining visibility at home. I know I’m not the only one to worry about the resulting fallout from this development.

I agree that there seems to be more media art writing going on – some of it even serious and well-considered. But most of it is still an internal discourse and marginal to the art world or the public as such. I was amazed to have a recent show in San Francisco covered on Artforum.com, but the show’s affiliation with the institution of the SF FIlm Society likely helped a lot.

So I’m afraid I share Domenico’s summary: New media artists who want a serious play at the art world might do better to play down the media art rhetoric.The “New Media” label has served to differentiate and promote the field
in many ways (which not coincidentally has helped it to gain funding),
and without that discourse there would be no field at all. But for the
artists themselves it can also be an obstacle to be taken seriously. New
Media as Grand Project has already been done, and arguing the transformative potential of technology should be superfluous in a world of smartphones. So let’s focus on the good work for its qualities as art, and not because of the rather outdated and frankly meaningless label of “New Media”.

Meanwhile the contemporary art world (with all its inertia and dubious internal agendas ) should sit up and pay attention to a field of art that is both vital and important. That’s Quaranta’s ultimate agenda, after all, to communicate once and for all that is unforgivable for the art world to pretend we’re still living in the 1960’s.

ps. It feels strange to argue against the growing success of New Media, when I personally would have much invested in that success. But I’m hearing echoes of previous hype cycles and it makes me concerned that we’ll lull ourselves into another lithium dream of “Look, we’re doing great, there’s at least 3 blogs that say so.” I’ll take Quaranta’s harsh analysis any day.

heather September 1, 2011 at 2:08 am

This is an interesting discussion and great comment. I agree with Marius that we don’t see enough interesting or challenging new media work in New York City, especially in Art venues.
I take issue with the market emphasis however. I think it’s worth mentioning or considering that much of new media art is born of a tradition that eschews the art market and works against commodification. If this kind of work doesn’t sell, it doesn’t mean it’s unsuccessful, just that maybe its success can be measured in other ways. So I think we should focus more on finding ways of showing this kind of work rather than trying to find ways of selling it.

Mike September 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Is this why you’ll never see anything interesting at Bryce Wolokowitz, which is Jim Campbell’s spot, and supposedly a gallery specializing in ‘new media’? If it can’t be monetized, or at least animated by the artist’s personality, digital work remains anethema to the art world at large. The galleries are so far behind the curve on these issues there’s almost no hope they can ever catch up, the successes of artists like Arcangel and Trecartin notwithstanding. Maybe Ryder Ripps will pop up at whatever incarnation Pace or Zwirner is running in, say, 2050, but I wouldn’t count on it, unless by that point it’s as another pointless exercise in nostalgia, since that’s how the game is rigged anyhow.

Here is a Fantasy September 1, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I’ve got to point out that the idea of new media’s inability to be profitable just isn’t a good one when you look at what’s happened with conceptual art and video art, two forms that were subjected to similar arguments decades ago. Sure, we could compare selling websites to paintings, but that’s like apples to oranges or better yet, comparing Robert Smithson to Gerhard Richter. Paintings might be easier to sell, but that doesn’t mean the death of new media will be brought by a lack of interested, monied parties. A better market comparison would be to compare new media works to other mediums that deteriorate, tend to be intangible, and are difficult to archive. 

In sum, worrying about new media’s market potential could be just a whole lot of worry about an outcome that historically has been proven wrong by responsible and forward-thinking dealers, collectors, and museums. 

Having said that, I worked at a museum with an unwritten “no video, film, or new media” collection policy; I’m aware that not everyone’s convinced.

Anonymous September 1, 2011 at 9:28 am

There’s very little in Talk to Me that merited contextualization in the art field, so I’m not going to complain that it wasn’t done. But I do think there’s some glossing over of the “two isolated shows” since we’re definitely seeing more gallery activity. The rise of “Dual sites” is one such example: 


I agree that the market is a problem for new media artists, but I really don’t think it’s nearly so bleak. So while, yes, it’s true, Europe doesn’t have a lot of money, and that’s unlikely to change in the near future; You know who does? Countless young CEOs heading up internet start ups.  These people tend to be left leaning, and large cultural consumers. If you look at Rhizome’s board, many are from the tech world. If you look at Rhizome’s Seven on Seven, the conference is an extremely effective sponsorship model — it engages tech companies in a way that encourages them to support the arts. 
As for the writing being mostly internal discourse, two of the writers I cited write for ArtInfo, which is the definition of mainstream art world press. Image Conscious is probably a little more “internal” by virtue of being a single authored blog, but I just don’t see that being the case for Net Work, which appears on the front page of the site. 

