Network: A very digital dilemma

Despite the Tate's snobbish indifference, computer-based art is attracting serious investment, and growing audiences are forcing critics to stop that tittering

The art world got a jolt last summer when the US-based Guggenheim Foundation announced a $1m programme to acquire and display digital art. The foundation, known for its architecturally innovative Guggenheim Museums in New York, Berlin, Venice and Bilbao, is constructing a new museum - online. The Internet-based virtual museum, scheduled for a spring launch, will be a platform for discussing and displaying interactive, computer-based art.

The Guggenheim is the first major art institution to make a substantial investment in digital art, but it's by no means the first museum to take it seriously. Last year, two London shows - Mariko Mori at the Serpentine Gallery and Richard Hamilton at Alan Christea - displayed digital art, helping to raise the profile of computer-based work. The ICA, which already sponsors a variety of digital-related work including installations, club nights and CD-Roms - has appointed a director for new media, and there are plans to set aside a budget to commission and release online projects for the ICA's revamped website, due in May.

London's Colville Place Gallery, which opened in 1998, was the first commercial gallery in the UK devoted to artists who use computers in their work. And the Arts Council has been funding a variety of new media projects, including the Lux Gallery in London's Hoxton Square, which showcases artists who use computer technology to make and display their art, and Artec, a fine arts centre that sponsors Internet and CD-Rom works.

David Curtis, senior visual arts officer for the Arts Council, estimates that 5 to 10 per cent of the visual arts budget goes to digital projects.

Meanwhile, a number of galleries have begun to put digital work on the Web. New York's Dia Center for the Art has commissioned a series of online works for its website. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is currently hosting Shock of the View, a six-month series of curated, online exhibitions paired with an ongoing discussion about artists, audiences and museums.

However, many large institutions remain hostile to digital art. Despite repeated requests from The Independent, the Tate Gallery's press office was unable to locate a staff member to speak on the subject of digital art. Last year a spokesperson for the museum was quoted as saying: "When there are good artists using new media then we'll be interested."

There's commercial resistance to digital art, too: with a few exceptions, sales at the Colville Place Gallery remain small - under pounds 200 - and the gallery has yet to break even, say Keith Watson and Ian Middleton, founders and co-curators. This hostility to digital art is more than knee-jerk traditionalism. Underlying the Tate's hesitancy are some big questions about what digital art is and how it should be curated and collected.

The term digital art has been used to describe work ranging from interactive, web and CD-Rom-based projects, digital sculptures and video installations, to traditional paintings and photographs. Matthew Slotover, editor of Frieze Magazine, which is currently developing a comprehensive arts website, explains that there's heated debate about the term digital art. "What does it mean? Is it painters using computers to scan in drawings and paint from computers? Or is it art that exists only digitally and is displayed online or printed out?"

The Dia's online projects exist only in digital form. Works like Kristin Lucas's Between a Rock and a Hard Drive and Claude Closky's Do you want love or lust? use the Web's unique qualities - interactivity, ability to link, immediacy - to explore contemporary culture. The ICA is also focusing on Web-based projects. "Our main concern is online work," says Benjamin Weil, director of new media. "This whole new range of art experiments is very much a part of our culture. It hasn't gained as much respect as other forms yet, but we're getting there. The function of the museum is to have a broad understanding of what the art scene is."

Other work is less obviously digital. Untitled Painting Show, exhibited recently at the Lux, consisted of paintings by four artists who employ computer technology such as scanning while producing their work. An exhibit at Colville Place last year showed German painter Rolf Gnewuch's oil paintings of large nudes copied from heavily pixelated computer images. Watson and Middleton argue that technology is just another tool, and that digital- based work needn't employ state-of-the-art technology to qualify as digital: "More important is how the technology is used to treat particular issues and whether it does so convincingly."

Another area of debate is how digital art should be curated, stored and sold. Curators worry whether art should be displayed on the Web. Can it be downloaded by anyone? Will people pay to see art that's freely accessible on the Web? Will online art remain accessible despite frequent software upgrades? Collectors have similar concerns. Recalling philosopher Walter Benjamin's observation that mechanically reproducible art loses its individual worth, they worry that prints of digital work, being endlessly reproducible, have little market value. They also worry whether digital prints will deteriorate.

The ICA is also addressing these questions in its Lingo series of conferences on art and new media. In the first conference of the series last month, Archiving the Web, an international group of artists and curators met to discuss ways of conserving and collecting art projects produced online.

If collectors are taking a while to warm to the idea of digital art, the public needs no convincing. Many curators argue it's the most important force in contemporary art, while audiences flock to shows. (Mariko Mori was one of the most popular shows in the history of the Serpentine).

"They came because they were fascinated with what this artist was doing with new media," says the exhibition's curator, Lisa Corrin. It's natural, she adds, for artists like Mariko Mori to use digital technology to address contemporary issues like the way lives are shaped by mass (electronic) media. "They feel that to be artists of their time they must use digital media the way artists long ago used paintbrush and palette. They are painting in the palette of the moment."

ICA: http://www. newmediacentre.com

Dia: http://www.diacenter. org

Guggenheim Museums: http://www.guggenheim.org

Colville Place:

http://www.romanesque.co. uk/gallery.html

Walker

http://www.walkerart.org

Lux: http://www.lea.org.uk

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935