Curator Lindsay Howard frames her current online-only exhibition at Art Micro-Patronage, “C.R.E.A.M.”, by pointing to the elephant in the room: “Over twenty years have passed since net art first appeared on the screen,” she writes, “and we still don't have an established system for buying and selling it.” It's a huge issue, because it's awfully hard to make decent art as a second job. Without an established market, there's little potential for supporting any more than a handful of net artists in the long run; without net artists, it’s tough to have net art.
Most of the obvious solutions have been tried; I made a Google Doc with a partial list to give an idea. So far as anybody's been able to figure out, none of them have worked very well. Plenty of ideas have made money at some point, but none have the wide appeal of physical things, and few have ever paid anyone's bills with regularity. It remains tough convincing collectors, even collectors who made their money online, to buy something immaterial.
The solution to the problem, it must be said, probably won't come from a single brilliant business model. It's far more likely that the combined efforts of dealers and curators will, over time, convince some small but reliable minority of art collectors to accept the precept that code or digital images have financial value in proportion to their aesthetic value, regardless of their openness or reproducibility. Even if a perfect model were found, one suspects that net art—wherein messing with the market status of your work is a fairly common strategy—would be slow to climb onboard.
Still, that doesn’t stop the search. Art Micro-Patronage, as a platform, is in this way a neat fit for the show. AMP is a temporary exhibition venue that bases its approach on “donorship, not ownership”, and lets viewers pledge small amounts of money to specific works in a show, with the proceeds being divided between artist, curator, and platform (Kyle Chayka's piece on ArtINFO is an excellent primer on the site). It's an interesting model, reminiscent of the successful Humble Indie Bundle approach in PC games, that takes advantage of the broad base of potential net art enthusiasts willing to chip in to support artists. It is not, however, a solution on its own; “C.R.E.A.M.”, as one of the more successful AMP shows, has earned a mere $191.24 so far. AMP will need wider reach if it wants to make micropayment-funded net art a practical reality.
Not all of the works in “C.R.E.A.M.” attack the issue so directly; some, like the work of 0-Day Art or Aram Bartholl, instead serve to point to ideas at the periphery of the market, or to frame the environment in which net art has to work. In the next three pages, I’ll be looking at, and disassembling, each piece in “C.R.E.A.M.”, one by one. It’ll be excessive, on purpose. Since the exhibition is arranged linearly—you enter at JODI’s Goodtimes and leave at 0-Day Art’s Art Micro-Patronage Season One, Complete—I’ll start from the beginning. Let’s get down to business.