Having said all of this, I share your concerns that this is part of a 5-year hype circle. I’m fairly certain that’s part of what’s at work here. But when I look at the enormous growth in the field over the last five years, it’s hard to believe that once the hype dies down that new media will be left in the same place. The market can ignore a lot of things, but it won’t ignore an army of art school trained artists now producing new media work (or whatever we decide to call it. I’m not a fan of the term either).  

Robin Peckham August 31, 2011 at 3:37 am

In Quaranta’s argument it would be fallacious to consider Trecartin (or to some degree Arcangel) “new media.” Quaranta is invested in a certain narrative of the new media art world infrastructure–think Ars Electronica, ZKM, and so on–more so than the question of thematics. In fact, I suspect he might add that the contemporary art world has historically selected work like that of Trecartin and Arcangel instead of this older parallel version of new media. Post-internet work, to which Trecartin and Arcangel (T&A?) more properly belong, seems from my perspective in Hong Kong to be a very New York-centric movement at the moment, with some strong supporters in Germany and elsewhere as well. Quaranta’s argument is also tied up with the Krauss idea of the post-medium condition, so there’s a question of historical understandings of media ontology at stake here as well beyond the social communities of media/ post-internet art.

Anonymous August 31, 2011 at 4:54 pm

It’s true that Trecartin is really a video artist who happens to use themes of the Internet in his work, so I see your point and to that of Arcangel as well. Of course, if we’re lamenting over why Jim Campbell and Lozano-Hemmer aren’t being shown more, that’s not a party I’m going to join. For the most part I don’t like the work of either, and have always considered it a poor representative of new media art. (Campbell’s lights in the Park this year were good though, and I’ve always liked the activism behind Lozano-Hemmer’s 33 Questions Per Minute when it was shown in South America). 

 In fact, I suspect he might add that the contemporary art world has historically selected work like that of Trecartin and Arcangel instead of this older parallel version of new media.

I’ve wondered that myself honestly, but when it comes to proving it, I’ve found it impossible (at least with regards to Arcangel), so it’s never been a line of thinking I’ve pursued very long. 

In any event, I’m interested in the following: 

Quaranta’s argument is also tied up with the Krauss idea of the post-medium condition, so there’s a question of historical understandings of media ontology at stake here as well beyond the social communities of media/ post-internet art.

Can you expand on this a little? 

Just so we’re all clear on the terms being used here, I’m going to list a couple definitions for readers who might not be familiar with them, and for myself: 

Postmedia: art that is made using electronic media technology and that display any or all of the three behaviours of interactivity, connectivity, computability in any combination (Quaranta says there’s a few flaws in this, but at least in the abstract, his main complaint is that its not actually used to describe artist work).

PostInternet: A term describing the time after the internet became a) more professionalized (ie professionally designed etc), b) social media emerged c) when people realized that, in fact, the internet would not reduce the anxiety of their lives. (source: http://122909a.com/)

Post-Medium condition: As different media become indistinct, the project of art will become more general, and modernist art must locate the essence of Art itself. A conflation of art and modern life. (excuse the generalization here, I don’t have the book and am drawing from a summary here: http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/kraussvoyage.htm) 

Jennifer Chan September 21, 2011 at 4:02 am

Not entirely related… but while I would like to identify with the specificities of the banal/internet-necessary condition, I find postinternet to be a very higgledy piggledy confuzzling term to use in the classroom and in an academic setting without a whole mouthful of examples. 

Marius Watz August 31, 2011 at 5:55 pm

I wonder if by “older parallel version of new media” you mean to propose that there is another (and newer?) narrative in which Quaranta’s argument is invalid? I agree that his reasoning relies on a specific recent history of media art that is somewhat Euro-centric (although full of non-European artists) and possibly biased towards a technology-heavy definition of the field. But I’m not sure that invalidates the basic argument.

Marius Watz August 31, 2011 at 9:55 am

(In other news I’m happy to see Aram Bartholl and Jonathan Harris / Sep Kamvar on the release for Pace Gallery’s “Social Media” show, which has been toted as proof of the ascendancy of “Social Media Art”‘ but sounds suspiciously as an afterthought to a David Byrne show. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have potential, but again this is more of a black swan than a new Chelsea trend.)

Anonymous August 31, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I’m not sure I follow. The Byrne show is an outdoor installation outside the gallery. How is the social media show an after thought to that? 

Marius Watz August 31, 2011 at 5:46 pm

It might be paranoid interpretation on my part, but reading the release gives rise to the suspicion that the rest of the show is primarily there to provide context to Byrne’s work. I remember seeing an earlier description of the show (which I now can’t find, of course) that did not include Bartholl and Harris / Kamvar, and only featured artists whose work seemed only tenuously connected to Social Media unless one’s operative definition was exceedingly broad.

