Angela Plohman

How do you get the general public to notice net art? Create an unauthorized, pseudo-copy of a major museum web site, host an exhibition of net art there, and convince people that a major art institution is showing an interest.

Artist Arthur X. Doyle, self-proclaimed 'Director of Virtual Curating' at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), has essentially created a duplicate of the museum site and offered a space to both Irish and international digital artists to show their work. Doyle registered irishmuseumofmodernart.com as the domain (in the same spirit as artist Miltos Manetas recently registered the strangely unclaimed Whitneybiennial.com) and explains that "we felt as Ireland is a country where almost half the population work in high tech and computer industries, that it would be appropriate that the biggest art institution in the country should engage in some way with new media art. As they were unaware of what new media art is, we did it for them." For his first (and maybe only) endeavour, he recently launched the net art exhibition 'The Open Museum'.

In November 2001, Doyle published a call for net artworks on the Rhizome list serve. His idea was to present the bigger picture, to give an overview of what artists around the world are doing with the medium. Because artists are naturally eager to participate in a major exhibition of net art in an established museum, the result is that 160 works from 160 artists are accessible via Doyle's web site. He explains that "we decided to go with the uncurated model because we felt it most closely reflected the way the net art scene operates and that a hierarchical system of curation would be inappropriate. Probably the term uncurated is the wrong one to use it may be better to say that the exhibition was in fact curated by the net.art community."

The sparsely designed home page features a list of links to artworks that range from first time experiments with the medium to pieces by net art pioneers. The order in which the works appear on the page is the order in which the works were submitted, an order that will diplomatically change throughout the course of the exhibition. As well, a 'randomizer' is available that will allow curious (and brave) individuals to have a program determine which net artwork they will visit next. And notably, Doyle set up a message board for a discussion of the concept of the exhibition, where both the curator and visitors can read and respond to feedback.

While it would be simple to dismiss the show as a stunt, the fact is that this exhibition is one of the most thorough online exhibitions out there at the moment. By presenting a large selection online, by using the clout of the museum, and by leaving the context up to the artists, Doyle has indeed succeeded in offering a window into what net artists already know -- that there is a lot of work out there. Now the real question is, how many of these works are worth looking at? With no curatorial organization or selection process, it is inevitable that quality will differ greatly from one piece to another. Not only that, there is no real context given for the works, no traditional explanatory text. But Doyle states that he doesn't "believe that a museum curating a net.art show could imbue the exhibition with more significance then this method. The track record of museum curated net.art exhibitions and commissions is at best mixed."

Indeed. So alternatively, the idea is to let the general public explore on their own and discover things in their own way, giving meaning in their own manner, and generating the context for themselves. The intention is to present a portal for these works. Whether visitors fall upon Mouchettešs 'Suicide Kit for X-mas' project and gasp, or silently contemplate Pat Binder's 'Voices From Ravensbrueck', or become inexplicably amused by the 'Portrait of the Artist as a Home Page', at least they will be taking the time to experience net art. And that is an accomplishment that not many major museums can boast.


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