Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Art and the Internet

Oskar Fischinger, 4 images

Yesterday a new website called, hyped as a Pandora for art lovers, was announced in the Times. Only time will tell if this is a boon or expensive misuse of the Internet. The distinctions that make art great are subtle; for instance, I like art that still keeps me guessing even after I’ve seen it a million times. How does a computer find a “genome” for that?

It also assumes that the medium is the first leveler so, for example, if I “like” Christian Marclay, I must therefore “like” video as a medium, which is SO not the case, just as I would never type “Iron and Wine” into Pandora because I would then find myself listening to (eek!) folk music.

Further, the best and worst thing about visual art is that it often doesn’t come through on the computer screen; you have to be there, in front of it, to get the impact. A great example of this is the current digital work of Gerhard Richter I’ve been going on about, which has a lot of zing in person but looks deadly on Marian Goodman’s website. Isn’t this the ultimate irony? A digital product that doesn’t translate in digital? Surprise!—scale actually means something! And just as “silence” was a “sound” to John Cage, surface is meaningful even when it’s flat.

So will the artists who succeed in the future make work with an eye to computer reproduction OR, unlike sex, will visual art continue to be, like food, one of the few experiences where actual contact remains essential?

Oddly enough, however, the explosion of information on the Internet hasn’t extended fully to art. For starters, neither Art in America nor Artforum has an online archive. No wonder art students don’t seem to know anything about what’s gone on in the last 20-30 years—there’s no place for them to find out about it unless they go to a brick and mortar library, which is not how they’re used to doing research.  And why should they have to? In the past there were online resources, at least for recent articles, but they’ve disappeared.  Some angel should take this on.

Also surprisingly, museums, even more than private galleries, are woefully stingy with online information for both visitors and writers.  If they’re not going to allow photography, which is the rule at almost all museums except MoMA, then the least they could do is provide images online so visitors can refer back to what they saw, people who haven’t attended the exhibition can see what they’re missing, and when the exhibition is over, there’s an online archive.

Museums could also put the wall text online—why not? It’s hardly an expensive proposition. I was recently apprehended by guards at the Whitney for taking photos of the text panels (I’m not kidding!) for Oskar Fischinger (click here to see the sum total of the online info about it) but kept snapping away because I had a review to write and that was the only way to get the information, at least in a timely manner. Of course I could email the Press Office and wait to see if they’d send me a PDF, but why make it so difficult?—not only for press, but for the public. These aren’t state secrets, but information that’s in their best interest to share.

As for check lists of everything in museum exhibitions, including titles, dates, sizes, etc. – these appear to be things of the past. I requested one from the Art Institute of Chicago but gave up after a flurry of emails—“press release” being the only language they speak.

Back in the olden days I’d be sent a thick packet that included check lists, complete bios and Xeroxes of previous reviews and catalog essays, as well as slides (remember them?) covering the bulk of the exhibition I was writing about. Now I’m referred to the website where even the press area, which requires special access, offers only a modicum of images and the lonely press release, which is often too cursory to be helpful. The Fischinger press release didn’t even make mention of the music, by Varese and Cage, which accompanies the films. That information is simply not available online, although the Tate Modern, which showed the piece in the spring, at least offers background information on Fischinger, at Tate etc.  I will happily consult with any museum that wants to improve their online and press offerings! Just ask!


a said...

Love the comparison of sex/food/art. My three fave topics (not necessarily in that order). ; )

Haven't read the NYT article yet. I like Pandora generally, but it is interesting to ponder whether that model can work with a visual modality.

virginia bryant said...

Institutional bureaucracy is a straight jacket that never stops propagating waste, inefficiency and lack of clarity.