What’s the best way to show artwork — both made for the web and not — online? How do we bring net art into the physical space of a gallery? These are two of the questions that curators, artists, and others in the art world are increasingly confronting and most likely will be for a while. Two attempts to answer them recently converged in my inbox, and both intrigued me enough to be worth a look.
Dot Dash 3
The first is Dot Dash 3, a new “multifaceted platform [that] gives artists and curators an unprecedented ability to stage cohesive exhibitions of artworks in an online gallery setting and reach art enthusiasts around the world,” according to the press release. The site, which was created by Larisa Leventon, who comes from a business and tech background, seems to pin this typically (for all press releases, I mean) hyperbolic statement on its focus on exhibitions, and the platform launched with seven of them on the site: six solo outings and one group show of animation. This is a welcome deviation from the most common online approach so far, which has basically been to build an art marketplace, akin to an upscale Etsy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — I love me some Etsy — but it’s nice to see someone try something different.
But I was disappointed when I visited Dot Dash 3 and found myself basically looking at an attempted virtual recreation of a brick-and-mortar gallery. The site mimics all the trappings of a white cube, with virtual walls on which the art is digitally hung, introductory exhibition text, and two rooms allotted to each show. The different exhibitions are strung together by connecting rooms and doorways, so that in the second room of Andrea Bianconi’s My Best Friend, you can either return to room one and from thence to Guy Goldstein’s exhibition, or you can go forward into Man Bartlett’s show.
Is this really the best way to show (and sell) art online — by wishing the white cube into virtual existence? Dot Dash 3 lets you click on an artwork to zoom in and get a closer view, but so do the majority of other art-selling websites, like Artsy and VIP Art Fair. And of course the medium makes it easy to sell and exhibit GIFs, which is nice. But the white-walled virtual exhibition spaces seem like a total failure of creativity, especially coming from a site that boasts the use of “cutting-edge, patent-pending visualization technology … [to provide] visitors with an unmatched immediacy of experience.”
On the other end of the spectrum, we have artist Aram Bartholl, whose work questions what’s digital and what’s “real,” and where and how those two overlap, often by bringing online symbols and images into the physical world (including giant blowups of Google map markers). Bartholl’s latest endeavor is an exhibition he’s curated at Paris’s Xpo gallery called Offline Art: new 2, in which he’s endeavoring to show internet art detached from the internet.
I’m not going to do a great job translating the technicalities of this, so here’s the part of Bartholl’s curatorial statement that explains it:
Browser-based digital art works are broadcast locally from wifi routers which are not connected to the Internet. Each art work is assigned a single wifi router which is accessible through any device, like smart-phones, tablets or laptops. To access the different art works, the visitor has to connect to each network individually. The name of the network reflects the name of the artist. No matter what URL is opened, only the specific artwork appears in the browser. A small web server holding the art piece is installed on a USB flash drive which is connected to the router. Like frames holding the art, the routers are hung in the exhibition space which is otherwise empty. The art itself becomes visible only on the visitor’s private screen. The pieces are locally widely accessible but disconnected from the Internet.
This is a thoughtful experiment — not necessarily technically, although for someone technologically challenged like me, it sounds pretty damn cool. But also because Bartholl is poking at what the definition of net art is: must it be connected to the wider web to be complete, to count? Is the internet’s perpetual updating and copying, not to mention its endless stream of distraction-waiting-to-happen, an integral part of looking at web art? And do works hold up, or do their meanings shift and change, when they’re pulled from their habitat like fishes out of water?
Bartholl is by no means the first person to take internet art and show it in a gallery. But by creating these individual servers, it seems like he’s hoping to spark strong personal connections between the viewer and the works, something I often struggle to achieve when looking at art online. I wish I could get to Paris to see if it feels different.
Offline Art: new 2 opens at Xpo gallery (17 rue Notre Dame de Nazareth, Paris) on February 21 and continues through March 14.