Do institutions and galleries have a growing interest in New Media? Two weeks ago, I identified the art “internet bubble” at The L Magazine, a trend that’s currently giving new media the spot light. Not everyone sees new media the same way though. Domenico Quaranta, an Italian writer and curator previously best known to this blog for “Holy Fire“, a dubiously themed new media exhibition in Brussels that included only “collectible” work, being one such example. Quaranta’s followed up the 2008 exhibition by writing a whole book on the subject of New Media — “Media, New Media, PostMedia” — one core theme being that the field isn’t accepted in the contemporary art world. “New Media Art is more or less absent in the contemporary art market, as well as in mainstream art magazines,” he writes in his abstract, “and recent accounts on contemporary art history completely forgot it.”
This has some truth to it, of course, but as of late these sentiments seem a little out of step with the attention noted above. Past the many New York museums attempting to capitalize on the public’s interest in New Media — The Whitney’s recently closed Cory Arcangel “ProTools” exhibition, MoMA’s design and social media show “Talk To Me”, and Ryan Trecartin’s “Any Ever” at PS1 — blue chip interest is rearing its head. Pace Gallery just announced the launch of a social media show this September, thus replaying its 2006 attempt to capitalize on a trend: “Breaking and Entering; Art and the Video Game” was launched at the height of the video game art hype bubble. This, too, may be short-lived, but so what? Even if it is Pace’s entry is a good sign that there’s money to be made in New Media. Cash never fails to draw the attention of the art world.
Perhaps some acknowledgement of this shift can be made in the English version of Quaranta’s book, which has yet to be released. It’s currently available only in Italian, so I’ve quoted above from a lengthy abstract in English posted on the author’s blog; there’s also the last chapter of the book, which is also published in English on Rhizome.
From what’s available online, the book seems worth a gander (Regine Debatty from We Make Money Not Art recommends the book to anyone with an interest), even if Quaranta’s vision of how New Media integrates with the larger fine art world doesn’t match my own. An excerpt from the third chapter:
Talking about conventions, if the contemporary art world evaluate art works on the basis of their content, the New Media Art world is interested in how a work contribute to the development and the understanding of a given medium; if the contemporary art world has a market-driven distribution system based on private galleries, art fairs, private, public and corporate collections, the New Media Art world nurtures an experience economy made of festivals, symposia and meetings; if the contemporary art world needs objects, the New Media Art world needs experiences.
At the same time, however, many exceptions to these rules are possible in both the worlds. Thus, if in the contemporary art world the content is king, some formalist concerns are gaining an increasing attention in the so-called postmedia era; and a growing number of so-called new media artists, far from celebrating the medium they use, often criticize it or make an instrumental use of it. If the art market has still prominence in the contemporary art world, the more contemporary art becomes popular, the more museums and other art institutions move towards a spectacular economy, focusing on temporary events and often producing site-specific installations and performances.
These pairings sound substantial for their oppositional qualities, but even the author acknowledges they don’t really exist. The question is whether there’s a perception that they do, and I’m not sure there is.
Meanwhile, Quaranta continues, describing another section as an attempt to argue “how the advent of the Internet and of consumer electronics consistently changed the way artists addressed new technologies, turning contemporary New Media Art into something completely different from the idea of art supported by the New Media Art world, and something at odds with this very name.” He concludes, “This change produced the major shift that made the distinction between the two worlds become more and more blurry, and that made many “new media artists” abandon the ship of New Media Art to look for a better understanding of their work in the contemporary art world.”
This is all a bit vague for my tastes — I’ll have to read the book when it’s released in English– but it’s certainly true that New Media and contemporary art don’t look all that different anymore. To my mind that’s a good thing. I’d argue that a lot of this has to do with the tech literacy of the beholder, though, as the criteria for art’s evaluation hasn’t changed that much over the years. What has changed is our fluency in different mediums and thus, our ability to appraise the value of new mediums.
Reflecting this, we’ve seen the launch of more than a few new columns exploring the subject, among them Kyle Chayka’s weekly column Net Work, Image Conscious, an ArtINFO blog penned by former AFC intern Karen Archey, and Nicholas O’Brien’s monthly column HyperJunk over at Bad at Sports. We’ve also seen more long-form articles and books taking a new look at the history of new media: Geeta Dayal’s 10,000-plus word interview with late computer music pioneer Max Matthews at Frieze Magazine for example, and “A Little-Known Story about a Movement, a Magazine, and the Computer's Arrival in Art: New Tendencies and Bit International, 1961-1973“, a book edited by Margit Rosen and reviewed by Paper Monument‘s Dushko Petrovich in the Boston Globe.
In short, there’s a lot of great thinking being done in the field of new media right now. Perhaps, then, the outlook for the field isn’t quite as bleak as Quaranta paints.