A New Alliance: Whintel

One Hundred Years of Art and Technology

But Intel's potential gains are much more extensive. The sponsorship represents a PR extravaganza for the company to pitch itself as the Medici dynasty of the 21st century. It's also an effort, however circuitous, to get people to buy the Pentium III processor. Intel chairman Andrew S. Grove emphasizes his philanthropic intentions, though he doesn't deny corporate self-interest: "We try to make our technology more useful and interesting to people who might otherwise not be interested in computers. So we have a vague and nebulous self-interest here as well... [This project] gives people a reason to use computers. The more people use computers, the more people buy microprocessors, and the more business there is for us."

Some other examples of Intel's promotional interests are more conspicuous. The orientation gallery is powered entirely by a new Pentium III processor tower, which is exhibited, like an art object, in a glass box. (The idea was to promote the new processor's DVD capabilities for home entertainment.) A Whitney employee who is somewhat disgruntled with the museum's glad-handing pointed out that Intel also issued strict branding stipulations so that the exhibition cannot appear in promotional materials without the accompanying Intel logo displayed at a certain size.

Technically speaking, the site favors Intel products as well: it can best be browsed on PC with a Pentium III processor simply because that's the most capable operating system in terms of speed and memory capacity to accommodate such an elaborate site. Mac users may have more trouble navigating the site than PC users because the Mac operating system is less compatible with the browsers needed to navigate the site—versions 4 of Netscape or Internet Explorer. Razorfish technicians would not comment on the technology, saying only that Intel has asked to screen all statements they make to the press regarding the project.

Grove's relationship to the Whitney project, however, is in fact more fascinating and abstruse than mere concern with profit motives would suggest. Given his legendary status as American Dream poster boy—a Hungarian immigrant who got a degree in chemical engineering from CUNY and became a visionary, blue-chip new media mogul—the Whitney folks were careful when pitching the sponsorship to stress two themes (technology and immigration) that were particularly appealing to Grove. "A lot of immigrants end up in tech fields if for no other reason than language made other alternatives more difficult," Grove says. "I'm an example of that. Intel has more opportunities to get into sponsorship deals than we can handle, so the fact that these thematic characteristics were such a good match for us made us particularly interested."

In the end, the gallery itself is spectacular, and the conceptual and technical advancements that have come from the Intel-Whitney collaboration are worth all the promotional fanfare. The tragic reality of the art world is that it can't exist without patrons—if not federal, then corporate. So given the state of government subsidies for the arts, there may not be any better option than handing the responsibility over to the new-media monoliths.

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