Virtual Tours & Augmented Museum Exhibitions
Skipping right over the "brochure-ware" era of museum
Web sites, museums quickly realized the possibility of putting their
exhibitions online, often augmenting the efforts with richer information
that might not be available at the exhibition.
The White House Collection of American
Crafts, National Museum of American
For instance, the Smithsonian's first online exhibition
was "The White House Collection of American
Crafts," presented and produced by the National Museum
of American Art. This exhibition included extensive video and audio
clips of the curator talking about selected pieces and handling
them in ways that would not be possible during the exhibition. In
addition, each artist was asked to answer a series of questions
about their work, which was not part of the exhibition itself.(4)
Another, more up-to-date example of
the basic online tour of a museum exhibition is the San Jose Museum
of Art's fine implementation of Alternating
Currents . This site makes clear how the increasing sophistication
of the HTML specification allows for much greater control of the
design and layout of Web pages. Note that the online versions of
both The White House Collection of American Crafts and Alternating
Currents are referred to as tours, an important semantic
difference that attempts to clarify and keep separate the notion
that online presentations are not meant as substitutions for the
You Are There: The Immersive Interface
Another approach besides exhibition "augmentation" that
museums have attempted on the Web is a "you-are-there,"
more immersive interface using QTVR (e.g. Walker Art Center's Andersen
Window Gallery), RealSpace (e.g. National Gallery of Art's
Thomas Moran or VRML (e.g. The Natural
History Museum's The Virtual Endeavour).
Interestingly, there is some preliminary evidence from the Virtual
Endeavour experiment that younger visitors prefer the greater interactivity
and control of navigation allowed by an immersive interface. (5)
If this proves true, it may become a significant reason for museums
to experiment with innovative interfaces. Currently, such efforts
are often considered simply "bells and whistles," which,
if anything, complicate rather than enhance communication.
The Virtual Endeavour actually had a
networked VR component to it. Other institutions such as Ars Electronica
in Linz and ZKM in Karlsruhe are looking at fully immersive environmnets,
which could also be networked, as is demonstrated by the NICE
program at the Electronic Visualization Lab at the University of
The Extended Exhibition
Finally, in terms of online tours of museum exhibitions, besides augmenting
the exhibition and presenting an immersive interface, there is also
the option of extending the exhibition. Like the best exhibition
publications, extending an exhibition online means more than simply
re-presenting it but also reformatting it for the best possible experience
in the medium--in front of a computer screen, transmitted via the
One example of extending the exhibition is Diana
Thater: Orchids in the Land of Technology. The online version
was "announced" by an automated series of pages, which reprised
one of Thater's video works, which appeared as a "tunnel"
to the entrance to the Walker home page.(7)
Clicking on it dumped the viewer in front of a scrolling quote by
Walter Benjamin, which was also based on a "wall label"
displayed on a TV monitor at the beginning of the site-exhibition.
The viewer can then "wander" through QTVR galleries, where
many of the depicted objects are "hot." While wandering, it is possible
to listen to audio snippets taken from an opening day dialogue with
the artist. But it is here that the designer, Louis Mazza, extends
the experience by re-mixing the audio in a way that calls attention
to the mix, just as Thater's "mixing" of the rgb channels
of the video projector calls attention to the technological and constructed
underpinnings of the normally transparent, narrative experience. It's
a fine line between presenting the work in an exhibition and extending
it appropriately--appropriate to both the work and the medium.
Increasingly, exhibitions are designed to be at least partially
online. That is, from the earliest conception for an exhibition,
an integrated online component is planned. Primarily, these involve
site-based exhibitions, but this is also changing, as we shall see.
Just a few examples include: Arts
As Signal: Inside the Loop, Bodies Incorporated, Mixing
Messages: Graphic Design in Contemporary Culture, and Techno
One of the most radical online exhibitions is the Smithsonian's
Revealing Things curated by Judy Gradwahl. Based on "everyday
objects" in the collection of the National Museum of Natural
History, there is no physical installation related to this effort,
on which Gradwahl devoted over two years. It is not clear whether
in the long run, entirely virtual exhibitions of physical objects
will become a common practice--some would say that the authentic
object is just about the only thing separating museums from all
other online curatorial practices--but regardless, it is an important
benchmark. The site also uses an innovative interface based on Plumb
No matter which way you slice it, of course, putting some version
of an exhibition online is not the same as curating on the Web.
Here museums to date have been more circumspect, but there are several
fruitful directions that have been tried. At the present time, the
museum community is expending a great deal of effort simply digitizing
its resources and making them increasingly accessible online. Digitizing
assets is not dissimilar to the historical function of the museum
to preserve artifacts. As this process becomes more and more successful,
however, there will be an increasing need to find ways to "filter"
the vast quantities of information that are available. The emphasis
will shift from simply "creating" content to presenting
a context for it; a point of view about it--just as one of the roles
of the curator is to identify, contextualize, and present a point
of view about works of art. While lots of museum Web sites have
lists of links, few tend to "curate" these links or offer
much reason for listing them beyond a generic "sites to check
The Whitney Web site,
for instance, states, "From this location, we offer a link
to other museum sites, where some of the most interesting online
delivery of museum content is occurring. Inclusion in this list
does not constitute an endorsement by the Whitney Museum, nor is
this list by any means comprehensive." And while this may be
more explicit than most, it is not uncommon. The
Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal has one of the most organized
and comprehensive listings of contemporary art on the Web, but they
too don't provide much contextualization for the links. The Cincinnati
Contemporary Arts Center states, "We're interested in exploring
the Web as a "new medium" for artists and are planning
to develop this Virtual Exhibitions page to do just that. In the
interim, here are links to various sites that use cyberspace as
art space." And they do provide contextual information about
the links. Interestingly, a science museum, the Exploratorium,
lists a weekly "ten cool sites," many of which are often
art sites. The National Museum of American Art's photography online
site, Helios, also reviews photography
web resources every two weeks in "Transmissions."
