Joshua Decter
Since 2008
Works in New York, New York United States of America

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Art Focused and Distracted: Three new media exhibitions curated by Joshua Decter

Dragan- I didn't see this conversation in the Spring, but the person who was hired to oversee the design of the interactive 'Virtual Curator' and 'Virtual Artist' components of my exhibition project, 'Transmute,' was Ben Chang. Here is a description of the technology on his website (he teaches at RPI), and it does seem to have involved VRML:

I'm actually endeavoring to get the MCA Chicago to reconstitute the online version of 'Transmute' in some way, although they claimed two years ago not to have located the original files yet. Their exhibition archive doesn't go back before 2000 (inexplicably), and this show happened in 1999. I will be contacting the museum again, although it seems to be an institution that is not particularly invested in their Internet presence, the potentials of interactivity, etc.

I would love for 'Transmute' to become operational again, in some way, because to me that is one way to address the challenges of preservation: producing the possibility of sustained and sustainable interfaces.

If you have any ideas, please let me know. Thanks.

All my best,


Art Focused and Distracted: Three new media exhibitions curated by Joshua Decter

May 14, 2014

Dear Rhizome readers,

At 51 years old, I’m not quite in the grave yet. So when an opportunity to defend my work as a writer, critic, curator and educator for nearly thirty years presents itself, I’m not going to shirk my responsibilities. So how disappointing it was to find that artist Tom Moody wastes our precious time and attention with a diatribe about yours truly that not only contains factual errors, misunderstands important aspects of the historical interrelationship between contemporary art production, new media and the Internet since the 1990s, but also misrepresents my work as a critic, writer, curator, educator and organizer.

Mr. Moody would have been well served to have first read my JRP|Ringier book, Art is a Problem: Selected Criticism, Essays, Interviews and Curatorial Projects (1986-2012), (, which contains an extensive overview of my activities.

To be clear: I’ve sustained negative, positive and every other kind of criticism about my curatorial projects for years, but one can only take seriously those critiques that are based in facts— and, that – god forbid – actually take into account the ideas that I’ve published about these exhibitions.

Moody offers a snarky and inaccurate title for his post, “gallery art critic as new media artist,” and leads off claiming that a “common thread is The Curator as Artist.” Well, I’ve made a couple of public statements (in print and elsewhere) since the 1990s decidedly rejecting the notion that what I’ve done as a curator has anything to do with making art. The consensus is that I’m a curator who has experimented with formats of display and exhibition design, although a couple of people fantasize that this means I want to be an artist; Moody is apparently a member of this fringe. I’ll discredit this assertion again: it’s curating, nothing more, nothing less. What’s more, there’s nothing in my conversation with Zachary Kaplan of Rhizome that either explicitly or implicitly suggests that I’m endeavoring to make art with my curating, so I think that Moody is deliberately misreading my comments, as well as Zachary’s remarks.
Moving on to a factual error regarding the Screen exhibition: I did not “place TV cameras in the room to film the works.” Rather, I took photographs of the installation of artworks, digitized these images, and worked with an editor on an AVID system at a professional studio to generate a video catalogue of the exhibition. This video catalogue was distributed as the only catalogue of the show, and was also played on video monitors within the gallery during the run of the show. These processes of production were clearly indicated in the press release for the show— and, in my new book within the chapter that addresses my curatorial projects. In terms of the artists I included in the show, some were “top painters of the day,” but others were not; it was a generational mix, and a mix of established, underknown, and emerging artists.

In terms of my biography: I began writing for Arts Magazine in 1985, at the invitation of the late Richard Martin, who was the editor of the magazine at that time. I would argue that both my writing and Arts flourished under Richard’s editorship during the 1980s, and in fact I selected two essays that I published in 1986 in Arts to be included in my new book. My role at Arts was already reduced somewhat by the early 1990s, as I became increasingly engaged in writing for other magazines (including Artforum), and with teaching, organizing and curating. Moody’s claim that I had “gatekeeper” status is rather farfetched; maybe I broke and repaired the gate a few times, but that’s about it.

Moody’s sloppy critique of the Screen exhibition fails to acknowledge the fact that the exhibition was an attempt at a playful reflection on the different velocities (slow, fast, etc.) involved in encountering/perceiving television and painting within the same cultural context— this is clearly indicated in the press release for the show, and the video catalogue. My argument in that show was not to suggest that painters were literally working at the same speed as television (or video artists, or new media artists, etc.), but rather to propose that we – as viewers, as publics – were experiencing/viewing painting within the broader context of mass media culture, and that there was a disjunction in temporal velocities and perceptual conditions in relation to watching television and viewing paintings. That’s exactly why I placed, in a rather tongue-in-cheek gesture, a television hooked up to cable with a remote control for people to watch in the gallery: to amplify these differences. Moody seems to have completely misunderstood this situation, even though it was clearly articulated in the press release, the video catalogue, and in my new book. Moody refers to the show as a “cattle call,” but this is not how Peter Schjeldahl (a professed lover of painting), characterized it at the time in his extensive review in The Village Voice:

In terms of the web extension of the Screen exhibition (which was produced on a limited budget, like basically every else at ada web in 1996), it actually looks much better than Moody will admit. It is the images of the paintings that pop out visually, while the TV images actually recede: exactly the opposite of what Moody asserts. And there’s a reason for this: the digitized images of the paintings were shot at a much higher resolution than the screen grabs from television. And this difference in image resolution is still discernable now on the Internet, nearly 20 years later.

