In 1971, John Baldessari made a piece stating: “I will not make any more boring art…”
Interview with exhibition curator Domenico Quaranta.
Q: “In the information society, the world is the frame. Art, in these conditions, has the potential of being “received” by millions of people at the same time, without a hierarchy of reception.” – Joseph Kosuth, 1968. Who is the audience of the artist as an editor within our modern visual culture? Is Douglas Hubler’s dream of an art for everyone becoming real, or does nothing make any sense anymore?
A: Well, I think that both these answers are true at the same time. Art is already for everyone – just think about the Big Brother, the reality television format par excellence, which originated from an art project. Today’s television finds its model in Andy Warhol’s TV, and reality is the stage where the best performances are taking place. Through the internet, art can potentially reach any kind of audience, and contemporary art’s interest in online popular culture and jokes allows it to talk to all the people who are contributing, actively and passively (by just sharing, liking, or viewing) to this culture.
But if art can potentially be “received” by everybody, the ones who still “get it” are just a few. This is more a matter of refusal than of ignorance or bad taste. Art is still perceived as something distant, that can appeal to hipsters, and that confines itself in galleries and museums. People who can say something clever about Inception or Lady Gaga, when it comes to art, often claim that all that happened after Monet is uninteresting and boring to them. Art has more chances to reach a wider audience when it doesn’t come with the “art” label on it, and when it looks for other channels. Go to YouTube and type “weirdest website ever” or “jodi.org”: you will see how people responded to jodi.org, one of the first art websites, thanks to the fact that it always refused any kind of framing, but the one provided by the browser window.
Q: In 1971, John Baldessari made a piece stating: “I will not make any more boring art…” It looks to me like the youngest web artists understood this better than anyone else. Do you believe that the market will educate them no matter what, bringing them back to a polite and educated aesthetic, or are we in a process with no U turns?
A: I always thought the relationship between artists and the market (and the art world in general) works in both directions: the art world educates artists, and artists educate the art world. The art world is the frame within which something can be understood as art or not. As with all systems, it naturally tends to be conservative and static. Artists are the evolutionary gene within this system. They experiment with new formats, new languages, new media, new concepts, new aesthetics, and force the system to evolve. Of course, some mediation is required, and the most radical – or, in your words, impolite – tendencies will be rejected for a long time. The art world has never completely accepted net art yet, but it did accept Cory Arcangel and Ryan Trecartin. That’s a start, a good start from my point of view.
Q: Your show has a museum quality in terms of complexity and approach, so why did you choose Brooklyn and an underground gallery to present your research in New York? I read it as an institutional critique. Please share your thoughts on this.
A: You threw me a lifesaver by talking about “institutional critique”, but I will do without it. First, because institutional critique is boring and always happens inside the institution; and second, because making a “museum like” exhibition in an underground space may also look very uncool: why fit into the conventional, established museum standards when you can do an experimental, radical underground show?
But you are right, Collect the WWWorld is a wannabe museum show presented in alternative spaces, and this is probably its strength. The point is: why so-called contemporary art museums are, with a few exceptions, avoiding including net-based practices in their shows, and to organize events that discuss the cultural impact of the information age? Why a freelance curator has to found his own institution (the Link Center for the Arts of the Information Age) and look for private funding to organize and travel an exhibition dealing with this? We are talking about things that have been around for about twenty (the web) or even fifty (computers) years and that had a tremendous impact on art production and dissemination; and the fact that “contemporary art” museums are not dealing with them allows us to question their take on contemporaneity. So, in the end, you are right, it’s some sort of institutional critique…
Q: When Seth Siegelaub decided to create a market around conceptual art, he developed very strategic politics of publicity. How are you planning to develop an economy behind the web based immaterial works you are dealing with? Can a curator of web-based art make some money out of it?
A: I’m actually very bad at moneymaking, but I have a big respect for those who are trying to develop an economy out of it, and when I can, I collaborate with them. Not just to make some money out of it, but also because I think that the development of a market is an important part of an ongoing process of cultural recognition, being both a consequence and one of the causes of it. As a curator (and not a dealer or a gallery owner) I’m working more on creating an understanding around these practices, but with the institution I co-founded, I’m also offering consultancy for collectors who are interested in them, but are still unsure of the way they should collect them.
Q: Ask yourself a question and answer it.