The closest parallel to a "curated" list of Web links
may be the annotated bibliography. Once, however, we delve outside
of the museum's collection (on the Web), even in a bibliographic
way, the conceptual floodgates open to curating the Web itself,
so to speak. Of course, exhibitions from outside the collection
are nothing new, but it is still not widely practiced on the Net.
There are, however, some intriguing examples.
The Institute for Contemporary Art in London
has what it calls "Curatours,"
which "explore ideas and themes across web sites. Each Curatour
explores a different theme and is curated by a specialist within
the field." To date there are only two curatours and they are
approaching a year old, so it is not clear whether ICA intends to
continue the program. Artist Jake Tilson's Colour-Color "focuses
upon the use of colour on the Internet from symbolism and theoretical
issues to the effects it creates." The other curatour, Collapse
is actually less a Web tour than the idea of using a different interface--in
this case VRML--to explore the ICA Web site from a different vantage
point, so to speak.
The Guggenheim Museum has a similar program,
which it calls "CyberAtlas,"
a concerted effort to chart this terra incognita [of
cyberspace]. The aim of CyberAtlas is to commission and collect
a series of maps of cyberspace, with a particular focus on sites
related to visual art and culture. Unlike the typical navigational
chart, the maps in CyberAtlas can take you where you want to go
as well as tell you how to get there: clicking on a Web site in
any of the maps will transport you immediately to the corresponding
page on the Internet."
Its first two projects are Electric Sky by Jon Ippolito--"Bright
stars in the firmament of online art and the networks that support
them--and Intelligent Life by Laura Trippi--"A thematic
map that traces connections between recent scientific developments
and art, theory, and popular culture." These are wonderful, must-see
works, which point to an important direction in curating (on) the
As a variant of the Web map, the Walker Art
Center commissioned a "hyperessay"
based on the life and work of Joseph Beuys. The occasion was an
exhibition of his work, but the goal was to write an informational
text that could not only be read in a non-linear manner, but would
also be designed to take advantage of the vast resources of the
Internet by linking out to them whenever appropriate. If the World
Wide Web is a prototype of Bush's Memex or Nelson's Xanadu,
then we should be able to construct programming that takes advantage
of this "universal library." (8)
The Walker plans to commission at least three hyperessays a year
on broad themes that relate to on-site programming.
Annotating links, mapping territory, navigating a route, are all
curatorial-like functions operating on digital objects and/or in
a digital domain. Perhaps the clearest expression of this kind of
effort is curating Web-specific art. While technology, including
the Web, has been making its way into the gallery for the past 30
years or more, there appears to be little consensus in the museum
community about the definition or even the value of Web-specific
Many artists have incorporated the Internet
as an aspect of their physical installations in museums: Shu Lea
Cheang's Bowling Alley originally
presented at the Walker Art Center, Peter Halley's recent installation
and Exploding Cell project at
the Museum of Modern Art, to name just two, but museums' embrace
of Web-specific art has been more cautious to date.
Two of the earliest pioneers, it is interesting
to note, are both university museums with a strong connection to
photography and to artist-run programming. The California
Museum of Photography at UC Riverside has been presenting Web-specific
artist projects as well as encouraging installation exhibitions
that have significant Web components for several years. They even
acquired a copy of the software program Adobe Photoshop for their
permanent collection because of its importance to the future history
of imaging. @art, one of whose founders, Joseph
Squier, is a photographer, is an electronic art gallery affiliated
with the School of Art and Design, the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign. @art's projects include works by Peter Campus,
Carol Flax, Barbara DeGenevieve, and others.
One of the most innovative and substantial efforts
by a museum to support Web-specific art is Dia
Center's series of over half a dozen projects since 1994. Here
is a self-description of their efforts.
Dia's artists' projects for the web began in late 1994 when
Michael Govan became the Director of Dia. His enthusiastic support
for the web had two goals: to make information about Dia and its
programs accessible to a wide audience; and, more importantly, to
commission art works made specifically for the web. Since its inception,
Dia has defined itself as a vehicle for the realization of extraordinary
artists' projects that might not otherwise be supported by more
conventional institutions. To this end it has always sought to facilitate
direct and unmediated experiences between the audience and the art-work.
The web provided an opportunity to bring art directly to the public
by commissioning significant projects with artists who are interested
in exploring the aesthetic and conceptual potentials of this new
Dia's Curator, Lynne Cooke, selects the artists with whom Dia
plans to work in consultation with Sara Tucker, Director of Digital
Media. On the basis of our extensive and ongoing research in contemporary
art practice, we follow the work of many artists, both in the
United States and abroad, ranging from the young and unknown to
the acclaimed and established. We choose artists mostly from the
fine arts but also from adjacent disciplines, including dance
and architecture, based on our conviction that they will approach
the medium in a thoughtful, even unorthodox way. The artists bring
the set of issues and questions that they address in their work
in other media to the web, formulating projects which further
their own ideas while addressing the context and characteristics
of the web.
There are no formal rules or guidelines for these projects -
the production process usually varies greatly from project to
project. Sara Tucker works closely with the artist to realize
the project in optimal terms. Decisions about what bandwidth or
browser to design to are left to the artist after they have understood
the various tradeoffs. While there have been a few exceptions,
most of the artists have not had programming skills: the working
process involves first exploring potentials and limits, then the
artist works closely with Tucker to design and program the projects.
Multimedia and electronics are not new to the visual arts. Dia,
for example, sponsored the multimedia installations by such artists
as La Monte Young and Robert Whitman in the early 1970s. Digital
media, however, have become increasingly important in the visual
arts as advances in computer and communications technologies have
enabled artists to easily manipulate images, text, and sound,
and to imagine distributing their work to the enormous audience
suggested by the exponential growth of the Internet. Given that
the historical development of any new media, such as film or photography,
was led by artists, it is our hope that Dia, by implementing artists'
projects in the realm of digital media, can extend the boundaries
of this medium, and challenge the reigning presuppositions that
The overall goal of this program of artists' projects for the
web is to commission a series of diverse, challenging, and intriguing
The Walker Art Center, with the relaunch of
its Web site in July of 1997 created a virtual "Gallery 9",
in which it instituted a series of artists' Web projects, the first
one being Piotr Szyhalski's Ding an Sich (The Canon Series).
In the coming year, the Walker will focus on commissioning projects
from emerging artists for this emerging medium, with immediate plans
for work by Lisa Jevbrat "Stillmanizing" the Walker Web
site, Paul Vanouse, with a presentation of his Consensual Fantasy
Engine, and an "adversarial collaboration" by Janet
Cohen, Keith Frank, and Jon Ippolito.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art made
one of the biggest splashes to date in terms of museums and the
Web by "acquiring" portions of three Web sites: adaweb,
Atlas, and Funnel.
Even though curator of architecture and design, Aaron Betsky, asked
these Web sites to make a donation to the collection, and he "is
treating the pieces as he would graphic design, rather than works
of fine art,"(10)
the conscious, curatorial decision to collect "this over that"--especially
when "this" is a Web site--is a significant event.
The Whitney Museum of American Art acquired
Douglas Davis's The World's First Collaborative
Sentence as part of the estate bequest of collector Eugene
Schwartz and has plans to host it from their server, although it
is still hosted by the university department where it began.
Walker Art Center also has an agreement in principle to acquire
the complete adaweb Web site, which its corporate owners are no
longer willing to support as an ongoing effort.(11)
adaweb would continue to be served from the Walker site but new
projects would not be added to it. The Walker plans the acquisition
of adaweb as a significant first step in an ongoing commitment to
create a digital study collection of Web-specific art.
When Disney proposed a historic theme park partially on the site
of a Civil War battlefield in Virginia, there was much hue and cry--and
only part of it came from the nearby landed gentry concerned about
its impact on their fox hunting. There was equal concern about the
"Disneyfication" of history and how could a real
museum like the nearby Smithsonian compete with such "edutainment."
In fact, it is commonplace to bemoan the task of museums who must
compete with the various juggernauts of popular entertainment,
whether they be Niketown or Disney or Amistad.
Without downplaying--or wanting to get into, here--issues of authentic
and inauthentic experiences in a mediated culture, from my perspective,
forget competing with the artistic vision of a Steven Spielberg
or James Cameron, we museums are hardly keeping in sight of let
alone abreast of the more modest efforts of artists and artist organizations
working the Web today.
In January of 1997 I was asked by the AAM
publication, Museum News, to write
about the best museum Web sites. I ended up suggesting that
a non-museum, artnetweb, had the best museum Web site. The museum
Web environment is an order of magnitude richer a year later, but
I'm still not convinced that the best museum Web sites are being
produced by brick-and-mortar museums with collections of artworks.
Just as in "real life," where the
Louvre is one of the most renowned museums in the world, Le
WebLouvre is one of the best known, most visited, and most
often linked Web sites in cyberspace. Only Le WebLouvre is
a virtual museum. It has no collection and is not officially related
to the Louvre (it is now formally called Le WebMuseum after
a "conversation" with the Louvre's lawyers).
Part of the ENST (Ecole Nationale Superieure des Telecommunications,
Paris) World Wide Web server, Le WebLouvre - no official relation
to the famous art museum - was created by Nicolas Pioch, a 23-year-old
student and computer science instructor at the ENST. The project
is continually being developed and expanded with the help of outside
contributors because "more artistic stuff is needed on the
Internet," as Pioch explains.(12)
There are other examples of virtual museums that either "borrow"
the collections of other museums or model themselves on a museum,
but I am more interested in the incredibly wide range of "institutions"
that do many of the things that museums should consider doing more
of, without needing to define themselves qua museums. What
is the point, after all, if the collection is either virtual (i.e.
non-existent) or digital, in which case it is infinitely and exactly
replicable and the issue of ownership is not as central as other
kinds of issues, such as point of view, context, innovation, support
of artistic practice, and much more?
There are probably hundreds of virtual
organizations even in the delimited realm of contemporary art. An
inadequate list of some of the more
outstanding would include: adaweb, Digital XXX, irational.org, Stadium,
The Thing, Turbulence, Year Zero One, and ZoneZero. A list of the
artists and projects represented by just these sites, however, would
constitute a significant "collection." [Before you groan
about all the great sites missing, read on, many more are discussed
below in different contexts.] What's more, the commitment of each
of these sites to a critical context, education, innovative interface,
community building, and yes, curatorial selection, is impressive
The interesting question is not how do these sites match up with
museum sites or as virtual museums, but rather, what do traditional
museums have that these sites don't or couldn't?
Before exploring this question, however, I'd like to detail some
of the other "competition" that museums face. In the "atomic
world," it is difficult for an arts magazine, for instance,
to compete directly with a museum. A "project" on the
pages is seldom comparable to an installation in the galleries.
In the digital realm, however, the virtual gallery of a zine is
potentially just as effective as the virtual gallery of a museum--both
can provide the same amount of hard drive space, of cyberspace,
of color space, of coding capability. Again, so what is the difference?
It may be true that every graduate art department and 50% of the
undergraduate departments around the world are starting online zines.
And many of them are very good. Nor is academia the only source
of zines. But wherever they come from, most that deal with art and
visual culture in any significant way, "curate" digital
galleries of online artworks. A short
and again inadequate list might include Hotwired's rgb gallery,
Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Speed, Switch from the CADRE Institute
at San Jose State University, Talk Back!, Why Not Sneeze? and many
While conceiving on the redesign of the
Leonardo Electronic Almanac Gallery, I felt the need to take a few
steps back in order to move forward. The world wide web is rife
with "virtual galleries," the majority of these are simply
links to work or personal homepages. Though occasionally interesting,
these sites present more a collection of portfolios than what one
would expect under the guise of a 'gallery'. With the LEA Gallery
I wanted to sustain some aspects of the traditional gallery -- the
curatorial presence, themes, and a sense of place in a larger history
than that of the world wide web.
As the programmer for Walker's Gallery 9, I could--and do--identify
many of the same goals. How are we diferent?