No matter what the facts are, it doesn’t mean the show won’t be good. Byrne’s “Playing the House” installation was fantastic, and while I’m less  familiar with his apps he’s not the cliche of a rockstar dabbling in painting. I’m just questioning what Pace’s intentions are. Is this a cheap PR move or a sincere and daring venture into breaking new ground?

xdxd_vs_xdxd August 31, 2011 at 10:22 am

hello everyone,
really interesting (and infinite) discussion here.
I’d really would like to add a point to the discussion: PhDs 🙂
getting a PhD and entering (continuing) life/profession in the university is a typical scenario for people working with technologies: small grants, small research projects, small relationships with companies and institutions deriving from academic work, add up to the few hundreds of euros which are the typical fee an artist gets when he/she gets invited to even the largest festivals, unless you are the superstar of the festival.
And I don’t want to stress the *few hundred euros* part of this as a critique to festival organizers: i had the chance to closely follow a couple of them and they are constantly in difficulty with their available budgets, and I am actually quite amazed that they manage to find those few euros for everyone involved after all!
What i’d like to stress are two things: the first is that the fact that most of the work which was once called “new media art” is designed and developed inside of universitites, in one form or the other, is really significative. As it is the fact that  the interdisciplinary character of many – many of these works – crossing boundaries in sciences, humanities, journalism, performance, arts, architecture, technology, robotics etc, multiple times – is possibly one of these works’ most significant traits. And the one which more explicitly creates a definite gap between what is called “art” and what is not called “art” (let me oversimplify.. i hope it is clear. I’ll be happy to clarify, if it’s not).
The second element which i’d like to highlight has to do with the fact that it sounds always “bureaucratic” to group things together. I know it is useful and convenient, and it allows to investigate and present things at institutional level, but we have been really out of the “era of classification” for a few years now. Even marketing people understand it, and contemporary marketing is perfectly aware that there aren’t 3 ot 4 or 10 “classes” anymore, but 20thousaand, 100thousand, 100million different classes of anything you might like to research.
This is a nightmare, of course, for institutions and large operators, who really like large numbers. But as of now large numbers are made from little tiny groups, each in their little niche: fluid, mutating, changing, evolving and moving around like crazy.
This is one thing which I feel as particularly stimulating in these last few years: the feeling and awareness that there are no “movements” anymore. There are instances, breakthroughs, common interests, common tendencies, but it is really like each one is on its own.
Why am I bringing this up? Because I’d like to connect the art discourse to a wider understanding of the current mutation scenario that has already affected education, economy and event the idea of conflict and revolt.
I don’t mean to attach any moral interpretation to it, obviously. I just want to highlight how the enormous possibilities which we have today, to interconnect emotions, desires, visions, skills and practices across theories, disciplines, sciences, humanities, ethics, technologies etc, really calls for new ways of imagining and doing things.
Open Source and peer to peer teach enormous lessons: of ethics, responsibilities and incredibly wide possibilities for creativity and reinvention of the world around you.
I don’t mean to declare the death of anything (and not of Art and History in the first place): I want to suggest how there are incredible possibilities which are available and accessible now. But they require new forms of schools, new forms of markets, new ideas for what “conflict” can be. 
On this last term “conflict”, I’d like to propose a vision which I find particularly stimulating and meaningful for the contemporary era. Since the TAZ, the idea of conflict has radically changed. After Open Source and p2p it has changed even more. Revolt is individual. When you get a piece of open source software you don’t only get “a piece of software”, you get something that, in a way, is left “incomplete” on purpose, and it includes a responsibility: to use it and fix anything which you don’t like, and to share your efforts with the rest of the planet. This simple act is revolutionary, as it includes a vision on the world. Your revolution is personal, it is an attitude, and it is not complete unless you become a node of a network, and the part “share your revolution” just cannot be left out.
So, while i truly enjoy and adore the works which are starting to find their economic sustainability in the Art Market, I cannot help thinking that we could (and probably already did) define “other” areas, other domains, for that which was once called art and now it’s different, as it covers and interconnects many more things. And, of course, we need to find a sustainability scheme for that, too. I just feel that “making a lot of things be called art” is not a “big” objective. Not big enough, at least. 🙂
cheers and thanks for the wonderful debate. 

gregorylent August 31, 2011 at 3:21 pm

maybe because so much of it lis boring, of mostly intellectual interest, and doesn’t transcend its medium?

xdxd_vs_xdxd August 31, 2011 at 3:33 pm

that, too 🙂

Marius Watz August 31, 2011 at 6:50 pm

You mean unlike painting, drawing, performance or installation art which is never boring and always transcends its medium?

