In Ed Halter's formulation [Rhizome link changed--see below]*, as the world becomes more awash in abstract data, Net artists are reifying their formerly ephemeral work and paradoxically diving into the commodity stream. But what to do with all that hardware in the gallery? One one side of Michael Bell-Smith's recent Foxy Production show cables from computer screens were discreetly attached to the wall, taking the shortest possible distance to the Mac Minis hugging the floor and trying their best to be invisible. On the other side of the gallery the wires were tossed around with Cy Twomblyesque abandon. Which brings us to the Baroque phase and Ray Rapp's work, below. This needed to be done and the gesture to be noted--this is where rematerialization leads, with a "hyperrealized" vengeance.
digital video wall drawings by Ray Rapp
Please note that neither sales nor selling have been discussed so far. Halter's rematerialization rhetoric is old news in the art world. The '80s was all about a "return to painting" after the conceptual experiments of the '70s; like Halter, critics came up with a term to defend a retrograde practice. Back then it was commodification, supposedly a Marxist critique of what the galleries were doing--making bushels of money--that was more of an ironic celebration.
A "net artist" joining a gallery stable merely revisits, say, Jenny Holzer's transition from a "relational" artist tacking up her truisms on New York phone poles to an internationally-feted mega artist using increasingly bombastic (and highly sellable) LED displays (similar to corporate stock tickers).
The rematerialization part isn't new and the sales part isn't interesting.
After the Halter thread on Rhizome I had a phone conversation with Steven Hansbruch of Schmulke Bruengross Gallery, where I've been showing work. He's been mixing media and non-media in his gallery, and felt the reason for materializing art (forget the De- or Re-) was to get it into a public space where people could look at it, hear it, and talk about it. When we were doing the [two shows we worked on] we were talking mainly about how to translate theretofore privately-consumed Web work for a "commons" where people would be walking around and presumably would not want to be bored. Believe it or not, some people have a jones for a white box space and seeing what happens in it. Doing the shows required a hybrid thought process of thinking about what was important online and what was important in meat space/meet space. Yes, we talked about the f*cking sales process, a necessary part of keeping the gallery doors open, I think, but the excitement of the shows was, um, the shows.
Update: gallery and dealer names changed after the Rhizome thread went all ad hominem.
*Update, 2011: The Rhizome link has been changed to http://rhizome.org/editorial/2008/apr/1/the-rematerialization-of-art/