The LEA gallery is conceived to be ever-changing -- adapting itself
in both design and function to complement new projects as well as
offering a framework for the archiving of older works. While the
Leonardo Electronic Almanac itself is designed to accommodate a
wide variety of users -- those on the bleeding edge of technology
as well as those relying on dial-in modems and older browser --
the LEA gallery has been designed to take advantage of some of the
newer technological developments. As the gallery evolves and adapts,
so will the technology it uses, and by keeping the gallery open
to technological exploration, it creates the possibility for projects
investigating and utilizing animation, sound, VRML and Java.
The future of the gallery includes the presentation of new works
exploring the boundaries of art, science and technology, topical
works dealing with themes explored in the monthly issues of the
Almanac, artistic homages to media pioneers, and works that illuminate
contemporary theories in the arts and sciences.--Patrick Maun,
curator LEA Gallery(13)
A Moveable Feast
One of the best known sites for new media did not even have a permanent
public home until last year. However, Ars Electronica's
"Festival of Art, Technology and Society" has been a significant force
for almost 20 years and in recent years has had extensive Web presence.
Similarly, the annunal conference for the International
Society for Electronic Arts (ISEA) hosts a Web site with a juried
set of links to artists' work. The venerable SIGGRAPH
conference has an online art gallery. Even the most recent Documenta
curated a Web site separate from its physical installations. And for
this year's Museums and the Web conference, there is an online exhibition
of net art.
Some of the most significant effort in terms of identifying and
contextualizing net art is being done on an annual basis at festivals
and conferences around the world. And while a CU-SeeMe connection
or http click may not be the same thing as sipping espresso at a
sidewalk cafe in Paris, it is truly a networked feast that allows
for some of the same "branding" advantages of sited museums.
In the digital realm, it seems as if it is not enough for design
studios to have a few prestigious accounts, such as museum Web sites.
Many of the major agencies create their own "art" Web
sites--semi-autonomous efforts that are seen as both a creative
outlet and a kind of research effort for cutting edge design.
For example, Agency.com has Urban Desires,
a heretofore zine-format effort that is in the process of changing
but whose goals are perhaps even more directly about creating cultural
content: "...we will create a venue for the distribution of
new-school new media: highly visual pieces, not so linear storytelling,
interactive explorations, short films, animations, games, experiments,
media hoaxes.... and who knows what else."(14).
Razorfish has two efforts.The Blue Dot
"curated" by Craig M. Kanarick, which takes as its challenge to
"prove that the Web can be beautiful," and rsub, the goal
of which is to "create an online network of original content
just when everyone else has given up."
Beyond the (con)fusion of design houses
creating original content/art, the interface itself, as has been
discussed, is an important art form (e.g. SFMOMA
collecting Web site design). One particularly interesting interface,
Plumb Design's Thinkmap/Visual Thesaurus,
was actually a spin-off of Razorfish's rsub, and is the main interface
for the Smithsonian exhibition, Revealing
Things mentioned earlier.
Commercial galleries throughout the history of modern art have been
among the most prescient in recognizing new art forms. Perhaps given
the ease of replicability of much net art coupled with an anti "product"
attitude on the part of many practising net artists, there still is
not widespread activity on the net by commercial galleries, but some
significant efforts do exist, such as the Sandra Gering Gallery,
Postmasters. There are also other interesting outlets, such as the
Robert J. Schiffler Foundation.
Normally, we think of libraries and archives
as complements to museums, which they certainly are, of course (and
vice versa). At the same time, to the extent that museums are "primarily
in the business of dissemination of information," there is
overlap. In the short run, librarians' efforts to identify quality
sources of information should point them toward museum resources,
if we do our jobs well.(15)
In the long run, however, decisions about what "stuff"
to archive--including, for example, art Web sites--is tantamount
to a curatorial decision. Except not only might curators not be
making these decisions, they may not be made directly by any human
In his fascinating paper for the Time
& Bits conference, Michael Lesk debunks the notion that
it will be physically impossible to store the sum of human knowledge
but suggests an even greater problematic--how to evaluate it.
There will be enough disk space and tape storage in
the world to store everything people write, say, perform or photograph.
For writing this is true already; for the others it is only a year
or two away. Only a tiny fraction of this information has been professionally
approved, and only a tiny fraction of it will be remembered by anyone.
As noted before the storage media will outrun our ability to create
things to put on them; and so after the year 2000 the average disk
drive or communications link will contain machine-to-machine communication,
not human-to-human. When we reach a world in which the average piece
of information is never looked at by a human, we will need to know
how to evaluate everything automatically to decide what should get
the precious resource of human attention.(16)
Standards, Dewey decimals, archives, longevity. These are not sexy
topics, but unless we pay attention, history may end up being understood
by our grandchildren in a much different way than we lived it.
Artists understand the network almost intuitively,
have shown incredible interest and enthusiasm in the collaborative
process, and exposed really interesting takes on what the Web can
be used for, how it would change the way we communicate, how it
would group people differently, creating what I sometimes refer
to as a vigeo world--virtual geography, informed by media.--Benjamin
Weil, curator, adaweb
Not only are many artists engaging the Web with innovative work,
but some are also problematizing the potential role of museums and
other institutional spaces/collections vis-a-vis the Web in challenging
ways. The obvious issue that comes to mind is the Internet's "many-to-many"
structure and what has been called "disintermediation."
In other words, through the Internet, an artist almost anywhere
in the world can reach anyone almost anywhere else who has an Internet
connection. without having to go through the a "middleman,"
such as a gallery or museum.
One of the better-known efforts in this regard--and
more mysterious in many ways--is a loose confederation of artists,
who sometimes admit to the rubric "net.art" and have congregated
at various points around the discussion list nettime
and the Web site irational.org as well
as several others. Suffice it to say that the nettime archive and
irational.org are worth spending a great deal of time reading and
clicking through but that the artists and theorists associated with
net.art self-consciously problematize issues of curation and institutionalization
at the same time that they practice forms of it.
