Andrew North discovers the 10 best places to view works of art on the Internet
No admission charges. No more queues. No need to walk along endless corridors of Surrealists just to see the Van Goghs. And no more crowds of sweaty, video-toting tourists. Now you can wander around art galleries in the comfort of your own computer screen. Thanks to the World Wide Web, with its high-quality graphics, a vast selection of pictures is available on the Internet.

The idea that the Web is ever going to replace a visit is, of course, fantasy. Looking at a great painting on a computer screen is never going to be a substitute for seeing the real thing. And however interesting digital art becomes, it is unlikely to push out more traditional mediums. In fact, Net galleries may actually encourage more people to visit real art exhibitions, whetting their appetite to see the real display. That is certainly the hope of the Royal Academy, which plans to have a Web site by the end of the year. It will offer selections from current exhibitions, together with admission details.

What the Internet can give you is a peek at paintings you would be lucky to get see in real life - as well as displays that are particularly suitable for the digital format.

Of the hundreds of Internet art sites, the most interesting is the Otis gallery. Based in California, Otis is run by a group of artists and programmers and holds thousands of images. There are all the categories you would expect, such as painting, drawing and collage, but a lot you would not. Math art is one of the more outlandish: this is art created by mathematical equations. Then there is ASCII art, formed from ASCII text, and a large collection of "executables", self-viewing works that you have to click on to see. Click on one part and it takes you to another image, or even to an entirely different Web art site. If you have your own multimedia creation, Otis will be happy to receive it.

Next is the Louvre Web site, known as the Web Museum. By no means all the works in its vast collection are available on-line (you would need a couple of years to download them if they were), but the Famous Paintings selection holds some of the best. More than 60 artists, from Goya to da Vinci, are represented. Another attraction currently on offer is the Trs Riches Heures, an elaborately illustrated 15th-century manuscript depicting the liturgical hours of the day. This is a Net exclusive, as the original is now too fragile to be put on display.

At three is the Arthole, a slightly Gothic but fascinating gallery of electronic art, put together by someone called Harlan Wallach. His collection of pinhole images is fun. Arthole also has a number of links to works within the Otis gallery which I did not find when I was on Otis proper, including a selection of "true" Internet art images that have been mutated by passing them back and forth across the Net. This is art for true techno- hippies.

The original home of techno-hippies, apparently, is The Well, in San Francisco. But it's not just a place to hang out. This Web site also has one of the best collections of hypertext art, most of it created by private Net surfers. Click on "Community" when you reach The Well home page and then browse through the list. Unfortunately, it does not tell you what is on each site, but that is not The Well's style. But do not give up before you have found Jaron Lanier's bizarre pages (Mr Lanier is one of the pioneers of virtual reality). His home page is a clickable image of himself. Body piercing is one of his main interests, as you will discover if you click on "Visual Art" and find his Portrait of the Artist as a Parent.

Global Union Square (GUS), at five, is a US commercial Web site, offering services such as shopping and travel information, but it also has a packed art gallery. These are mostly real artworks, and artists' phone numbers are prominently displayed at the bottom of each work, together with sizes, should you wish to buy them. One of GUS's specialities is computer jewellery. You can choose from computer cable bracelets, cable chokers and microchip ear-rings and you can view all the designs on-line: just the thing to wear to a real exhibition of digital art.

California is leading the Internet art scene, but New York is not far behind. One way into Big Apple art is to visit the Neon Internet Roadside Diner II, the home page of an artist called Kenny Greenberg. As well as his own work, Greenberg's page links to all sorts of Gophers and Web sites run by New York artists, galleries and museums.

It is perhaps no surprise that there is so little ancient art on the Net. But the World Art Treasures site, at number seven, has an interesting collection. Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, it offers displays of ancient art from Egypt, China, Japan, Burma and Thailand. A series of murals by Coptic Christians from 5,000 years ago is very impressive.

Vancouver-based Knossopolis acts, according to its home page, as a cultural exchange for art and ideas. The main attraction, though, is NWHQ, a "hyper- media magazine of art and literature". There are some very odd creations within this magazine, but it is fun browsing through. Tim McLaughlin's 25 ways to close a photograph is gloriously pretentious.

Grabbing the number nine slot is the Silicon Graphics Internet gallery. This is another site that encourages you to submit your own creation, although the 20 megabyte maximum file size will limit some people. There are some very good sound and video creations if you have the right software. Look for the dinosaur poster in the "Fun" section.

Number 10 is Kaleidospace. Here, money matters more than in most Net art spaces. When you explore the Art Studio, the price is at the bottom of each work together with an order form. But there is no charge for browsing and there are some fascinating, even disturbing, creations. For a taster, check out Vitold Kosir's display of metal assemblage. Metal assemblage? Don't ask, it's Internet art.


Top Ten Web sites

1 The Otis gallery:

2 The Louvre Web Museum:

3 Arthole:

4 The Well gallery:

5 Global Union Square:

6 Neon Internet Roadside: II/

7 World Art Treasures:

8 Knossopolis/NWHQ:

9 Silicon Graphics:

10 Kaleidospace:

Starting points

No one has even begun to catalogue all the art sites on the Net, but these six sites provide hundreds of useful links to other galleries and art groups around the globe.

1 ACM Siggraph Internet Art Guide: artguide.html/

Library of Congress exhibits section:

Birkbeck College History of Art department:

Artnet web

Museums, Arts and Interests

Global directory of museums on the Net: usamusee.html/

Art Mailing List

If you want to discuss the finer points of Goya's brush strokes, there are hundreds of mailing lists on the Internet dealing with intricate art matters. A huge list is available from the Indiana University mailing list archive. Just point your Web browser at: