Friday, July 13, 2007

To sell or not to sell - thoughts on the net art market

Dear Ursula,

you have brought up some challenging views in your last post. I especially want to come back to what you said about new strategies of capitalising netart. This is really an interesting issue: above all, the question remains if you can really “buy” net art – as it is originally designed for a computer network, thus accessible for everybody online.
Of course you can always restrict access to the artwork and ask people to pay for it – but honestly, who would ever do that? There have been several attempts to trade art over the net and they all have failed. If we look at the most popular net art galleries such as Rhizome or Turbulence we understand that accessibility and interaction are key elements of their success as online art institutions.
Then the next question is what you actually acquire when you purchase a net art work: the source code, the software instructions, the exclusive right to exhibit the piece? Even though there is a current vogue for treating net art just like any other category of contemporary art – if it comes to acquisitions we have to admit that we need to see things in a different light.
John Ippolito, the Guggenheim Museum’s curator of media arts, puts it like that: "The Holy Grail of selling a Web site is a red herring. To collect an artist Web site is less about owning property than stewarding heritage." (read the full article here).
What I find problematic with this view is the retrospect notion of art, evoked by the term “heritage”. In my opinion, it is a hopeless endeavour to try to safeguard net art pieces, which by their very nature undergo a continuous revision: they will keep on changing as long as online visitors will interact with them. Plus the technological infrastructure advances towards new generations of browsers, plug-ins, hardware etc.
Flux is the prime condition of net art works. And this is maybe one of our biggest challenges when it comes to developing models for a net art market. How can it be possible to safeguard the transient and turn it into a market value?
Another problem that comes into my mind, at least here in Germany, is the subvention policies of net art. Due to the lack of a market for net art, most of these art pieces are subsidized by governmental bodies. I don’t want to critize the state for investing money in net art., but if state institutions become the one and only addressees for net artists to make their living – then we might well end up with a problem.
Having said that, I agree with you that very slowly there is a fresh breeze starting to blow in the art market. Especially when I look back at the year 1999 and projects like the consultants, a website where artists can donate pieces to collectors worldwide – then things have changed indeed.
But still it seems to me that many net art projects rather twist knifes in the wounds of this consumptive market – instead of really making money with what they do. I think of projects like the online gallery by Olia Lialina, or net-activism like Google will eat itself by or the Google adword happening by Christophe Bruno. I think these projects are phantastic, because they reveal a number of things to us: for example Google’s monopoly of information or the fact that the web is not as public as we like to see it. But still the question remains of how these projects generate a basis for artists to make their living. I know that the ZKM for example has commissioned a large number of net art works over the last years – their exhibition “masterpieces of netart” is also a statement of how they want to see net art: as an artform of high standards and value, just as any other category of art, too.
Did you read Mark Amerika’s ebook How to be an internet artist? In chapter eight he states: “Use highly subversive marketing skills to attract attention to the fact that you are producing income from your narratological presence, and successfully transform that attention into its own media-virus or cultural meme that solidifies your brand-name as one of the industry leaders.” I think he is touching upon a very important aspect: maybe it is a precondition for net artists who want to be economically successful to create their own myth?
Look at Cornelia Sollfrank and how clever she did it:
She shows how “smart artists let the machine do the work” when she sold her generator to the Sammlung Volksfürsorge in Hamburg in 2004. What was basically acquired was the software to generate the images, based on the input of users. I think this is a phantastic statement and it’s certainly the feuilleton’s darling when it comes to recent net art sales stories.
However, my web research brought up more results of which I haven’t been aware so far: Have you ever read, which later turned into In one of their netartreviews in 2004 they have posted a list of net art purchases of the year 2004. If this is all true, then what are we discussing about? I would be curious to have a look at more recent figures, but I could not find any sources for that on the web.
Finally, I want to mention that there are of course net artists who deliberately refrain from producing their art for any kind of market. Last week, I met Lucas Bambozzi, a net artist from Brasil, who presented his work at the Urban Media Salon, hosted by Mirjam Struppek. He pointed out the moment in his career when he decided to devote his art to other standards than economical ones. And obviously it works well for him…
On the netartreview-site Eduardo Navas asks: "How can the concept of property merge with the sharing one?" I think this is a very interesting question.
I am looking forward to your comments and ideas on that…
All the best from Berlin,
on this Friday 13th...