Also when we talk about net.art and art on the net
some people say that we should get rid of the very notion of art
and that we have to do something that is not related to the art
system, etc. I think it's not possible at all, especially on the
net, because of the hyperlink system. Whatever you do it can be
put into art context and can be linked to art institutions, sites
related to art.--Alexeij Shulgin
Netart functions only on the net and picks out the
net or the "netmyth" as a theme. It often deals with structural
concepts: A group or an individual designs a system that can be
expanded by other people. Along with that is the idea that the collaboration
of a number of people will become the condition for the development
of an overall system.--Joachim Blank
Shulgin's Desktip IS is symptomatic
of this approach. Desktop IS is both a "work" by
Shulgin and a group effort open to anyone. The "call"
is worth quoting in its entirety.
The First International Online Desktop Exhibition
If you would like to participate:
- take a snapshot of your desktop ("PrtScr" button for
Windows and "Apple+Shift+3" combination for Macintosh)
- save it as a JPEG file and name it "desktop.jpg"
- put it on your website and email the link to email@example.com
(if you don't have a website, then email your desktop.jpg file as
an attachment - we'll put it online at the DESKTOP IS site).
There is no deadline for the exhibition, the new entries will be
added when received for at least 6 months from October 20, 1997.
We are considering to show DESKTOP IS in a gallery space. All participants
will then be contacted to discuss details and conditions.(17)
There is nothing revolutionary, of course,
about art projects that invite open participation according to a
prescribed format. Many artists have done this over the years, such
as Lew Thomas's important work with photography in the early 70s.
There also parallels with mail artists, who "as practitioners
of an international art movement treat the distribution system as
integral to their medium." And Group Material describes their
process this way:
Our working method might best be described as painfully
democratic, because so much of our process depends on the review,
selection, and critical juxtaposition of innumerable cultural objects,
adhering to a collective process is extremely time-consuming and
difficult. However, the shared learning and ideas produce results
that are often inaccessible to those who work alone. (18)
The Internet, however, is perhaps a uniquely fluid and supportive
medium for such projects--in terms of putting out the call, in terms
of the ease of creating the work, in terms of contributing the work,
and in especially in terms of displaying the work (despite the possibility
of a gallery installation of Desktop IS, it lives perfectly
comfortably on the Net). Perhaps most importantly, however, as the
Net becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the designed interface becomes
concomitantly central to our lives, and it is important to question
and investigate it as something that is indeed constructed and not
"natural," as we have come to unconsciously think of the
desktop--if we think of it at all.
Antonio Muntadas's File Room
installation was not intended as a Web-only project like Douglas
Davis's The World's First Collaborative Sentence, but it
was specifically extended to the Web in order to invoke the collaboration
of people from around the world.
The File Room ... documents numerous individual cases
of censorship around the world and throughout history with an easy-to-use,
interactive computer archive. ... The File Room acts not as an electronic
encyclopedia but as a tool for information exchange, and a catalyst
for dialogue. Texts and images have disappeared, been removed from
view, or banned since the beginning of history. This project intends
to make visible, world-wide, some of these incidents and acts as
a source of documentation for new incidents which can be submitted
by users on-line.
File Room not only allows users to add their own stories
to the files, but it also uses the searchable, random access capabilities
of digital media to help make that which was invisible more easily
visible. Although, as an ironic and tragic footnote, with the closing
of Randolph Street Gallery, which co-produced the project, File
Room is no currently longer available online in its most recent
If the popular refrain of visitors to exhibitions of abstract
and other contemporary art is "my 6-year-old-niece could do
that," the net equivalent may be a smart agent knowing before
you do what book or music CD or artwork you are going to like and
linking you to it. The artist team Komar and Melamid have taken
this a step further by creating paintings based on "scientifically
sampled" user preferences.
This project, created by the dissident
Russian artists Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid, attempts to discover
what a true "people's" art would look like. Through a
professional marketing firm, a survey was conducted to determine
what Americans prefer in a painting; the results were used to create
the painting America's Most Wanted. This project was expanded in
both scope and audience through the Internet at Dia's website, allowing
visitors to see the paintings based on completed polls of over a
dozen countries, analyze the survey data, and participate directly
a website survey to create a new "Most Wanted" painting
specific to the Internet community.
While Komar and Melamid do not go so far as to "mass customize"
their offerings--they are more interested in the mean and the norm--the
aspect that taking their project to the Web clearly plays with is
the much-vaunted two-way communication of the Net. Not only can
viewers tell the artists what they think, they can even directly
influence what they create.
Paul Vanouse takes this a step further with his Persistent
Data Confidante project. With PDC, visitors tell
a secret (of at least 10 words) and then are told a secret, which
they rate (Vanouse says cu-rate) on a scale of 1 to 10. Over time,
as secrets receive more ratings, they are in turn algorithmically
rated as to suitability for "reproduction". Eventually,
the highest rated secrets mate and are fused to create a "new"
secret. Curating as Darwinian selection? Participants get to chose/curate
their favorites, yes, but the results of their choices are unknowable--in
a not dissimilar way from not knowing how Komar & Melamid's
paintings will ultimately turn out.
From Andrew Wyeth to Any Warhol, it is nothing new to have a museum
devoted to a single artist, even while the artist is alive. It is
somewhat less usual for the artist to be architect, director, exhibit
designer, publications and pr manager, registrar, educator, and,
oh yes, the artist. But there are a number of such edifices on the
Internet that playfully mimic the traditional structures of the
museums in the zero g of cyberspace. The Lin
Hsin Hsin Art Museum is perhaps the most energetic example around,
complete with souvenir shop, cafe, a musical toilet, and much, much
more. Become a member now! and received discounted admissions to
. . .
The Hsin Hsin Museum is a bit like the roasting of a famous person.
One can speak the truth by clothing it in excess. Whether or not
it is tongue-in-cheek, Hsin Hsin's museum skewers The Museum by
so faithfully and lovingly recreating its forms without worrying
too much about its meanings. And this is a not inaccurate description
of the first couple of waves of museum Web sites. We knew the form,
and we managed some jazzy technology, but is that the experience
we want to have on the Web?
