By Jared Chausow
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As technology progresses, so does the quality of artwork on the Internet, and major mainstream art institutions have begun to take notice. This year's Whitney Biennial featured works by nine Internet artists, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is devoting significant resources to the creation and display of Web-based artwork.
Currently, however, net.artists labor in relative anonymity. Maciej Wisniewski, Mark Amerika, Kevin and Jennifer McCoy, and scores of other artists are stars in a constellation all their own. Comparisons are often drawn to the early days of video art, when a flurry of experimental fervor produced work now canonized as classics. Net.art raises many of the same questions posed by video: If the art exists in the ether, how does one sell it, collect it, or archive it? Because of its radical potential, net.art has attracted a heady mix of not only artists, but programmers, cultural theorists, and writers.
If you've seen one too many bad installations, or can't bear the thought of witnessing yet another show of derivative abstract painting, here are some net.art portals you can check out from the comfort of your home computer.
Make this the first stop on your virtual art tour. Started back in the days of yore (1996 to be exact), this always inventive site is an online warehouse of net.art projects, furious dialogue, and updates on what's going on where in the Web art world. Rhizome.org has archived some of the more impressive net.art projects on its "artbase," such as Wisniewski's "Netomat," which had its own run at Postmasters last year. A metabrowser, Netomat collects Web images and text at random and creates an onscreen computer collage. Rhizome.org also organizes brick-and-mortar events where artists get to project their work on big screens and talk about it "in a wired lounge environment."
Started in 1991 by Wolfgang Staehle as a BBS (bulletin board system), the oldest of New York's net.art collectives serves as a combination ISP, events calendar, and project space. Located on the fourth floor of 601 West 26th Street (937-0443), the Thing holds regular shows of Web-based artwork. It also serves as a de facto residency program, offering technological resources and training to artists interested in taking their creative prowess online. Current events include a show of John Klima's work. When you get to the site, make sure to check out "projects" and "video."
One of the more recent net.art orgs to rise forth from the zeitgeist, Location One, like the Thing, is both an online and brick-and-mortar gallery space (26 Greene Street, 334-3347). Claiming as their mantra "catalyst for content and convergence," Location One premieres their Soho gallery space on September 6 with a show of digital and traditional works curated by Harm Lux. Location One plans to webcast the show, along with interviews with the artists.
Under the leadership of Web art visionary Steve Dietz, the Walker was one of the only mainstream art institutions to get hip to net.art at an early stage. Now, with such a history in the medium, Walker offers samples of some of the best works ever coded, such as "Sonicflux," a multimedia experiment based on Steve Reich's minimalist music, where the viewer creates his or her own composition by setting notes and chords in a visual pattern.
Unlike the previous four portals, Marketmap isn't a gallery, online or off. However, it is an example of the kind of unexpected syntheses of art and commerce that the Internet fosters. Marketmap is some sort of cross between Piet Mondrian, Q-Bert, and a stock ticker. On the page, each stock symbol is represented by a colored square that represents its current value. As the stocks rise and fall, so do the composition and color of Marketmap.
Note:Due to the multimedia nature of most of these works, it's best to prepare your browser by allotting plenty of memory to the application, as well as downloading a full range of plug-ins, from Flash to Shockwave to Beatnik, which are available for free at any number of sites.