\ Joshua Decter \ Lari Pittman \ David A. Ross \ Peter Schjeldahl \ Benjamin Weil \ Q&A \

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Now we have a new medium, The Web. Accidentally developed by the Defense Department, now fallen into the hands of poets and artists and those who have different uses for this tool then were initially intended. It seems to me that for the first time, both the tools of production and the tools of distribution are potentially in the hands of artists. Because of that, it changes a set of critical relationships that have been ironically referred to over the last 20 years, but now can be directly challenged, or at least reconsidered, as artists begin to construct works of art using this new set of distinctive features and distinctive qualities that are specific to this new medium.

First of all, in this new area or medium, in this new world, every reader is a writer, and every writer is a reader. The presumption of authority based on the position of being the first writer is challenged by the ability of anybody to stake out a position equal to that of the initial sender or the initial creator of the work. So you only maintain your authority based on your ability for a work of art, or any work, or any idea to stand in competition with other ideas.

Authority does not come from having the keys of the institution, authority does not come from owning the television camera, or the television broadcasting facility; authority in fact, comes from the quality of ideas. And that is rather extraordinary.

The second major element that we have yet to see exploited in this new medium -- but one that I believe has distinct possibilities -that go well beyond what was experimented with by theatrical artists in the 70's and 80's such Bob Wilson -- is the notion of creating truly epic works. Bob Wilson could get us to sit in BAM for two days to see the life and time of Queen Victoria and you could nod off, wake up, and still be in the middle of that work and enjoy it enormously-- and enjoy the ambition that made that kind of demand on an audience. But now, with the real estate cost of the Web being as low it is, it may be possible to construct a work that in fact does not compress real time into some manageable and communicable version of time that is communicated through a medium like television.

On the Web, one can create direct one-to-one works of art that are in fact truly epic in relation to "live" life. The Web is unlike a situation such as an alternative artist-run space, or an institution like DIA. At DIA, for example, an artist can have an exhibition up for eight or nine months; but on the DIA Web site, an artist can potentially have occupy a space for five, maybe ten years. A work can evolve with a very different calculus, and the evolution of works that take on this kind of scale and this attitude towards the relationship of a work of art and life as it is lived in real time, is something that I look forward to exploring, seeing, experiencing and trying to understand.

Third, and perhaps most importantly: within the Web, it is possible to construct works that not only engage time, but also involve text, still images, and inter-activity in a very direct way--- in a very real way that is not simply about a passive kind of inter-activity that comes from pressing a bottom in response to a set of questions. In the Web, audiences and artists can exchange identities to emerge into a new collective identity which may challenge our core concept of what means to be an artist. We should not turn away from the potential of art engaging a new medium like the Web, in which new kinds of relationships, new forms of psychosis, can be developed that engage, confound and even transform a culture in the process. What would this do to museums? What would the evolution of this form do to art magazines? How would it effect an institution like the School of Visual Arts? Well, I can speak from the perspective of a museum director who faces such questions, and the potential of change, with a certain amount of delight and perhaps relish; I believe that an institution such as the art museum needs to change and needs to continually evolve in relationship to the what artists are demanding of us and what our audience is demanding of us. But on a certain level, museums remain the same. Museums will for all time be physical structures with the responsibility to maintain physical objects to care and protect for all time.

On that level, museums can't change, unless we are going to void a very serious set of promises that we have made to our society. At the same time, if in fact the museum intends to extend itself by using the Web, and if notions of authority can be challenged in relationship to ideas of curatorship or ideas of maintaining authority based on having access to wealth and power. As it stands right now, the Whitney has been engaged in an experiment on the Web for about a little over a year, and we've changed it twice during that time. We've tried to find ways of extending the traditional ways that the Museum works. We realized we can't show painting on the Web, or sculptures in a traditional way, any better than you can show it on television. I appreciated Joshua's exhibition downtown and the video tape he made with it. But the irony of course of putting painting on television is too close to the conundrum that Americans seem to encounter-- i.e., mistaking the menu for the food. Painting is not meant to be seen on television; it is a different kind of experience, and one severely degraded from the relationship to the picture that you see when you are in front of it. And yet there are other things that we can do. We can extend access to our archives every day; we have hundreds of people from all over the world accessing the Web to do research in archives maintained by the museum over the years. And that access is free.

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