Thursday 5 July 2012

In which I am particularly puzzled by an art website

Sometimes you wonder ... is it them or me? Sometimes you wonder (like when you ecstasise over Shaun Gladwell's commission for the Govett-Brewster, and then your friend asks you So what makes that different from any other home video?, and you have no answer except Because we have decided it is so) if the art world is an incredibly elaborate house of cards. Sometimes you just wonder where the money's coming from, and why.

Such was my reaction to

That's what you see if you're not logged in. At the moment, membership of the site is only by invitation.

That's (part of) what you see when you're logged in. And I just don't understand. I don't understand what this site is for. I don't understand who it is for. Sure, I can see that it can serve to give you access to current information about shows and artists, images of works, and tell you what's available for sale - but why?

I guess what I'm saying is I don't understand the itch that is scratching. Perhaps it's just not my itch?

The same friend who asked So what makes that different from any other home video? asked whether looking at art onscreen is similar, or a replacement for, looking at art in the flesh. And as much as I love the web, my answer is no.

In response to that question, I told the story of wandering around the corner at the NGV International and laying eyes on Maurizio Cattelan's We are the revolution. And simply laughing aloud. It was so unexpected, so perfect, so satisfying. And it was the act of moving into the work's physical space that made the experience for me. I felt like I had met the work. That we had (excuse me while I get a little woo here) come upon each other in a shared moment. And describing this made me realise how much moving around the physical gallery space means to me; both the walking up to and away from, and side to side of, the individual work, but also the aggregation of work upon work, whether that's a collection hang where you're trying to figure out the curator's thought process, or a body of new work in a dealer gallery where you're trying to figure out where this artist is going now. When I look at art onscreen my mind so rarely moves into that 'figuring out' mode. I look, accept, move on. I rarely ponder or marvel. It's not that the web experience is worse (and dear god, please don't take this as encouragement to not worry about digitising collections and stop butting your head against copyright and getting your own work online). But it is functional rather than emotional - for me at all. And to try it all back - at the moment, as far as I can see, is neither functional nor emotional for me. But perhaps - like I say so often - I just need to look closer.

(Oh, wow. Just after I drafted this post, I received an email from my 'designated specialist, complete with an email address and phone number for contacting her with any questions about the art on the site. Jeepers.)


Raphaelle said...

Hi, I came across your blog which I read with interest.
Having a background in the art world I completely relate to how space is just as important to the work as the piece itself.
This is why I founded ArtSpotter. An app and website to help discover more art and encourage more real space experiences. We want to encourage people to share their discoveries, thoughts, feeling and allow the app to be a mechanism for exploration and awareness, not a substitute.
i would love your feedback as we are a young startup and building new features regularly.

Very best and here's to more unexpected moments.


Rachel MS said...

Just to say that I agree - but occasionally online work does capture my attention in that figuring-out mode (as you describe it, and I don't have a better description). Usually that happens because the work is designed for that type of interaction. I suppose it is part & parcel of the way in which good work thinks about its viewer or participant?