Robbin Murphy's Project Tumbleweed,
however, is a bit like visiting a large museum where lots is going
on and the signage really only makes sense after you've been there
a few times and are starting to become comfortable with things.
To the first time visitor it can be a bit disorienting, but it's
clear there's something there. Murphy, a co-founder of artnetweb
(and it's not always clear where one stops and the other begins)
writes of his project:
The entire project is an evolving investigation into
the possibilities of multi-dimensional on-line environments and
will be one model for what many think of as a "virtual museum."
I use this term with hesitation but acknowledge that it has become
common to think of an online representation as something virtual,
meaning unreal, and is a result of thinking in terms of multimedia
CD-ROM and other forms of digital delivery that have become current
but are not necessarily applicable to a networked environment like
My definition of virtual would be closer to "universal,"
meaning a museum of the possible. In the end "unreal"
and "universal" may mean the same thing in that the term
"universe" is a metaphor for what we can't wholly comprehend,
a lie we tell ourselves to avoid thinking the unthinkable. So a
better term would be potential and that's why I subtitle this project
"a potential museum," a "house of the muses"
that is based not on a collection, education, connoiseurship or
any other aspect of our current institutions but on what the muses
(the daughters of memory) promise -- potentiality.
Unlike Hsin Hsin, who touts "over
1000 digital artworks" like a Corbis press release, the artwork
is a bit harder to find in Project Tumbleweed--or rather
the project is the artwork, to a large degree. There is a collapse
of container and contained. Everything is surface, no matter how
deep you go. As Mark Taylor writes about another architect, Bernard
Tschumi, in his brilliant new book, Hiding:
When reality is screened, the real becomes virtual
and the virtual becomes real. In his current work--especially the
Columbia University Student Center--Tschumi extends the processes
of mediaizing and virtualizing reality by transforming bodies into
images. The in-between space where media events are staged is folded
into the building in such a way that screens screen other screens.
Infinite screens render the real imaginary and the images real....
Screens are not simply outer facades but are layered in such a way
that the building becomes an intricate assemblage of superimposed
surfaces. As bodies move across skins that run deep, the material
becomes immaterial and the immaterial materializes. Along the endless
boundary of the interface, nothing is hiding.(20)
There are digital reproductions of earlier paintings by Murphy, for
sure, but these really serve more as "stations" for him
to meditate both on his life and the construction of meaning/the meaning
of art. More critically than presenting some notion of his work per
se, built into the structure of Project Tumbleweed are the
notions of point of view and perspective. That is, Murphy acknowledges
and plays out multiple roles--and assumes the visitor will also be
coming from different points of view, whether as surfer or critic,
artist or player, archaeologist or diviner. The main structural way
this is accommodated is by three "levels" (perspectives):
"<i> i o l a </i>" is the foreground
(red) platform and is a personal curated interface with the rest
of the Internet through links to articles, e-zines, books and projects
updated on a daily basis. It is an "entrance" to the rest
of the project yet most of the links will take a visitor elsewhere.
Most institutions want to keep visitors within their own "space".
What they don't take into consideration is that in the physical
building people do not materialize in the doorway, they come through
some mode of transportation -- walking, taxi, bus -- and from the
"outside". The transition from "outside" to
"inside" is metaphorical on-line and the advantage of
linking would seem to be the ability to link in both directions.
The advantage is that it creates a space of entering with the possibility
of going elsewhere and that encourages return visits. The entrance
has a use other than as an aesthetic decompression chamber.
From this platform you can enter the "Hypomnemata", or
middleground (green) platform, which could also be considered as
a form of "studio" for me where I work on projects and
keep the information and material for those and future projects.
In the future this platform will be spatial using VRML, Dynamic
HTML and/or whatever tools are available for developing spatial
metaphors. I am intentionally trying to avoid thinking in terms
of 3-D modeling and have opted to start with the fourth dimension,
time (or chronology in this case) in a very simple representation.
Some of the projects within this platform investigate time further
From the "Hypomnemata" you may enter the "Undergrowth",
or background (blue) platform, which consists of journals from the
past fifteen years I am converting to digital form and uploading.
This will eventually include images and be a relational database
where my past, or some kind of history, can be reconstituted.
This is a significant project that museums would do well to steal
as much as they can from.
For a more traditional-seeming but thoroughly thought-provoking
and engaging iteration of the "virtual museum," see ZoneZero:
From Analog to Digital Photography. Pedro Meyer, the creator
of ZoneZero, however, makes a strong and provocative case
that the best way to think of ZoneZero and other similar
sites is not as a virtual version of an analog medium we already
think we know and understand but as a completely new form of art.
See in particular his editorial, "Questions of what constitutes
art on the Web."
In education, it has become commonplace shorthand to describe
the changing role of the teacher as going from the "sage on
the stage" to the "guide on the side." Technology
doesn't cause this, but it can abet it. With museums' focus on outreach,
it may be that the role of the curator is undergoing a similar transformation.
And to the extent that collaborative processes are desirable, the
Internet is a great facilitator.
I think the first time that I really woke to
this possibility was stumbling across the listserv for the exhibition:
PORT: Navigating Digital Culture.
Basically, it was an open curatorial process that anyone could participate
in, could propose projects for, could just listen in on. It would
be naive to think that all decisions were made on that listserv,
but basically it created a context for itself, both to test out
ideas and to identify opportunities.(21)
The Hsin Hsin Museum, Project Tumbleweed, and ZoneZero
can all be viewed as examples of auto- or self-curation by artists,
but there is also the idea of automatic curating. The most
likely version of this in the near future--in the present, in fact--is
of the "make your own map" variety.
For instance, right now I can go to the Arts Wire Web base and
put in criteria such as that I want to see Web-specific art on museum
or gallery Web sites that have the word "women" in the
site description. Voila. Instant tour of the Web. Of course,
there are a number of factors affecting how well the territory is
covered, so to speak. How often is the database updated? How consistently
are criteria applied? How deep is the information catalogued? How
well is the contextual web captured? How spunky is the algorithm...?