Shamus Clisset August 31, 2011 at 8:59 pm

I think that’s really the biggest hurdle for the kinds of work being discussed here, the “transcend the medium” thing. personally, I want to see work that packs a wallop (or at least tries to) – intellectually, emotionally – hopefully both. you’re just not going to get that until you go beyond what the tech already does on its own and more towards what new things can be formed with it and what real impact on the audience it can have. it should be trying to make you say “whoa” not “I see what you did there”

Will Pappenheimer September 1, 2011 at 11:16 am

A few thoughts about this discussion:
The histories of dramatically new modes of making art (sometimes called the Avant-Guarde), conceptually and media wise, are always viewed in retrospect, so it is not easy to see they come into being, what were the roadblocks and who were the players and how long did it take. But it certainly seems there is a very interesting long-term phobia about work made and shown on the computer or the Internet. I think it is most interesting to look at this as phobia. If you were from outer space and went to the last Whitney Biennial, (or any of the recent Biennials?) you would have no idea there was any such thing as a computer or a social network. That’s downright strange and out of character with a supposed forward looking world of art. A number of critics and writers have done everything needed to connect this “new media” to preceding artistic history, it’s all there if you want to read it. In this sense, if we are talking about Rosalind Krauss(?) critique of multimedia (post-media), as not having a recursive history, her argument, as much as I respect her overall writing, appears both conservative and negates many previous movements which have utilized cross media and cross discipline.

About content versus aesthetics or technique: new media artworks have plenty of content, but is content is often about life on the computer or the net, vs life in the physical world, and up to this point it seems that the latter is the preferred subject of conventional arts. In painting, and especially with the return of abstraction, half the discussion is about painting, not content. But because of the aura accorded to painting, technical issues, in this case, are in viewed with the subtext of genius and gravitas (PS I heart painting). 

What is encouraging is that I think this mindset is changing, simply because everyone is more engaged in life on the computer. I am sensing that the next generation of gallerists, artists, critics and historians will have grown up in this “condition” (remember the “postmodern condition”?). Example would be a show and was recently  involved in in Philadelphia: “Distributed Collectives” http://distributedcollectives.net/

If and when this approach to art making arrives as a recognized art form, I wonder if anyone will acknowledge just how long it took and reflect on the forces of market conservatism in the so-called experimental art world, a world which I nevertheless deeply appreciate and follow.

xdxd_vs_xdxd September 2, 2011 at 7:04 am

well, there are different models, and you can find many of them around. Some art is moving away from museums and galleries (only, maybe, to return there after a while). Research labs and companies are using these art forms a lot. And that’s interesting, because i see this as a virtuous cycle: not fully developed and understood, yet, but interesting. There are people who are commonly understood as “designers” who do beautiful things in infoaesthetics, interaction, network: full of poetics, vision, and insight on the contemporary world and on the condition of human beings, of cities, of relationships, gender… And architects, as well. The fact that many people go to see the museum more than the artworks inside it is an interesting thing to think about. And it is very similar to the idea of “artists producing frameworks for expression” as an art form, as we see in many forms of art which are connected to networks and, sometimes, activism.
Many companies have been starting initiatives focused on these forms of art and they have also been successful. And these initiatives have been often the key (a sort of “backdoor”, too) for some artists to enter museums and galleries.
Companies use these actions for communication and, in the meantime, sometimes, some really wonderful things come out and have a chance for wider appreciation and understanding.

Marius Watz September 2, 2011 at 9:56 pm

I should clarify: My concern is not primarily market access or commodification, even hough as a full-time artist I am obviously concerned about finding ways to make my practice financially sustainable. What I really want is for good work to be recognized, nurtured and exhibited, and for media art as a larger field to be accepted as a fertile and consistent producer of great art. I’m realizing from the various comments that there are probably many diverging notions of what “new media art” actually means, I’m using the same definition as Quaranta because that’s the scene I grew up with.

Funny that you mention online spaces, I responded to this post primarily because I’ve been thinking about the topic since a recent discussion with Lindsay Howard about Kyle Chayka’s article “Forget Chelsea — The Most Cutting-Edge Gallery Spaces Are Opening Online”, http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/38272/forget-chelsea-the-most-cutting-edge-gallery-spaces-are-opening-online/.

I think Chayka’s take is on the hyperbolic side, but in the end I’m delighted to see the revitalization of net-based art practices and
the emergence of a new generation of artists. I’m not too excited that they seem to be going over a lot of the same ground as the first wave of net art, but hey, do what thou wilt. I am reticent to declare a new golden age for this movement, since the end game from the previous iteration is already known: Online fame is parlayed into offline opportunities, some artists make the jump while others disappear and domains expire.

Similarly, the idea of online galleries as project spaces was pioneered around 2000 or earlier by sites like adaweb, early salon.com, k10k  etc., which were later joined by the
first institutional sites like Rhizome, Turbulence, Whitney Artport etc.
Obviously, the new crop have different agendas and better tech, but I would suggest that the driving force is more or less the same: The net is a fun playground and there is no art medium more cost effective than a web site.

