Bits & Bytes Column: Internet Art

July/August 2003 Issue
Posted with permision by dialogue Magazine

In an age of digital discontent, where the computer you bought today will be outdated tomorrow, fresh forms of art are being created using computer technologies from robotics to interactive video installations to “net art.” As a result, the Web continues to serve much more than just a new landscape for on-line business activities. For the artist, the Web provides a forum for the dissemination of ideas.

Net art or Internet art is an underknown art form that is still in its infancy. The only way to define “net art” is by the technology used because the ideas are so varied like other mediums such as painting and performance.

With the World Wide Web, an artist can purchase a domain name, build a Website and notify people of its existence through search engine submissions, e-mail lists, and links with other sites as well as partaking in on-line festivals and exhibitions. No longer does an artist have to wait for the museum, gallery or critic to bring art and ideas to the people.

Mark Tribe, executive director of attributes the popularity of the emerging new art form to its immediate access to a global audience and its relative low cost.

In 1996, Tribe founded an arts organization that provides an on-line platform for the global new media arts community. It is a good place to find out about on-line exhibitions and opportunities as well as partake in a dialogue through e-mail discussions.

Probably the most important aspect of is its ArtBase. It was originally conceived and developed as an archive for net art projects, but since has expanded its scope to include other forms of new media art, such as software art, computer games and web-based documentation of installation and performance works.

Only a handful of institutions and collectors have begun to commission or collect net art such as the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Whitney Museum of American, New York City;; and Turbulence, a project of New Radio and Performing Arts based in New York.

Postmasters Gallery, located in New York City has been showing work associated with new technologies since 1996 with their exhibition, “Can You Digit.” According to Magdalena Sawan, co-director of Postmasters Gallery, a successful model for selling net art has not yet been established. A work may begin as a net art project but it needs to be transformed into a unique or limited edition work to be marketable in a commercial gallery such as an installation or object. Sawan believes that net art should use the limited edition or unique copy tactic that video art has adapted. She feels that the “Schwarzenegger” blockbuster approach of unlimited editions does not apply to video art and net art.

Collector and artist, Doron Golan makes his net art collection available 24/7 with his website, He began collecting net art because he wanted to support both the media and artists. Golan’s net art purchases include a hard copy of the work on cd and a certificate of ownership. Golan states that currently “there is no ‘market’ for net art. Very few works of net art have been commissioned or purchased by institutions. To my knowledge there is not much if any private market for it, so the issue of value is yet to be determined.”

Nevertheless, preserving net art is a major concern for Golan. He says that, “some projects in the collection are already facing issues of computability. There have been constant changes in computer hardware, browser versions, plug-ins and software. I cannot imagine what would happen when computer architecture and Internet protocols will change.”

So the question is, “how does one resolve this issue?” In Avoiding Technological Quicksand, Jeff Rothenberg proposes the idea of emulation. It involves writing a piece of software for a computer that causes it to mimic, or emulate a systems behavior of an obsolete computer in order for original software to run. So a person in the future can experience a piece of old “new media” art within the context that it was made on her existing computer. Other forms of archiving and preserving net art include: documentation (screen shots, etc.); updating code to meet new Web browsers’ specifications; and viewing works on obsolete computer hardware and software preserved in museums.

The acceptance of computer-based art by the arts community has been relatively quick in comparison to photography and even installation art. However with the recent layoff of new media curator Steve Deitz at the Walker Art Center which has been a strong supporter of Internet art, it is a telling sign that there continues to be a bumpy road ahead for computer based art due to the difficult economic climate and rapid technological changes.

Updated September 2006