It may not be the sexiest topic in the world, but databases like
those used on the National Gallery of Art and San Francisco Museum
of Fine Arts Web sites allow for very sophisticated interrogation
of the museums' resources. There is no reason--in fact, every likelihood--that
such cataloging will occur across the Web, across knowledge domains,
across artifact types. With such Xanadu-like access to information,
the value of the curatorial role will lie not so much in what is
known as in how well the stories can be told.
Storytelling doesn't have to be conflated
with Disney and Hollywood. (22)
There is an experimental "virtual curator" program called
"The Intelligent Labelling Explorer."
The focus of the project is automatic text generation.
In this field, systems are built that produce descriptive, explanatory,
or argumentative texts to accomplish various different communicative
tasks. We plan to build a system that produces descriptions of objects
encountered during a guided tour of a museum gallery. In the first
instance, the tour will be of a `virtual' gallery, explored via
a hypertext interface.(23)
The computing challenge of ILEX is being able to generate text
dynamically based on tracking what the user has already viewed and
her level of interest. To create the text-base, the ILEX researchers
spent many hours interviewing the curator of the collection being
used (jewelry), parsing her knowledge into stories about the different
objects, which she had told during guided tours.
Interestingly, in February, Scientific
American Frontiers aired a show in which "Alan 2.0"--a
realistic digital recreation of Alda's likeness--was programmed
to be able to speak lines he had never spoken before by accessing
a database of phonemes he had spoken. Imagine marrying the dynamic
text generation of ILEX with a realistic visual model that can speak
the text believably.(24)
Conversation with a virtual curator that does not have to follow
a pre-defined script is no longer science fiction.
The point of all this is not to hype some future of animatronic
curators, who know everything but don't necessarily act like they
do. But as society's ability to process "information"
becomes ever more fluent, we may need to refine our notions of what
the best roles of museums and curators are.
Real virtual museums are already appearing
on the horizon. Franklin Furnace, for instance,
recently closed its doors and is now curating a bi-weekly performance
series specifically for the Internet and planning to make its extensive
archives available via the Web.
By and large, however, a monolithic approach, whether toward exclusively
utilizing or specifically ignoring the virtual, is unlikely to be
a major trend. Instead of either/or, the answers will be both or
neither--a third way. Museums such as ZKM are already making extensive
efforts to integrate new media--all media--into their permanent
collection dispaly on a permanent basis. Conversely, museums of
contemporary art such as Chicago and San Diego, and the Walker Art
Center (among many) are making significant efforts to take their
Recently, this "in between" approach has been codified (at least
version 1.0) in the Technorealism "manifesto." Neither savior nor
antichrist, technology cannot give museums a purpose, but museums
ignore the reality of the virtual at their peril.
It is clear to me what innovative applications of the Net have
to offer museums. What is less clear is whether museums will automatically
"win" the cultural competition, if and when they jump into the fray
wholeheartedly. There is evidence both ways.
Only five years ago, you could not have had a more venerable brand
than Encyclopedia Britanica. Yet, essentially, a $100 CD-ROM version
of a defunct competitor, Funk & Wagnalls, bankrupted EB. We could
argue till the cows come home over whether--or rather to what extent--this
was a case of "the people" preferring cheapness over quality, or
a triumph of marketing (shades of vhs vs. beta) or a dinosaur not
paying attention to its future and feeling secure in a humungous
set of door stops costing well over $1,000, as if the format was
what was important, not the knowledge and information it contained
(does IBM ring a bell?).
So what does this have to do with museums? I think it is a cautionary
tale that our existence may not be guaranteed, especially in an
unchanging form, regardless of how impossible and even ridiculous
it seems now to contemplate a universe without us. Prosperity, if
not survival, may require an increasingly hybrid self-definition
and an openess to fusion and mutation.
As for curating, we have no choice. We will go where the artists
House Collection of American Crafts
virtu" tour (video clips)
the artist" additional questions example
Return to text.
Currents: American Art in the Age of Technology
Return to text.
Window Gallery, Walker Art Center
QTVR views of this changing exhibition space.
Linked QTVR movies also allow the online visitor to "walk around"
the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Return to text.
Gallery of Art (DC) "Web Tours" using RealSpace
Online RealSpace tours to date include Lorenzo Lotto:
Rediscovered Master of the Renaissance , Thomas Moran,
Sculpture of Angkor and Ancient Cambodia: Millennium of Glory,
and Thirty-Five Years at Crown Point Press
Return to text.
Natural History Museum (London), Virtual Endeavour
Return to text.
Thater: Orchids in the Land of Technology
Return to text.
Messages: Graphic Design in Contemporary Culture
Return to text.
Museum of American Art Art Links
Return to text.
d'art contemporain de Montreal
Return to text.
Contemporary Arts Center Virtual Exhibition Links
Return to text.
Cool Art Sites
Return to text.
National Museum of American Art
Return to text.
Institute for Contemporary Art (London)
Return to text.
Return to text.
A Hyperessay," Walker Art Center
Return to text.
Lea Cheang, Bowling Alley
Return to text.
Halley, Exploding Cell
Return to text.
Museum of Photography
Return to text.
Return to text.
Center for the Arts Artists' Projects for the Web
Return to text.
Art Center Gallery 9
Return to text.
Francisco Museum of Modern Art Web site
The World's First Collaborative Sentence
Return to text.
Steve Dietz, "What
Becomes a Museum Web?"
Return to text.
Return to text.
Return to text.
Electronic Almanac Gallery
See in particular Web
Why Not Sneeze?
Return to text.
Return to text.
Interface: net art and Art on the Net
Return to text.
The Robert J. Schiffler
Return to text.
& Bits: Managing Digital Continuity
Return to text.
Return to text.
Unfortunately, the primary Web version of File Room
is off-line with the demise of Randolph Street Gallery in Chicago,
which co-produced the project, but an earlier interface exists at
the address above. A "fact sheet" is also available from
NII Awards page.
Return to text.