There are ideas that are genuinely new, sure. The GIF movement is getting interesting despite a very high noise-to-signal ratio. The marketing of web domains as self-contained artworks is a nice touch, providing a creative constraint and a precise context for the work. I find Brad Troemel’s nihilism laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s good that someone takes up an extreme position.

I know I probably sound cynical, so let me say that I think media art is a much more mature field and harder to dismiss as a novelty than it was 10 years ago. And it’s a fact that there are museums and collectors out there buying media art works and preserving them for the future. So here’s hoping that I’m wrong in my conservative growth projections for the media art scene / market.

ps. I remember discussions about the young hip CEO theory as early as 2000, we had big hopes for those dotcom boys as market drivers. The closest I’ve heard of is the Girls Gone Wild guy buying a piece from Golan Levin, there must be others but the deluge of media art collectors is yet to appear. Too bad Gates etc. seem more concerned with Old World credibility or Warhol cool. I hear Bloomberg has a promising collection, and it’s simply idiotic that Google hasn’t started one. Fingers crossed!

Anonymous September 2, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Lauren Cornell wrote a great article on Rhizome about the problem new media suffers from: Perpetual discovery. 


Of course, this is a problem that plagues every field, not just new media, but of course it seems to be particularly bad in this field. Part of it is just the biases of the medium though obviously, greater effort to learn the history isn’t a bad idea either. I don’t know why I didn’t assume there was a young hip CEO theory in 2000. These people exist today though — Jonah Peretti has bought new media work (though I don’t know how much), and VCs Fred Wilson and Joanne Wilson collect. They lean towards the online print market, which is a pretty far cry from new media, but that they exist at all makes me wonder if there’s not some conversion that could happen here. New media (in the United States at least) needs a visionary dealer. 

>>Obviously, the new crop have different agendas and better tech, but I would suggest that the driving force is more or less the same: The net is a fun playground and there is no art medium more cost effective than a web site. 


>>Online fame is parlayed into offline opportunities, some artists make the jump while others disappear and domains expire.

While this is an obvious arc to many new media artists, I don’t think this is in any way unique to them. Artists work in all kinds of the different, often abandoning one for another, only to return several years later. The difference between a domain that expires, and canvas that rots through lack of care isn’t so significant IMO. 

Duncan Alexander September 4, 2011 at 2:08 am

Point of contention: we probably won’t be digging up 400-year old
unauthenticated Rozendaals in the cache of some beige box at the dump
due to bitrot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitrot

Marius Watz September 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Behold, the Millenniata M-Disk, guaranteed to be readable 100k yrs from now if dropped in a glacier: http://millenniata.com/

Marius Watz September 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm

You make a valid point, although I would point out that the idea that the “content” of new media artworks are primarily “about life on the computer or the net” is a widely spread misunderstanding. I suspect it stems from the fact the new media artwork that is most visible to someone who doesn’t follow the field will inevitably be net based works, since they are infinitely more distributable than, say, a large-scale mechanical construction of a cybernetic mechanism in a dialogue with itself.

This perception seems particularly prevalent in the US, which is why I was excited to see Ikeda’s installation in NYC. Cory Arcangel and Carsten Nicolai are perfectly “valid” as media artists, but their aesthetic is easily packaged in such a way that it doesn’t challenge a public more accustomed to painting, sculpture and video. Ikeda’s work is (a little) more challenging, bringing in notions of synaesthetic experience and challenging the viewer physically by turning sound into a physical sensation.

I apologize for the self-promotion, but as an example: In 2010 Eno Henze and I curated a show called “abstrakt Abstrakt – The Systemized World”, comprised of works that largely fall within media art practices. However, there was no technological novelty, no “Post-Internet” kitsch or simplistic interactivity. Works were selected for their material and conceptual qualities rather than technology or medium, which meant that the show included drawings (Jorinde Voigt, Louise Naunton Morgan) and sculpture (John Powers) that address issues of technological systems without using any technology.

Of course, some viewers might disagree or hate the show for whatever subjective reason, but I still say that at least it does not perpetrate the most obvious media art cliches that have been mentioned in this discussion.

