If you are only just getting your head around net art, you need to catch up. We are firmly in the “post-internet” art age. This does not mean that the internet has stopped playing an important role nor that net art has become irrelevant, says the art critic and curator Karen Archey, but that we are at a point where the internet is “no longer a fascination or taboo, but rather a banal fact of daily living”. In other words, “post-internet” art denotes an object “created with this banality in mind, with the centrality of the network assumed”.
“Post-internet” art comes under the more generic term digital art, which Archey defines as works that “utilise a digital technical support”. This could include anything from Jorge Colombo’s iPad paintings to web-based work, such as Olia Lialina’s My Boyfriend Came Back From the War, 1996, she says. Some also use the term digital art to refer to plastic objects made with digital technology, such as Wade Guyton’s inkjet paintings, but Archey finds that usage to be “misleading”.
Definitions are sure to be flying around in the panel discussion “The Artist as Technologist”, which is part of Art Basel Miami Beach’s Conversations programme. It has been organised by Hans Ulrich Obrist, the co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London, and features the artists Cory Arcangel, Cécile B. Evans, Camille Henrot and Robert Whitman. The Serpentine Gallery appointed Ben Vickers as its first digital curator this year. For the gallery’s first “digital commission”, Evans created an avatar, Agnes, who lives on the Serpentine’s new website and interacts with users. Evans says: “Agnes is a lot like a person, in that it takes several encounters to begin to understand who or what she is. This is very different to the way most art is consumed but is truer to the way that digital media are used and experienced,” Evans says. The artist’s “fundamental understanding of the shifting state of what we currently define as ‘digital’”, is, for Vickers, key to “communicating to a broader audience what art can say about technology’s place in the world.” Agnes will be online until 25 December and the next commission will be announced at the beginning of 2014.
The effect of the internet on our culture is explored online, like Agnes, but increasingly also offline. Where digital artists once created animated gifs, YouTube videos and websites, they are now turning to the physical object. “Digital is translating back from bits and bytes to atoms and molecules”, says Marc Spiegler, the director of Art Basel. “There has never been a big market for truly digital art, but now that it is harking back to the physical, it will start having more impact.”
Tanya Leighton Gallery (N31) has brought work by two artists widely considered “post-internet”: Oliver Laric and Aleksandra Domanovic. Both co-founded vvork.com, a popular art blog that was instrumental in creating the style of art now branded “post-internet”, Leighton says. Laric and Domanovic make art that is “internet-aware”. “They don’t necessarily use the internet as a medium in the sense of formal aesthetics but as a distribution platform; a machine for transforming and re-channeling work—what Oliver calls ‘versions’.”
The gallery is showing Laric’s Mansudae Overseas Project, 2013, (€15,000). These are casts from a bronze statue that the artist commissioned from the Munsudae Art Studio, a North Korean monuments factory in Pyongyang. The studio has been officially sanctioned by the North Korean government to portray the Kim family dynasty, but also runs a lucrative side-business designing and building monuments, sports stadiums and at least one palace, for countries such as Cambodia, Egypt and Zimbabwe. Laric’s piece is the first private sculptural commission created by the studio. “It’s quite distinct and far removed from being a Classical sculpture, in that it would [almost] never have been able to be realised before the internet was invented,” Leighton says. Domanovic’s work at the gallery’s stand, meanwhile, Torches of Freedom, 2013, (€8,000) are casts of prosthetic hands made using 3D modelling.
Although some digital art is becoming physical, most of it remains intangible, reproducible, and notoriously difficult to commodify. But the art market is beginning to adapt and digital artists are not necessarily doomed to commercial failure. Perhaps the strongest indicator that non-niche collectors are starting to buy digital works was Phillips’ digital art auction in October, organised in collaboration with Tumblr and Paddle 8. It was the first auction of its type. The sale featured 20 digitally inspired works, of which 17 sold for a total of $90,600. Phillips did not take a cut from the sales, but donated 20% of the auction’s revenues to the digital-media non-profit site Rhizome.
The auction revealed how artists are dealing with an object-based art market. The Dutch-Brazilian artist Rafaël Rozendaal, for example, has created a website sales contract similar to industry standard contracts for video art. At the Phillips auction, his website ifnoyes.com went to Benjamin Palmer, the chief executive of the Barbarian Group, for $3,500. The work came with a set of “owner obligations” that included renewing the site’s domain name every year. Megan Newcome, the head of digital at Phillips, says the auction was “a huge step forward for the digital art community and the idea that it has a market”. Anita Zabludowicz, the co-founder of the Zabludowicz Collection in London, has been collecting digital art for years and recently bought Ed Fornieles’ Dorm Daze, 2011, a “Facebook sitcom”, which, according to Ben Vickers, is “arguably one of the largest, most complex digital works to be created, let alone acquired into a collection”. Zabludowicz says that digital and online technology is the “new frontier”. Just make sure you have paid your wifi bill.
• The Artist as Technologist, Sunday 8 December (10am-11.30am), in the Hall C auditorium
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Let’s get digital'