Komar & Melamid, The
Most Wanted Paintings on the Web
Paul Vanouse, Persistent
Return to text.
Hsin Hsin Museum
Robbin Murphy, Project
From Analog to Digital Photography
of what constitutes art on the Web."
Return to text.
Navigating Digital Culture
Return to text.
Return to text.
Presented at the International Conference, Museums
& the Web, for the panel "Cultural Competition," April 25, 1998.
This version dated 3.25.98. For the most current version, see http://www.yproductions.com/talks/curatingontheweb.html
David Bearman, "Use of Advanced Digital Technology in Public
Places," Archives and Museum Informatics. (6:3 Fall
While there is much debate about the role of both museums and curators
in the wider culture, this paper does not directly address these
problematics, on the assumption that regardless of your view of
either, the Net will affect and intersect with it.
3. Steven Johnson,
Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create
and Communicate. (New York, 1997), 213.
4. The White House Collection
of American Crafts opened on the Web on April 25, 1994. Note the
Netscape gray background and the necessity to download several-MB
video files in this exhibition, created before there was a <bgcolor>
tag, tables, or even a <center> tag in general use or the
possibility of streaming video. An important aspect of the at the
time was the ability to add comments to a comment book, although
this function has since been disabled for security reasons.
5. QTVR stands for
Quicktime Virtual Reality, a proprietary but widely used technology
from Apple Corporation. The QTVR home page is at http://www.apple.com/quicktime/qtvr/.
RealSpace is another proprietary technology from Live Picture Corp.
More information is at http://www.livepicture.com/download/clients/lpviewer.html.
VRML stands for Virtual Reality Modeling Language and is currently
the only open standard of these three, although you need a special
browser plug-in to view it. The VRML consortium homepage is at http://www.vrml.org/.
See James Johnson, "The Virtual Endeavour Experiment: A Networked
VR Application," Proceedings ICHIM 97, (Sept. 97), pp. 68-74
for a description of the project. In his oral presentation at the
ICHIM Conference, Johnson mentioned the preliminary audience studies,
which will be published in 1998.
6. Ars Electronica
operates a CAVE--a 10-foot cube with a 3-D immersive VR experience
projected onto 3 walls and the floor, based on the CAVE at EVL.
ZKM (Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie) recently acquired
a flight simulator for artist projects, and the Electronic Visualization
Lab has been developing immersive VR applications in its CAVE for
Project (Narrative-based Immersive Constructionist/Collaborative
7. The tunnel is
no longer on the Walker Web site, but it can be accessed at http://www.walkerart.org/thater/cyan.html
Bush's Memex article and related links can be found at: http://www.isg.sfu.ca/~duchier/misc/vbush/.
Ted Nelson's homepage is at http://www.sfc.keio.ac.jp/~ted/index.html.
9. Email from Sara Tucker
and Lynne Cooke to Steve Dietz, March 16, 1998.
10. Susan Kuchinskas,
"Museums Add Web Sites to Collections," Hotwired,
February 12 1997, http://www.wired.com/news/news/culture/story/2009.html.
Matthew Mirapaul, "Leading Art Site Suspended," The
New York Times Cybertimes March 3, 1998 http://search.nytimes.com/books/search/bin/
12. Ralf Neufang,
American Library Association, http://www.lib.cwu.edu/~samato/IRA/reviews/issues/dec94/louvre.html.
For more on the "dueling Louvres," see http://www.strcom.com/webzeumz/luves1.htm
13. Patrick Maun, email
to Steve Dietz
14. Gabrielle Shannon,
Editor in Chief, Urban Desires, http://www.desires.com/3.6/note/index.html
15. Hope N. Tillman,
"Evaluating Quality on the Net," http://web0.tiac.net/users/hope/findqual.html
16. Michael Lesk, "How
Much Information Is There in the World?," Time & Bits:
Managing Digital Continuity, http://www.ahip.getty.edu/timeandbits/ksg.html
with Alexeij E.Shulgin: Balancing between Art and Communication,
East and West," Armin Medosch, Telepolis (22.07.97)
Joachim Blank, "What is netart ;-)" contribution to an
exhibition and congress called " (History of) Mailart in Eastern
Europe" at the Staatliches Museum Schwerin (Germany) 1996 http://www.irational.org/cern/netart.txt
18. Daniel O.Georges,
Art from 1984," In
The Flow: Alternate Authoring Strategies, Franklin Furnace,
Victor Cassidy, "Trouble
In Chicago" and "Two
Chicago Galleries and Why They Closed," Artnet Magazine
Unfortunately, the primary Web version of File Room is off-line
with the demise of Randolph Street Gallery in Chicago, which co-produced
the project, but an earlier interface exists at http://simr02.si.ehu.es/FileRoom/documents/TofCont.html.
A "fact sheet" is also available from the 1995
NII Awards page.
20. Mark Taylor,
Hiding, (The University of Chicago Press, 199), pp. 262-263.
21. See Josephine
Bosma's excellent interview
with Heath Bunting (http://www.factory.org/nettime/archive/0680.html0
for more about the Net as a context for producing work.
Another example of how technology and the network have augmented
the curatorial process in a simple, fun way, is with Barbara London's
"Stir-Fry" project. We have all
had to write reports of our travels--of people met, art viewed--for
our colleagues. London, in a collaboration with adaweb, posted her
notes, pictures, and sound bytes to the Web on a daily basis, allowing
anyone to follow trace her route on a daily basis as she "found"
35 media artists in a land of 1,200,000,000 people.
Although it is true that Bran Ferren, a Disney imagineer, makes
a convincing case for storytelling a la Disney, even in the museum
setting. See "The
Future Of Museums -- Asking The Right Questions" http://www.si.edu/organiza/offices/musstud/proceed8.htm
The Intelligent Labelling Explorer. http://www.cogsci.ed.ac.uk/~alik/ilex.html.
Art of Science: Alan 2.0," Scientific American Frontiers
February 18, 1998. http://www.pbs.org/saf/8_resources/83_transcript_804.html#part2
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