Documentation of abstrakt Abstrakt can be found here:

Edward Shanken September 5, 2011 at 8:00 am

As historian of photography John Tagg (1993) has noted of the reception of an earlier “new media,” the more experimental aspects of photography were not well-assimilated and the impact of the discourses of photography and contemporary art on each other was highly asymmetrical: the latter changed very little, while the former lost its edge in the process of fitting in.   Ji-hoon Kim (2009) has further observed that despite the extraordinary assimilation of video by MCA, much experimental film and video, particularly the sort of material championed by Gene Youngblood in Expanded Cinema (1970), and its progeny, has been excluded from mainstream museum shows, while being celebrated in exhibitions held in new media contexts.   Inevitably, new media and the longer history of electronic art will be recognized by MCA as well, once a potential market for it is developed and promoted.   Proactively theorizing the issues and stakes involved may play an important role in informing the ways in which that merger unfolds. Needless to say, many in the NMA community are wary of losing this critical edge in the process of assimilation…

At a panel I convened at Art Basel in June 2010 with Bourriaud, Peter Weibel, and Michael Joaquin Grey, the gap between NMA and MCA became increasingly clear.   One obvious indication of this gap was demonstrated by the simple fact that Weibel, arguably the most powerful individual in the NMA world, and Bourriaud, arguably the most influential MCA curator and theorist, had never met before.  Citing the example of photography and Impressionism, Bourriaud argued that the influences of technological media on art are most insightfully and effectively presented indirectly, eg. in non-technological works.  As he wrote in Relational Aesthetics, “The most fruitful thinking … [explored] … the possibilities offered by new tools, but without representing them as techniques.  Degas and Monet thus produced a photographic way of thinking that went well beyond the shots of their contemporaries.”  (p. 67).  On this basis, he states that, “the main effects of the computer revolution are visible today among artists who do not use computers” (p. 67).  On one hand, I agree that the metaphorical implications of technologies have important effects on perception, consciousness, and the construction of knowledge.  But on the other hand, this position exemplifies the historical, ongoing resistance of mainstream contemporary art to recognize and accept emerging media.

Peter Weibel astutely picked up on Bourriaud’s distinction between direct/indirect influences and pointed out the hypocrisy of valuing the indirect influence of technology while ignoring the direct use of technology as an artistic medium in its own right. Weibel accurately and provocatively labels this “media injustice.”  Indeed, the implicit/explicit dichotomy that Bourriaud constructs serves only as a rhetorical device to elevate the former member of the pair – the lofty, theoretical ideal – at the expense of the latter – the quotidian, practical tool.  That epistemological logic of binary oppositions must be challenged and its artifice and ideological aims deconstructed, in order to recognize the inseparability of artists, artworks, tools, techniques, concepts and concretions as actors in a network of signification.

If indeed there is a growing exhibitions that include work by artists who employ new media tools in one way or another, very little has changed.  There remains a more or less autonomous new media artworld (what I call NMA) that has its own institutions, galleries critics and historians, journals and university departments.  The NMA is rarely invited to the mainstream contemporary artworld (MCA) and when it is, it is generally those works that already obey its rules that get tapped.

MCA does not need new media art NMA; or at least it does not need NMA in order to justify its authority. Indeed, the domination of MCA is so absolute that the term “artworld” is synonomous with it. Despite the distinguished outcomes generated by the entwinement of art, science, and technology for hundreds of years, MCA collectors, curators, and institutions have difficulty in recognizing NMA as a valid, much less valuable, contribution to the history of art.  As Magdalena Sawon, co-founder/co-director of Postmaster Gallery notes, NMA does not meet familiar expectations of what art should look like, feel like, and consist of based on “hundreds of years of painting and sculpture.”   It is deemed uncollectible because, as Amy Cappellazzo, a contemporary art expert at Christie’s observes, “collectors get confused and concerned about things that plug in.” (quoted in Sarah Thornton, Six Days in the Artworld)

Citing Inke Arnes, Domenico Quaranta asks, How can we “underline New Media Art’s ‘specific form of contemporaneity’” in a way that does not “violate th[e] taboos” of MCA?  I’m compelled to take issue with the tone of this query.  Violating taboos has played an important role in the history of art.  One of the key contributions NMA can make to art in general is in drawing attention to and contesting the status quo.  This has a lot to do not just with the explicit use of technological media but with challenging the museum and gallery – or any specific locale – as the privileged site of exhibition and reception.  If NMA lies down and accepts assimilation on the terms of MCA, then much of its critical value will have been usurped. But this strident resistance, which is NMA’s strength, is also what makes it reprehensible (if not uncollectible) by MCA.

The operational logic of the MCA – its job, so to speak – demands that it continually absorb and be energized by artistic innovation, while maintaining and expanding its own firmly entrenched structures of power in museums, fairs and biennials, art stars, collectors, galleries, auction houses, journals, canonical literature, and university departments.  This is by no means a simple balancing act and each of these actors has a vested interest in minimizing volatility and reinforcing the status quo, while maximizing their own rewards in a highly competitive environment.  Their power lies in their authoritative command of the history and current practices of MCA and in promoting consensus and confidence in the market that animates it.  As such, their power, authority, financial investment, and influence are imperiled by perceived interlopers, such as NMA, which lie outside their expertise and which, in form and content, challenge many of MCA’s foundations, including the structure of its commercial market.  Witness, for example, the distress of the “big four” labels of the music recording industry over the incursion of new media into established channels of distribution.  From this perspective, there are substantial reasons for the old guard to prevent the storming of the gates, or at least to bar the gates for as long as possible. Typical strategies include ignoring interlopers altogether or dismissing them on superficial grounds.

