The art world goes Internet
The classic art market, made up of big fairs, auction houses and collectors works very well, especially given that the “traditional” art field is made up of mostly physical pieces like paintings, prints, sculptures and installations, among others. Certainly, there has been a lot of immaterial and purely conceptual art in the last century, but the framed piece on the wall still has a very strong place within the commercial field. Everyone knows that. Nevertheless, we live in an era in which the full effect of the digital revolution that began a couple decades ago is unfolding. A profound change in several of society’s long established systems is going on, and there are currently many questions regarding how concepts like open-closed, private-public, and censored-unfiltered will affect the net in the future.
In recent years, different art world players entered the Internet and introduced a variety of online art platforms. Artnet.com, Paddle8.com, VIP Art Fair and Art.sy are just a few examples of sites that have sought to become the main Google-like entry point to the art world online, often backed by well-established galleries. They range from very exclusive sites to the openly accessible, thus experimenting with different models. The art world goes digital! But does this also mean that the commercial field and Internet art approach one another?
Internet art goes commercial
Internet art from all generations can be found online at the same time. Beginning in the 90s, there has been an extensive growth in Internet-based art over the last decade. Freed from physical constraints, all kinds of pictures, gifs, clips, animation and websites flash over the screen every day. New works are published, mixed, remixed and altered in order to be made new once again in increasingly fast cycles. The amount of sheer creativity is awesome! This is the Internet, and it seems like the current young scene of net.artists is partially shifting towards more traditional art institutions as well as the art market. Different types of online galleries have emerged from the well-connected scene over the last years1. Additionally, many artists in the scene work across all sorts of media; both online and offline, they create installation, sculpture, print and performancebased projects. In the post-Internet scene it doesn’t make a difference anymore. Art is combined on and offline, much like our lives are a combination between digital and analog. Some artists manage to sell Internetbased work, which is great. I am very curious to see how Internet art and the contemporary mainstream will merge over the years; we will see more websites in collections and more Youtube clips in the museums.
The paradox of limited-unlimited
There are some crucial points about how Internet-based art differs from a physical piece. The great advantage of the Internet and computers is that I can create a digital artifact, an animated collage for example, and send it to you but keep an exact copy at the same time. We can both have it with no effort. Isn’t that awesome? This is one of the great advantages of computers and networks. People keep forgetting this issue, while companies try to censor the Internet to save their obsolete business models. A physical object, a painting for instance, can be kept or given away but we can’t both own it at the same time.
The limits of an analog work of art are crucial for the art market. The moment you try to apply these rules to net.art you get into a paradoxical situation. Most Internet art is meant to be online. Of course you could take it offline after it has been sold, but often this would either make no sense or would not work (see the trouble the music and movie industries are in). The work is meant to be online and accessible. At the same time, it is very important to create a set of rules and technical solutions so Internet art can still be unique or so a file can become part of an edition. There are a lot of questions among collectors about authorship, ownership, accessibility, and technical maintenance, and it is very important that both artists and galleries come up with solutions to these questions. There will be solutions to this soon.
A decentralized open system
What are the ways to validate the authorship of a piece or a file? It would be very interesting to develop an open, network-based system with certain technical constraints everyone can rely on, an open format that could be altered as is commonly done in the development of open source software. How about a decentralized peer-to-peer system in the style of the bitcoin network, which would be able to verify the author, owner and edition number of a file? Or what about a minimal variation on the same file while the piece itself remains exactly the same? With this sort of watermark technique collectors would get individual files that are unique while the visually exact copy is available to eve Wachsryone. Artists could certify each others’ work online to prove the authenticity of a piece. In the future, galleries might just deal with cryptographic keys instead of the work itself. Or maybe there is going to be a completely new art market without the aid of Sotheby’s and such: a digital peer-to-peer direct market for data based art.
Currently, digital art is sold by delivering the work along with a signed paper certificate on a medium like a DVD, hard disk or USB thumb drive. This makes sense and seems fine for now. But wouldn’t it be great to establish a universal system in order to be able to market Internet-based art directly and online? The big art market players have already built an online art market platform for analog works. I would love to see them sell Internet art as well. As stated above, it is time to come up with smart solutions and different systems. Artists like Rafael Rozendaal sell unique website pieces bound to a URL, while Petra Cortright offers Youtube video editions with prices based on view counts. Pieces get sold but stay online at the same time.
The option to offer an online work to a limited group of viewers will in most cases fail. Someone will gain access and leak the art2. Locking down online content is very difficult and not the way to go. The music and movie industries are currently trying to do this with their SOPA/PIPA/ACTA laws. Unfortunately, these interest groups are trying to limit access, filter and censor the Internet to death. Therefore, we need new models to value cultural creations of any kind, because the old model is not going to work any more. Trying to adapt the Internet to the needs of the old system will kill it.
Predictably, there will be more attempts to sell online art in limited, walled gardens like Facebook and the like. Although it might work for a certain audience, one will always need to rely on the terms of Facebook’s license. What if the host of a digital art network goes down one day? Where will all pieces end up?
Without the open attitude of the early computer scientists and the free software movement we wouldn’t be in the place we are today. The Internet and all its servers are running on open source software, Linux. A very
fundamental shift on how goods, objects and their values are defined is taking place at the moment. Economic and political systems will need to adapt to more changes. The art world and its markets are going to discover unknown terrains.
Dieser Text erschien zuerst in http://ny-magazine.org/issues.html ISSUE 6, 2013 [29.7.2013].
1.) Nicholas O’Brien, “Hyperjunk: Observations on the proliferation of online galleries“ (http://badatsports.com/2012/hyperjunk-observations-on-the-proliferation-of-online-galleries/)
2.) For example (http://www.0dayart.net), the leaked sedition.co page (http://dontsave.com/art_deal.html)
[Dieser Text findet sich im Reader Nr. 1 auf S. 38.]