A Full-Scale Fete for Net Art
by Jason Spingarn-Koff
3:00 a.m. Jul. 29, 2000 PDT
SAN FRANCISCO -- At his day job, Mark Napier develops software for Reuters -- but he dreams of a time when he can do his artwork full time.
"It used to be that I was trying to get recognized," he said over the phone from New York. "Now I'm trying to make it a career."
Napier, 38, has helped pioneer the emerging medium of Internet art, garnering critical praise for "Graphic Jam," an interactive drawing program, and "Shredder," which mashes up Web pages into cryptic collages. But even renowned Net artists like Napier can't live off their work.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art might change that. With funding from Intel, the museum is commissioning up to half a dozen artists, including Napier, to build online works for an upcoming major exhibition, "01.01.01: Art in Technological Times."
As a play on numbers, the Internet artworks will go live at one minute past midnight on January 1, 2001. This will be followed with a full-scale gallery exhibition March 2, presenting the work of some 35 artists, architects and designers who are "responding to a world altered by the increasing presence of digital media and technology," the museum said in a statement.
Filling nearly two floors of the museum, the show will be one of the largest and most expensive that SFMOMA has ever staged, museum director David Ross said.
But "01.01.01" won't just be a showcase of computers, Internet art and video installations. Traditional paintings and sculptures will also be displayed. What's important are the ideas of artificial identities, the sprawl of networks, the blurring of reality, and information overload, Ross said.
Ross, who joined SFMOMA in 1998 after being director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, said this is the first time the museum is taking an online exhibition as seriously as one in its galleries.
"It marks a point as important in some ways as 25 years ago when this museum began showing video art," Ross said. "But in some ways it's even a more important step."
In the 1970s, when cable TV arrived, Ross dreamed that museums would deliver artwork beyond the confines of their buildings, reaching the general public.
But while museums never built their own TV channels, the Internet gives them another chance. "All of a sudden, the ideas of the art world are in fact presentable, simultaneously, globally," Ross said.
Napier's project, titled "Feed," won't just be a painting or video posted to the Web; its raw material is the Internet itself.
"What I want to do is create a piece that feeds on the Web," Napier said. "Instead of useful statistics or relevant data, 'Feed' serves up anti-information. It siphons streams of data, code, graphics and text off the Internet, converts numeric data into graphics and graphic data into numbers."
Also commissioned to produce online works are Entropy8Zuper, winner of this year's Webby Award for online art, and the team of Alison Craighead and Jon Thomson.
"The reality is that all art is technological," said Ross, pointing out that Johannes Vermeer's oil paintings were considered high-tech in 17th-century Holland.
For the show, Adam Ross is using that classic Dutch technology to paint futuristic landscapes. Sarah Sze uses household objects, such as buttons and sticks of gum, to make installations resembling tiny cities. Rebecca Bollinger makes color pencil drawings of what she finds on the Web, doing image searches for terms such as "romantic sunsets."
Other artists will use new technologies in surprising ways. Jochem Hendricks makes "eye drawings" by using a machine that tracks his retinal movements while reading newspapers and videos.
Karin Sanders does full-body scans of people she knows, then feeds the information into an industrial machine, which crafts small plastic models. She airbrushes these into miniatures that look uncannily like the original subjects.
Also on view will be Asymptote (architects of the forthcoming Guggenheim Virtual Museum), MIT professor and designer John Maeda, and installation and sound artist Janet Cardiff.
The online and gallery exhibitions will be supplemented by critical "Think Texts," the museum said. Together, these various elements will work together to form a new kind of museum experience, said SFMOMA media arts curator Benjamin Weil.
Weil said the show will be like "Star Wars," which exists as a hybrid of films, T-shirts and action figures.
Before Weil joined SFMOMA in February, he was a co-founder of äda'web, a pioneering exhibition space for online art, and was the director of new media at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. He was also a curator of "Net Condition," the first major exhibition of Internet art, presented last year at the ZKM media museum in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Weil said he hates the term "Net art." The Internet isn't a single medium, he said, but a "venue" for exhibiting a variety of artistic forms. Likewise, he said some artists use video to make work akin to moving paintings, while others use video to create environments in which viewers can completely immerse themselves.
Artist Napier said he's excited that an American museum is finally recognizing the intersection of art and technology on a grand scale, catching up to European museums such as the ZKM. "It's nice to know we're in the ball game," he said.
And the show gives him a rare chance to explore his artwork. "(The commission) creates a different level of opportunity," he said, "knowing I've got my rent covered for a couple of months, rather than just trying to hack this out."
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