We live in a global digital culture in which the materials and techniques of new media are widely available and accessible to a growing proportion of the population.  Millions and millions of people around the world participate in social media, and have the ability to produce and share with millions and millions of other people their own texts, images, sound recordings, videos, GPS traces.  In many ways early NMA works that enabled remote collaboration and interaction, such as Ascott’s La Plissure du Texte (1983), can be seen as modeling social values and practices that have emerged in tandem with the advent of Web 2.0 and participatory culture.  Now a YouTube video, like Daft Hands, can delight and amaze 50 million viewers, spawning its own subculture of celebrities, masterpieces, and remixers.  In this context what are the roles of the artist, the curator, the theorist, and critic?  As Brad Troemel provocatively asked in an Artfag City essay, What can relational aesthetics learn from 4Chan?  What do professional artists, theorists and curators associated with NMA or MCA have to offer that is special, that adds value and insight to this dynamic, collective, creative culture?  Why care anymore about MCA or NMA, per se?  What is at stake preserving these distinctions and in distinguishing such artistic practices from broader forms of popular cultural production and reception?  Do such distinctions merely serve to protect MCA and NMA from interlopers by preserving a mythical status to their exclusive, lucrative and/or prestigious practices?

Ed Shanken, 5 Sep 2011

I have elaborated these arguments further in my essay, “Contemporary Art and New Media: Toward a Hybrid Discourse?

Isabel Draves September 6, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Marius, software art collection by wealthy technophiles is happening, just not broadly enough to be well-known yet I think.  An early Google employee turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur commissioned a major piece from my husband Scott Draves (see http://www.willowgarage.com/dreams-high-fidelity), and Google NYC purchased one of his pieces as well… you also have the Spalter art collection http://spalterdigitalartcollection.blogspot.com/ and at least one other I know  in development stages.

Our conversation with Ken Johnson, art critic from the NYTimes, is now up at LISA: http://softwareandart.com/?p=747

it, Ken talks about why digital art is not respected in the world of
high art. To him, it is because people (curators, gallerists,
collectors) don’t have any way to tell whether the art is the result of
individual inspiration or creativity or just a “gimmick”.

He also says that much digital art looks to be “part of pop culture” as opposed to “a comment
on pop culture”. And this is a no-no. With media art these days I
guess you have to be “critiquing” something – this explains the
heretofore inexplicable popularity of Ryan Trecartin and Cory Arcangel in the high art

I guess this is why museums
protect themselves by putting digital art in the “design” bucket – since
they can’t tell whether it is real art or just “design” it’s a useful hedge.

Ken Johnson’s book “Are You Experienced?” discusses the impact of psychedelic experiences on art and credits the consciousness-expanding in part for the absence of movements now, because art is now about making people see things differently or experience it in a certain way (as opposed to just the more traditional formalism or aesthetics). I put this in because of the earlier comment about “no movements anymore”.

So based on our conversation with Ken I’d say what needs to happen is that the High Art world needs more curators who actually know what they are talking about when it comes to technology who also have the pedigree – a few people with Computer Science PhD’s and a twin degree in art history? Who aren’t flummoxed by technology and have the capacity to tell the difference between something that is unoriginal or made by applying a Photoshop filter/Aftereffects, and something that is based on a personal vision, unique coding, intricate software design that is both beautiful and experiential. 

The problem is in the lack of training of the art establishment staff and their consequent inability to make the right picks — not in what software and digital artists are producing.  There’s a ton of great stuff out there.  We’ve seen this problem in other industries too, right? Like journalism, education and government?  Employees don’t know how to deal with new technologies and they end up being really, really late to the tech party, while the software industry rips ahead in Internet-time.

Marius Watz September 11, 2011 at 4:37 am

Thank you for the long and insightful response! I’m very happy this thread has led to some real discussion.

I think the question “Why care anymore about MCA or NMA, per se?” is the perfect summary of the debate, and how anyone answers it probably depends heavily on their investment in it. If you’re a theorist I doubt it matters very much, MCA has enough prestige as a theoretical field to make it worthwhile. In fact, the “ghetto” effect likely suits academics well since it frames the discourse and narrows down the competition.

But as a professional artist I care because I want to keep creating my work (which necessarily involves paying the bills – a constant even for artists w/o object-based practices), as well as show it in its best possible way without having to groom it to fit one presentation context or the other. And let’s not beat around the bush, the media art world rarely focuses on the artwork to the extent that contemporary art does.

