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Jed Perl, art critic for the New Republic,
is a scold in the old Hilton Kramer, "art's-going-down-the-toilet" mold, but reactionary criticism can be useful for focusing your thoughts. He gives "BitStreams" at the Whitney serious consideration,
and then comes to the same conclusion that the NY Times
and Village Voice
did: so-called "computer art" hasn't arrived yet. Here's his pitch: "Art has for centuries now been more or less a realm unto itself, dominated by technologies which are distinctive precisely because they are throwbacks to a time when just about everything was handmade. The computer artist means to merge two distinctive modern sensibilities, two very different ways of thinking about creativity. Artistic thinking is cyclical. Scientific thinking is progressivist. The desire to bring technologies derived from the fast-forward world of science into the world of art is a perfectly understandable one, but it is a utopian desire, a desire to reunite what was long ago broken apart. Computer art remains a sort of pipe dream. It's the pipe dream of the moment." Perl is confusing artistic motivation with curatorial aspiration here: if you read the hype on "BitStreams," it's full of future-centric utopian claims (that's what my satirical 1969 news clipping
makes fun of), but if you look at the art, you find that most of it is neither forward nor backward-looking, but focused intently on the present. My main problem with the show, in fact, is that it's too full of sound-bite-friendly, grad school-style critiques of "power relations" or "the media" (an eternal '80s nightmare from which we can't seem to wake up). Having said that, however, I don't think you can accuse the artists of using the computer just to be current. Most of them are doing so because it allows them to say things they couldn't say by more antiquated means. Worshipping the future may be problematic, but saying that art must always cycle back to the cave painting era is just as obnoxious.