Marius Watz


Art Fag City‘s post on new media acceptation in the art world triggered some interesting responses. This is, for obvious reasons, my favourite one. It was written by artist Marius Watz.

It’s nice to see Arcangel at the Whitney and Ryoji Ikeda at Park Ave Armory before that, but two isolated shows don’t change the fact that this work is barely being shown in the US. And how is Trecartin a “New Media” artist, anyway? Like “Design and the Elastic Mind” before it, MoMA’s “Talk to Me” is great because it exposes the general public to new ideas from technology-based art and design practices. But nowhere will you find the exhibited works described properly within an art context. The V&A in London did a similar sleight-of-hand with their DECODE show, subtitling it “Digital Design Sensations” even though none of the works dealt with design concepts.

Sure, a few notable galleries have picked up new media artists. Shockingly the work has even begun to sell a little, which is a huge improvement from 10 years ago. But walk through any art fair (except perhaps ARCO, which has made media art a focus and does fairly well with it) and you’ll see precious few works that can be defined as media art. Maybe an Arcangel or a Nicolai here, a Jim Campbell there and the lurking spectre of a Hirschmann or a Lozano-Hemmer. If you happen on a booth from Bitforms or the 4-5 galleries worldwide specializing in New Media you might get a bigger picture.

But this isn’t such great news once you consider that easily 90-95% of even moderately successful media artists have no access to the market at all. Instead their work is known (and validated by) the ephemeral European media art festival circuit and public speaking, as well as ceaseless self-publishing (especially in the case of net-based art.) In the US media artists would have precious few outlets if they weren’t setting up their own project spaces, which is a laudable activity but unfortunately using lacking in staying power and mainstream validation.

Meanwhile European funding for media art has just been decimated across the board, a move that is likely to have significant repercussions. The large interactive installations of the mid-1990’s disappeared overnight the last time funding dropped away like this. It’s no secret that many US-based media artists historically have kickstarted their careers by showing in Europe before gaining visibility at home. I’m certainly not alone in worrying about the resulting fallout from this development.

I agree that there seems to be more media art writing going on – some of it even serious and well-considered. But most of it is still an internal discourse, and as such marginal to the art world or the larger public. I was amazed to have a recent show in San Francisco covered on, but the show’s affiliation with a ‘serious’ institution like the SF FIlm Society likely helped a lot. The amount of column space given to media art in mainstream journals is likely to be coverage of a handful of iconic names (Arcangel etc.), stories on emerging artists or shows that don’t feature big names are few and far between.

So I’m afraid I’ll play devil’s advocate and share Domenico’s summary: New media artists who want a serious play at the art world might do better to play down the media art rhetoric.The “New Media” label has served to differentiate and promote the field in many ways (not coincidentally by helping it to gain funding), and without that discourse there would be no field at all. But for the artists themselves it can also be an obstacle to be taken seriously.

New Media as Grand Project has already been done, and arguing the transformative potential of technology should be superfluous in a world of smartphones. So let’s focus on the good work for its qualities as art, and not because of the rather outdated and frankly meaningless label of “New Media”.

Meanwhile, the contemporary art world (with all its inertia and dubious internal agendas ) should sit up and pay attention to a field of art that is both vital and important. Not because media artists need a pity fuck, but because their work often address contemporary issues of society and identity better than a lot of what’s going on in art in general. That’s Quaranta’s ultimate agenda after all, to communicate once and for all that is unforgivable for the art world to pretend we’re still living in the 1960’s.

PS: It feels strange and counter-productive for me to be arguing against the notion of a growing success of New Media, when I personally have much invested in such success. But I’m hearing echoes of the inevitable 5-year hype cycles (“Virtual Reality is the New Shit”, “No, It’s Net.Art”, “Man, Look At Those Kitten GIFs”). Call me cynical, but I worry that we’d be lulling ourselves into another lithium dream. (“Look, we’re doing great, there’s at least 3 blogs that say so.”)

I’ll take Quaranta’s harsh analysis any day, particularly since his perspective is largely based on actual history going back to the mid-1990’s rather than hopeful projections based on the current situation.

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