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Collecting and preserving New Media art

The inherently ephemeral nature of much New Media art, as well as its often unfamiliar aesthetics and technologies, posed a challenge to gallerists and collectors. Some artists provide a CD-ROM or other storage device containing a copy of the work (e.g., the sale of a floppy disk containing The World's First Collaborative Sentence to collectors in 1995). Others produce works that take the form of physical objects, such as John F. Simon, Jr.'s wall-mounted "art appliances," ( p. ), which recall framed paintings. Feng Mengbo's Iris prints from his interactive CD-ROMs (image), and Cory Arcangel's silk-screens of images from his Game art works (p.), have had commercial success, partly because such forms are familiar and relatively easy to exhibit. Despite the anti-commercial attitude of many New Media artists and the technological hurdles of presenting their work in galleries, some dealers have sustained significant New Media art programs. Notable examples include Postmasters Gallery, Sandra Gering Gallery, and Bryce Wolkowicz Gallery in New York, Bitforms Gallery in New York and Seoul, and GIMA in Berlin.

Because of its often immaterial nature and its reliance on software and equipment that rapidly becomes obsolete and unavailable, New Media art is particularly difficult to preserve. Just as most of Eva Hesse's latex sculptures from the 1960s and 70s have deteriorated, many works of New Media art will soon be beyond repair. In 2001, a consortium of museums and arts organizations founded the Variable Media Network. These included the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley; Franklin Furnace, the Guggenheim Museum, and in New York, the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology in Montreal, the Performance Art Festival + Archives in Cleveland, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Dedicated to finding ways to preserve works made with non-traditional, ephemeral materials, such as Nam June Paik's video installations, Felix Gonzalez-Torres's piles of give-away candies, and Marc Napier's Net art works, the Network has developed a number of case studies and publications, and a questionnaire that organizations can use to gather preservation-related information from artists. Notable strategies for preserving works of New Media art include documentation (e.g., taking screen shots of Web pages), migration (e.g., replacing outdated HTML tags with current ones), emulation (software that simulates obsolete hardware), and recreation (reproducing old work using new technology).

As of this writing, it remains unclear whether New Media art has run its course as a movement. Artists have always experimented with emerging media, reflecting on and complicating the relationships between culture and technology, and will certainly continue to do so. The explosion of creativity and critical thought that characterized New Media art from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s shows no sign of slowing. But as the boundaries separating New Media art from more traditional forms like painting and sculpture grow less distinct, New Media art will likely be absorbed into the culture at large. Like Dada, Pop, and Conceptual art, it may end as a movement but live on as a tendency?a set of ideas, sensibilities, and methods that appear unpredictably and in multiplicitous forms.

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