To be blunt: In most contemporary contexts lectures and panels are a legitimizing afterthought to the art and the glamour of the show. That’s a well known if not so pleasant fact, but at least discursive events provide artists and hangers-on a chance to sidle up to their favorite curators and academics . Meanwhile, at media art events the art regularly takes second place to the discourse, unsurprising given that such events are often short-lived and convened for an international audience that vanishes without a trace within a few days. Thus, the discourse is the primary product, and local audiences aren’t a target. One need only witness the peculiar economics of Transmediale or Ars Electronica to get a good idea of the mechanics.

Of course, events like Ars etc. need the exhibitions and performances to establish their merits. Even in a scene jacked into disembodied experiences and global tele-interaction, seeing a thing in the flesh establishes a gold standard that cannot be done away with (regardless of what the net art 2.0 kids say.) And of course there is the matter of justifying to politcal and industrial sponsors what their money has bought, and a riveting series of lectures just won’t do the job.

Anyone who has attended a few art fairs or half-dozen major electronic art event must acknowledge that these mechanisms obviously factor in how these events are organized and prioritized, even if we can disagree on whether they compromise the event itself. I’ve always enjoyed going to Linz even if I sometimes winced at the last-minute, helter-skelter presentation of artworks, I miss Transmediale even though the exhibition part was generally dry and less than amazing. Similarly, I’ll always find something worth looking at in a major contemporary art fair or in a night of roaming around openings in Chelsea even if many shows can be dismissed within 5 seconds of entering the gallery.

Again, I sound cynical. It’s very hard not to be in a world caught
between utopian idealism, capitalist reality and pragmatic realpolitik.
Most people quit art, remember? But often, whenever you’re ready to quit
you’ll see something amazing that reminds you why you’re invested in
art in the first place. And that can’t be erased even though you might
glimpse the not-so-subtle price tag or the twisted economy of the
spectacle not-quite-invisibly attached to the work.

Both MCA and NMA have their version of the art world rat race: NMA = play the gallery / curator / biennial game and maybe nod to the trend du jour. MCA = play the festival circuit, court the right potential co-funders for your next insane un-commodifiable megaproject and maybe nod to the trend du jour. It’s tedious at best and bone-crushingly depressing at worst, but hey, that’s what you sign up for as an artist, right?

Again I would go back to Quaranta’s argument, or at least my reading of it. It’s not about media art vs. contemporary art as absolute choices. It’s not about turning media art into an art market commodity simply to create a (much needed) revenue stream. It’s about nurturing artists and the artworks they create, enabling sustainable practices and maybe saving media artists from making asses of themselves by being ignorant of the last 50 years of contemporary art. (I know I was for a long time.)

Quaranta is correctly pointing out media art’s self-imposed inferiority complex as a potential embarrasment and blockeage of artists’ access to a larger field. But he also puts a clear spotlight on the blinkered prejudice of contemporary art curators and institutions in refusing to engage with media art practices as part of the “expanded field”. (In particular, their mortal fear of ideas that seem worldly, and – more importantly – whose “hot or not” potential is as yet undetermined.) I agree with him that media artists (probably even more so than media art theorists or curators) need to be aware of their relationship to contemporary art. Not as a simple choice between one or the other but as a parameter that will impacts the artists’ practices, their access to certain venues and perhaps markets, and finally the larger context that their work will be shown in and understood as part of.

MCA will never offer the deep discourse for practices intersecting the strange world between engineering, social theory and art that NMA does. But similarly NMA events have so far proven themselves ill capable of showing work with precision and elegance, or even give artists the chance to create the larger narrative that is a solo show or a retrospective. This compromise in the NMA world does become a burden at some point in an artist’s career, a burden that explains why mid-career media artists who made their bones in the early 2000’s now are losing their enthusiasm for festivals and 3-day events and looking to other formats and venues for their work.

Having said all that (against better judgment since comments on art world mechanics are rarely good thing for a practicing artist), I do agree with the central argument you make about the integrity of the work. That integrity is far more important than pragmatism or simple convenience, and if a move towards the MCA world requires dumbing down or self-censorship it shouldn’t be an option. The rumored story of a MoMA acquisition of a classic net art work falling apart because MoMA demanded the work be taken offline is an apt example.

Still, any NMA artist faced with that conclusion will need to be exceedingly clever to keep their practice alive over a 20-year time horizon, never mind ensuring that their work is conserved as more than faded images in books. How many names of 1990’s media /artists readily spring to the lips of post-2000 audiences? The 1960’s pioneers like Mohr and Nake may be having a second spring, but their work were object-based and so can easily be dusted down and recovered. Knowbotic Research, Ulrike Gabriel, Char Davies? Less so.

Anonymous September 11, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Here is a video of that Art Basel panel: http://www.artbasel.com/go/id/mhv/

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