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Will Gompertz on Net Art

BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz writes the following about net-based art:

"It's interesting that, as far as I am aware, no contemporary artist has yet harnessed this extraordinary technology to make a significant artwork. Of course, maybe I'm wrong and am missing something great - do you know of any net-based art works that are worth a look? Maybe you have made one (an artwork made specifically for the medium, as opposed to a film such as the one above, which uses the net only as a means of dissemination)? If you, like me, can't find any net-based art of note, why do you think that is? Why, when there's been such a boom in contemporary art around the world, has no artist made the medium of the web his or her canvas? And if someone were to use the net as a medium, as opposed to making an image, or a video, or even an interactive Flash animation, what would the resulting art look, or sound, or feel like?"

As with many things that are relatively new, there is a general lack of awareness surrounding internet-based art: how its defined, how to find it, how it operates, and so on. Internet art is also troubled by a problem of perpetual discovery: while its history evolves, it is often not elaborated, but instead rediscovered, again and again, by the critical establishment.

As the above comments by BBC's arts editor demonstrate, this moment of discovery can be wonderful, but its also glaringly ignorant of an important field that has been thriving for nearly two decades now. Gompertz also lays claim to a rather inverted sense of how the boom operates. He assumes that a boom in contemporary art would leverage net art; on the contrary, a boom doesn't elevate practices that aren't associated with high price-tags, it pushes them further to to the margins. This is a situation that makes it even more urgent for critics, curators and organizations to locate these practices, learn about them, support them and bring them to the forefront. Its unnecessary to tell this readership that the artist mentioned by Gompertz, Celeste Boursier-Mourgenot, is only one of a countless range of artists engaging with the participatory nature of the web. But, it does raise a larger question: Perhaps one positive side of the bust is that more critics might step back and look at work not (or not yet) squarely within the art market.

While I won't single out any artists here, I suggest that Gompertz spend some time looking at this website, and many others, like VVORK, Turbulence or Furtherfield, that promote an incredible range of internet-based art, as well as new methods through which artists are collecting and promoting each others work. When looking, I hope he will not try to find instances or reinforcements of Duchamp, but rather be open to new kinds of practices. 2010 is a very exciting moment in art, online and off, if you can see it.

Will Gompertz's blog post via Radiovisual

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MIchael Manning Feb. 4 2010 19:13Reply

Perhaps, he should also take a look at Petra Cortight's Gifs, Rafael Rozendaal's interactive portals, anything on Computer Club, or Alexei Shulgin's MANY web based projects. Like you mentioned this is simply a case of being uniformed.

t.whid Feb. 4 2010 21:54Reply


fuck this n00b Gompertz. LOL. FTW!

a bill miller Feb. 4 2010 23:57Reply

how do i shot web?

ed halter Feb. 5 2010 09:38Reply

Well experimental film is almost 100 years old and critics are still "discovering" it in the press, so, uh, get used to it?

But more seriously–what journalist would write something like this without doing a damn google on "internet art" before having his secretary type it up and post it for him?

ed halter Feb. 5 2010 09:51Reply

regarding the above a parallel – while not excusable, it's more understandable that, until recently, a critic could be ignorant of experimental film and its history, since seeing the films themselves was hard to do if you weren't in a place like NYC or San Francisco or London or a few other places. But with net art, it's even less forgivable.

t.whid Feb. 5 2010 11:13Reply


[size=13]But seriously, his comments reflect his ignorance of the medium. When he says 'net' he means 'web' – so when he talks about 'net-based' he means 'web-based' and by that he means things he can see through his web browser. So, for instance, an artwork like Listening Post (http://www.earstudio.com/projects/listeningpost.html) wouldn't even register in his incorrect and to-small definition of 'net-based.'[/size]

Domenico Quaranta Feb. 5 2010 13:43Reply

I'd not talk about ignorance here. To make it clearer, I post below what I wrote on Will Gompertz's blog:

I had some funny time reading this article and all the reactions it produced, on this blog and around the Web (check out, among other things, Lauren Cornell's contribution on Rhizome - http://rhizome.org/editorial/3282 - and the CRUMB thread at http://www.crumbweb.org/). Personally, as an art critic strongly interested in Net Art, I don't think that Mr. Will Gompertz just needs some links to "hot" web projects, neither informations of any kind. He doesn't write "I can't find any net-based art", but "I can't find any net-based art of note". As the following statement suggests, Mr. Gompertz knows very well what Net Art is: "Duchamp and the Dadaists would have had hours of artistic amusement creating spoof websites, unintelligible Wiki entries and general questioning of the status quo." Well, at least 50\% of the best Net Art is "spoof websites, unintelligible Wiki entries and general questioning of the status quo."

So, if I see a problem here, it isn't a problem of ignorance, but of critical judgement. What we have here is a mid-career art critic - one who wrote for the Times and the Guardian and who ran Tate Online before joining the BBC as arts editor - who claims that, among the many net art projects he came in touch with along his brilliant career, he didn't find anything that can be described as "a significant artwork". This may mean either that Net Art, along the last 15 years, didn't produced anything noteworthy or that Net Art, after roughly 15 years of existence, still challenges the evaluation criteria and critical tools available for a mid-career, traditionally trained contemporary art critic.

Both the options above can be right of course. My little experience in the field makes me believe in the last one. It may help us to understand why, among other things, important art critics not strictly connected with the art market (and thus potentially interested in critical practices), such as Hal Foster or Rosalind Krauss, were never able to get it. And I think that, if we'll be able to focus the discussion on these topics - how Net Art challenges traditional criticism? do we really need "other criteria" in order to understand it and its positioning in the contemporary art field? - Mr. Gompertz's remarks will turn out to be really useful.

My bests,

M. River Feb. 5 2010 15:00Reply

He seems to have updated with the clarification along the lines of - Yes, I know that people have made art on and of the net but, IMHO, the artworld and the general public, net art is “not of note.” But fear not, he goes on to predict that a Nauman like savior will come along some day and lift the genre out of cultural irrelevancy.

Aron Namenwirth Feb. 5 2010 18:25Reply

Unfortunately, how important something is in this culture of ours is determined by the marketplace, and how much $ is going to be paid for it. This has little to due with anything, as we can see clearly in the stock market. So while the net has been ripe with
important content (the list of contributors is long) prices are low relatively- and with it the excitement of the investor. When someone pays a million dollars for an Arcangel or Moody then stupid comments by Gompertz will be less common. It took time for photography, now video is waiting, the net will be next.

Peer Dassow Feb. 5 2010 23:00Reply

what is going on here

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Eric Dymond Feb. 7 2010 13:07Reply

I think it is fair to say thet there hasn't been a "significant work of art" in the last 20 years in any medium. Good works and popular works and even arresting works, but no game changers. No new leads period. So why should net art be any different?
As well, I think there is a disconnect, despite his secondary involvement in small web based exhibits, there isn't an Architecture critic who can name a "significant" work of video art. He's really playing the same role