Moody’s comments on the Transmute show at the MCA Chicago are even more haphazard, and I think it’s clear that he did not see the show. He writes: “Decter feels that his ‘virtual artist’ and ‘virtual curator’ kiosks at MCA Chicago in 1999 differed from the familiar interactive displays of museum education departments across the country. This seems wrong but I can't back it up with hard stats.”
Does Moody really expect this kind of criticism to be taken seriously? The bottom line: in 1998-1999, when this exhibition was developed (with an interactive designer and programming team, by the way), the MCA Chicago had no interactive educational elements in their museum whatsoever. This was an entirely new thing for this particular museum. And I do not recall seeing anything like the ‘virtual curator’ and ‘virtual artist’ interfaces in other museums at that time.

Furthermore, contrary to Moody’s claims that somehow this misrepresented John Baldessari’s work, the artist himself agreed to have a particular piece from the MCA’s collection used as the framework for a new kind of interaction with the museum’s publics. Baldessari was excited about it, and understood that it did relate to how he went about producing his work. Moody also brings up Google SketchUp; well, SketchUp debuted in 2000 (before it was acquired by Google in 2006), but the Transmute exhibition opened in 1999, so there was no way that my programmers had access to that software- just to make this perfectly clear, if there was any confusion created by Moody’s remarks. And furthermore, the point of the interactive programs for Transmute was to offer another mode of educational engagement for the museum’s publics. And so by providing a platform for audiences to participate by experimenting with reinstalling their own virtual versions of the exhibition, or remaking their own virtual versions of the Baldessari piece, I thought that this was an interesting way to challenge the parochial approaches to museum education in the 1990s. I think we were somewhat ahead of the curve with our ‘virtual curator’ and ‘virtual artist’ programs, specifically in terms of the context of museums and museum education departments.

Moody’s remarks about the 2006 Dark Places exhibition are even more cynical and strange, accusing me of joining the architectural community’s “ongoing war against artists.” Huh? I guess that Moody missed the fact that numerous artists – more than 70 - were willing participants in the show, and that I continuously updated all of the participants about every aspect of the exhibition design, architecture and display system. The participating artists understood the situation and engaged fundamentally not because inclusion in such an idiosyncratic exhibition would necessarily help their careers, but because they were open to an experimental curatorial framework. In other words, they sufficiently trusted me, and the architects with whom I designed the show. Why is it so difficult for Moody to accept this? And did Moody actually visit the show at the Santa Monica Museum? The most important thing is that artists were enthusiastic about the show when it opened. There are video documents of participating artists speaking about it in very compelling ways, within the context of public panel discussions. Interestingly, on one of those panel discussions, new media theorist Lev Manovich also spoke, adding his unique perspective on the history of new media art in relation to the exhibition. And Moody’s accusation that I used the gallery system as a “salad bar for…new media exploration” is just dumb, misleading and insulting. Ironically or not, some of the over 70 participating artists weren’t represented by galleries at the time. And to demonize the gallery system – which also includes some new media artists, by the way – just seems counterproductive.

Finally, as someone who met and befriended folks such as Wolfgang Staehle, Benjamin Weil and Mark Tribe when they were just starting their respective endeavors (the thing, ada web, and Rhizome) back in the 1990s, I’m very aware of the divisions, overlaps and interrelationships that exist between the wide range of art practices, media, discourses and social networks that constitute the various spheres of art production that have evolved over the past couple of decades. Contrary to Mr. Moody’s assertions, these various “fields” have indeed engaged in critical conversations and debates over the years, particularly in relation to what we mean by Internet Art, which is still being debated (witness the current Post-Internet Art discussions).

Thanks for your time and attention in our already saturated attention-economy.

Joshua Decter
New York


Oliver Laric's Response to BiennaleOnline

Check this out:

This is Rhizome's May 22, 1999 post on "Transmute," an online and bricks-and-mortar exhibition that I guest-curated at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 1999. The MCA does not maintain the URL for the online interactive component of the exhibition, which included "virtual artist" and "virtual curator" interfaces designed in collaboration with an interactive designer, and involved participation from museum visitors, online users, etc.

Textual and image information regarding this online exhibition will be included in my forthcoming JRP|Ringier book, "Art is a Problem" (distributed by D.A.P.).
Thanks. Best, Joshua Decter