Paddy Johnson on Unmonumental Online

In Paddy Johnson's review of the "Unmonumental Online" show at the New Museum, she refers to the Whitney's 2001 computer art show "BitStreams" as "disastrous" and casting a long shadow over subsequent attempts to show net art or computer art in museums. She doesn't say why that is so or why the NewMu show is an improvement.

Johnson implies that "BitStreams" was not popular (by lumping it in with MOMA's largely undiscussed "Automatic Update" show). It was very popular, attendance-wise, and got barrels of press ink. That's one of the reasons it was disastrous. People saw curator Lawrence Rinder's largely bad taste on display and thought "so that is the art that is made with computers." I wrote about it here and won't go into it again. The show was heavy on bells and whistles, Exploratorium-style art, the most elementary things that could be done with Photoshop, and the usual workstations no one wants to stand at.

Since that time social networking sites have dominated the Web and a fair amount of exchange and cross-pollination has happened with art online. The NewMu show at least acknowledges this with pages lifted from YouTube, LiveJournal, etc. and artists working in the media of blogs and browser-friendly file formats. "BitStreams" was dominated by a group of artists who came to prominence in the dot com, Net Art 1.0 era; "Unmonumental Online" is dominated by a group who came to prominence in the post-dot com, Net Art 2.0 era. More could be written about these two periods and how the shows reflected the strengths and weaknesses of each.