The New Museum opened its virtual doors to its newest online art exhibit Institute for Southern Contemporary Art. In the 21st century, culture is mainly mediated through a smartphone or a tablet. Artists have become software designers, museums grow into online digitized spaces, art agents are now virtual visitors and curators’ expertise extends to curating the web. When in the 1990s artists used digital technologies as a tool, in the 2000s they used the web as a medium and exhibition space itself.
The ubiquity of the digital realm and social media as a source for information, connectivity and experience has compelled museums to actively engage with the digital sphere in order to meet the needs of a new generation of visitors for whom accessibility and immediacy have become categorical imperatives. Since 1977, New Museum has been a historical leader in supporting digital practices, driving a discourse on art and technology and offering a virtual platform to artists. In 2003, Rhizome, the born-digital art organization became an affiliate of the New Museum supporting innovative and forward-looking projects. Amidst other digital initiatives, such as NEW INC, the first museum-led incubator launched in 2014; the New Museum initiated in 2012 an online exhibition series, First Look: New Art Online. Focusing on online projects and commissions from emerging artists who use the web as a primary medium, Lauren Cornell, the Curator and Associate Director of Technological Initiatives, selects works that investigate the aesthetic, social and critical qualities of the web.
While the digital format of art-making and its virtual experience prompt exciting challenges for curators, it triggers concerns for the future of the art object and the real-life experience of it – a subject that the current online exhibition, Institute for Southern Contemporary Art (ISCA) by João Enxuto and Erica Love, tackle with a frightening project.
“What comes after the Contemporary?” asks the narrator. Acting as a promotional piece for ISCA, the video describes an institute that would design a model where art is a commodity and its automated production is optimized for market consumption. By gathering demographic, psychographic and market data, and by crowd-sourcing taste via social media, the complex ISCA algorithm would create a rational model for art production and anticipate efficiently and productively artistic trends. This compelling, almost convincing online work raises questions on the significance of the datalogical turn in art institutions, the market-driven structures that surround us and the ever-quantifying mind-set that our society is in.
So, could we envision a future where institutions become fully digital? Remembering and documenting exhibitions to ensure its place within art history have been decisive concerns for curators in the post-modern era. With New Museum’s First Look: New Art Online initiative, the museum has provided a solution by conceiving an open online space in which artworks are accessible at all times. This new format conveniently transcends time and space but eventually raises an innumerable amount of questions: How is the curator’s role changing in a situation where the exhibition space and the work become one overlapping entity? Could the experience of online exhibitions definitely replace physical exhibitions? If exhibitions are no longer tied to a specific historical, social and physical context, what will be the future of art history and museums’ infrastructure? Yet, could the online-only model be the only way to resist against growing market-driven institutions such as the terrifying ISCA?
Subscribe to Art Report’s official newsletter for more stories you don’t want to miss.