[-empyre-] Re: empyre Digest, Vol 42, Issue 11

John Haber jhaber at haberarts.com
Sat May 10 23:48:53 EST 2008

 >>i do however question this idea that a website is any less rarefied 
than a public gallery in many contexts.

Yeah, I have to agree with that on several scores.  GH's optimism here 
reminds me of a panel on digital art a decade ago, promising that it'd 
be cost free and knock the gallery system for a loop.  Yeah, right.  
It's hard to resist these things, just as a decade before THAT Krauss 
was echoing the optimism of Walter Benjamin's "Work of Art in the Age of 
Mechanical Reproduction" with her "The Originality of the Avant-Garde."  
It was great of her to push the notion that Modernism has already built 
into it its pomo critique, a real openness. Still, it was another second 
coming that never came.

As Julian says, a second objection involves the notion of "public," 
already built into galleries.  Another is to ask how well the Web 
effectively circumvents or even critiques the growing global economy for 
art rather than mirrors it and, to some extent, serves it. 

But the main point for me is to ask who it reaches.  I'm so used to 
artists writing me begging to write up their Web site.  I tell them I 
can't, not just because readers are more interested in what to see in 
galleries and museums, but also because it wouldn't be fair:  I can't be 
fair to the artists in the estimated 300 galleries in Chelsea alone, 
much less the Web sites in an age in which almost every artist has an 
online portfolio.  To single one out would show no more than my rudeness. 

But true or not, that suggests two things.  One is how much the public 
has invested in the idea of galleries as somehow more public than the 
Web.  (Go figure.)  The other is how hard it is to use the Web to do 
much more than support an existing or hoped-for future public profile.  
It might happen, but for now artist Web sites aren't attaining the fame 
of those favorite YouTube clips. 

If they could, it'd be an interesting prospect.  Of course, then one 
would have to ask of its implications, perhaps not all positive.  The 15 
minutes of fame model of the YouTube creators for art might be 
chastening or dismaying, just sa Warhol is a great artist whose legacy 
for both great good and a little bad is still being explored.  It might 
support the push to empty works of art as mass entertainment like, in my 
humble opinion, Cai at the Guggenheim or Murikami in Brooklyn. 

It'd also exacerbate that in a different way.  If you think of some 
galleries as niche markets, the Web allows the ultimate niche market.  I 
keep saying that the shift in art recently has involved a growing 
parallel to similar shifts in music after free-form FM radio or movies 
caught between chain houses and independent distributors.  You get a 
sharper division between mass culture and niche markets.  That could be 
good, but by eliminating the middle, it makes an avant-garde in the old 
sense that much less likely to return and sweeping changes in public 
perception of art harder.  We could be caught in the equivalent of 
Mannerism forever without ever seeing the Baroque. 


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