A MUSEUM FOR MUSEUMS
THE MUSEUM AS LIVING FOSSIL
By Pygoya the Cyberartist
Welcoming essay for Nancy Wood
and her digital art students exhibiting
in College Art Gallery of the
Rave Webmuseum of Cyberart
I, as curator of a virtual online museum and Web artist, have done my share of "surfing" on the Internet. This is what I perceive as of the present in 1998.
Thousands upon thousands of artists have set up camp on the 'Net, offering their portfolio of wares to every passer by. Most are young and most is junk. But the old pros are here too, covering up their limited worldly success, as artist, with Web pages of design virtuosity for that "professional" look and presentation. The most technically competent of the lot garnish their site with the latest graphic gizmos, from multiple window frames, interactive tables, and animations to virtual reality and Java applets.
What is common to all is the apparent disenchantment with the existing physical world art scene. Many do supplement their efforts to "show" with an online Web site but many, like myself, have lost total interest in bothering to mat, frame and hang, endlessly, in a succession of shows exhibiting futility. This self imposed exile from the traditional promised land of artistic fame and fortune is promoted by the lure of worldwide exposure, with no middle man, at hardly any cost. Sheer explosion of the exponentially growing online global community fuel the dreams of these speculators for artistic discovery. The dominant herd of artists online are the diehards and the have-nots, not the famous and the successful. Why open up your work to piracy and counterfeit when your work is secure and selling well within the commercial gallery system? Why display an inferior digital reproduction, again open to copycats, when the original is already immortally entombed within the womb of a museum, its permanent collection? This brings us to the topic at hand, the fate of the museum in the coming millenium, according, of course, to "Pygoya the Cyberartist."
Every day technological products, including the "arty" genre, get cheaper and cheaper. Every day traditional art media become too expensive to dabble in. Look at the price today of an oil paint set of basic colors. Compare that price to a generic program, on floppy disk, with 16.2 million colors that can never run out, be instantly mixed and never leave a mess. No comparison! It is also merely a matter of time when even the nostalgic smell of linseed oil may be simulated to spew out of that contraption called the "PC." No wonder more and more senior citizens, dedicated lifetime artists, folks on limited budgets and now allergic to traditional art materials after life long exposure, are turning to the computer to continue to "make art." The present Hawaii Computer Artist Society is such an example of the artist's inclusion in "the Graying of America" and the new embracing of digital creation by the senior artist.
Give or take a hundred years good traditional artists are going to be harder and harder to find in order to fill museum galleries with works. Digital artwork will BE the all pervasive cultural environment when the "nerds" inherit the earth. Like the yesteryear's blacksmith working with anvil and hammer, future generations will gawk in amazement at demonstrations by preservationists performing the long lost skillful craft known as "painting." Or chiseling into granite or marble.
Museums of the future can take one of several paths. They can become tombs for past esthetic artiquities including their own once popular artifacts. They can change along with their cultural climate and become contemporary electronic showcases of the cutting edge of the international digital culture. Or they can go out of business, become extinct, become archival inclusions for a future new type of museum, specializing in museums that once were, but now abandoned relics in themselves.
Up to recently museums seem content with their privileged position on top of the art peck order. However everyday, as the Internet grows "four times the economic rate as the national economy", cornerstones of this sense of security are crumbling. Through 1997, for the most part, the museums' contribution to the Web has been inconsequential. If one had established a Web presence, the site itself did not compete against the museum, it production manager, but merely served as another publicity venue to get more people through its turnstiles. It was at this time that I, "Pygoya the Cyberartist", went online with my virtual art museums, or The Truly Web Art Museum.
As of April 1998, as I write this, the place is hopping with heavy visitor traffic, unusual when compared with that of the ubiquitous artist's "Web gallery" linked to a "homepage". From conceptual and fantasy, bordering on a satirical joke, my role as "curator" has become a real challenge, encumbered with all the real world stressful tasks of selecting, rejecting, installing, collecting, documenting, archiving, publicizing, meeting art opening deadlines, finding volunteers and patrons, and dealing with temperamental artists. Artists who consent to exhibit at my "webmuseums" are dead serious about my performance to maximize this opportunity to further their art's visibility and recognition. But the hardships that go along with this labor of love is the unabated gratitude from the satisfied artists themselves. Slowly but surely, I am surrounded by the best and most important "cyberartists" online, all willing to join my merry band of have-knots, now, with online museum exhibit credentials, more poised to inherit the virtual milk and honey of this new promised land for the yet undiscovered digital masters of tomorrow.
Such success must be opening the eyes of physical museums. SUDDENLY there seems to be an urgent rush by museums to hunt down artists, those established online and with technical competence and developed sensitivity for the new digital tools by which they are carving out a name that stakes out a virtual claim. Suddenly museums and their stable of traditional artists, mere exploiters of the Web to expose their collections to a broader public, seem at a disadvantage in this new marketplace. Suddenly museum collections based on regional or even national taste are not as appealing as cosmopolitan images universally produced by the popular graphic software for this new world audience. Suddenly it becomes apparent a global "cyberculture" may actually be emerging, with Net citizens totally disinterested in ethnocentric art, works totally disassociated with any sense of place within "Cyberspace." Suddenly the distinction between physical museum and virtual museum becomes blurred and the fear of being "left behind" with this passing century's dissipating esthetic values becomes a fearful reality.
Today a handful of museums compete to capture this new art frontier, seeking alliances and allegiance with online pioneering artists, previously scorned, rejected, or otherwise deemed insignificant. Within a few years hoards of museums attempting to be Web relevant will be "dime a dozen," fail to be significant themselves and sink like the Titanic into virtual obscurity. We are all truly going through the beginning of a remarkable worldwide revolution in art. The most successful of the old ways are always the last to adapt to a sudden change of climate. There will be many victims before the esthetic landscape of upheaval transforms back into serenity, by then repainted unto an invisible digital canvas.
by Pygoya, also known as-
Rodney Chang, Ph.D., Curator
The Rave Webmuseum of Cyberart
`To be successful you have to be willing to aggressively
cannibalize your old business model,'' said Thomas Wurster, senior vice president at the
Boston Consulting Group.
''Typically what that means is launching businesses that are directly competitive with the existing core.''
Maybe this is why most museums merely use their Web sites for perfunctory duties such as announcing shows and other information about the physical premises. Almost never any competitive experimental Web-based art activity. January 7, 2000
Disclaim Notice: The views expressed in this essay are solely those of Pygoya and in now way are shared or include those of all on the Cyberstaff of www.lastplace.com or artists and institutions associated or in participation with Webmuseum Cybercolony or other affiliated Web based virtual museums, past, present and future.