Has curating killed net.art?
Published in AN magazine, March 2000.
There is a well-founded rumour that net.art is dead. I say well founded because I've heard it spoken by a number of well-known net.artists. But the irony is that to the international art world, very few net.artist are even known, let alone well known. And now that they're known, is what they're doing dead?! If so, then it's my suspicion that net.art is dead, because it's been retrospectively curated.
I used to visit a museum's website and guess who wrote the copy-the curators or the marketing and publicity directors. More than often, it was the latter. Today, instead of guessing who wrote the website, I guess who curated it. In recent years, a number of the larger art museums have glommed onto art made for the internet and are carving out new exhibitions spaces on their websites and even (complicatedly so) in their galleries to exhibit it. As a result of this, a handful of net.artists are becoming familiar names within the international cartel of curators (consider the festivals and biennials-the Whitney Biennial 2000 which opened last month in NY includes net.art for the first time: www.whitney.org; Documenta included internet-based art in its last incarnation. Aside: net.artist Vuk Cosic, archived a copy of the Documenta X website when he heard it was to be taken down; in a brilliant and Duchampian act of authorship, the entire site has seemingly become one of his works and can be seen at www.ljudmila.org/~vuk). But how is the "curating" of net.art and its subsequent reception, affecting its creation?
The development of net.art was primarily based in and around artists co-operatives working together on the Internet, sharing server space, sometimes sharing an office (åda'web in New York being a classic example: http://adaweb.walkerart.org). Because many of them had started from bulletin boards (in some senses a precursor to chat rooms, as was the case with Robbin Murphy's artnetweb: www.artnetweb.com), net.art was nurtured within a supportive community of practitioners, a number of whom disdained the gallery system, or at least, felt no need for it. As artists have always gathered to talk about their work, so too did net.artists. As such, a dialogue emerged in tandem with the art works-loosely akin to an academic peer review process. Posted to the same non-curated sites which exhibited the works, or distributed by an e-mail list, this dialogue was intrinsic to the establishment of net.art as a discipline within media arts.
Now that museum curators are curating net.art into their exhibition schedules and adding it to their collections (The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis acquired åda'web last year; Dia Art Center in New York "hosts" Stadium: www.stadiumweb.com or www.diacentre.org), the discursive communities are changing. net.art is now subject to a different kind of review process. Suddenly these museums are hosting online forums and similar "chat" projects in order to bring net.art into their larger educational mandates to contextualize the art on view. ZKM's exhibition "net_condition" (www.mecad.org/net_condition) hosted an online forum called "telematic manifesto"; the Walker's exhibitions "Let's Entertain" (www.walkerart.org/va/letsentertain/) and "Art Entertainment Network" (aen.walkerart.org) are supported by an online forum called "EAT: Entertainment, Art, Technology" (www.walkerart.org/salons/eat). These forums strike me as a middle ground between the long-established listservs populated by the net.artists themselves (as The Thing and Rhizome started out: www.thing.net, www.rhizome.org) and the methods of art-legitimating familiar to the institution (the exhibition catalog, the educational program).
The question I find myself left with is, if art made for the Internet is no longer developing within its own self-enclosed field of practitioners, but now new works are being premiered within larger multidisciplinary art institutions, will that change the type of work being made? Seems those rumours that net.art as we know it is dead might be true after all.