“WE ARE ALL READY FOR A CHANGE”. INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN SACKS
by Domenico Quaranta
Wired called him “the king of Digital Art”. Maybe this headline is a
little bit exaggerated, but what's true is that Steven Sacks is one of
the few people in the world who are able to make New Media Art
digestible for collectors. Steven is the founder of the well known
bitforms gallery in New York, but what tickled my attention, and gave
rise to this little interview, is another – maybe less significant, but
more visionary – initiative: softwareARTspace
(http://www.softwareartspace.com/). He writes on the website:
“softwareARTspace was started to distribute unframed software art pieces
– art that is delivered on a CD and is viewed with a computer and screen
of choice... Although you can use software art on existing systems, it
is my belief and conviction that software art should and will become a
dedicated experience, just as you hang a painting or a photo. Once you
have a software art station in place, you can easily switch amongst your
In my opinion, this idea of a “software art station” is 50% naive, 50%
ingenious. So, I drop a line to the naive genius who conceived it...
This interview was conducted via email in May, 2007 for an article
published in Flash Art, June 2007.
Domenico Quaranta. As a gallery owner, you are already dealing with
Software Art, and with New Media Art in general. How do you sell digital
works through the gallery? Video recordings? Prints? Installations?
Steven Sacks. I do not like the term “digital”. It's too narrow and
typically defined too commercially. I deal with New Media Art which many
times integrates new technologies or the influence of media on society.
Software-based works have been a major focus of the gallery and I
believe is the most significant “art practice” change of my generation.
We offer all types of media from video to sculpture, but the works must
have a connection to new media. Much of what we offer is sold just as
they have been for many years. Software Art works tend to be more
challenging to sell, but offer the collector an artistic experience
unlike any other. These works are driven by a computer and are either
generative or interactive or both. The software is typically offered on
a CD and/or embedded in a computer that the artist has specified.
Depending on what the work is, there are a number of back-up and
conservation methods that need to be addressed.
DQ. Why did you decide to open softwareARTspace? What's the difference
with bitforms gallery, concerning the way you sell Software Art?
SS. softwareARTspace was started to introduce and educate the main
stream and to some extent the art world about Software Art and some of
the artists engaged in the practice. These works were offered in very
large editions at affordable prices so more people could experience and
collect New Media Art from a range of well known software-based artists.
The work is only available through online purchase and is packaged very
nicely. Some of the softwareARTspace artists also show at bitforms gallery.
DQ. About experiencing the work, you talk about a dedicated machine, "a
software art station". It seems to me weird and provocative at the same
time. At the beginning, Net Art and Software Art tried to introduce new,
democratic ways to experience art: but, entering the art market, they
usually lost this visionary approach, looking for more traditional,
“materialized” interfaces (prints, videos, sculptures and so on).
softwareARTspace seems to look for a viable way to re-propose that
visionary approach. Do you think that we are now ready for totally new
ways to experience art?
SS. There are some very simple reasons why we are all ready for a
change. Access and price. It is now very easy to access computers and
screens and the prices have dropped dramatically. The thought of having
2-3 screens devoted to software or video art is not unreasonable and in
fact will broaden and diversify most people's collection. Also, for some
works of art it is ok to rotate between pieces on one screen which also
offers collectors a nice option for easily and quickly changing their
DQ. What I buy when I buy one of your multiples? Is it like buying video
art? Or more likely buying a software or a game? Why do you make
editions of 5000 instead of 50? Is it still art, when it costs 125 $?
SS. It is not video. It is code - Software Art. The work is on a CD and
must be viewed on a computer with a decent graphics card.
This is not about “collecting” and value. It's about experiencing a
sample of work from important software artists. When these artists
produce more “fine artworks” they will have the attention of a wider
audience who may be interested in smaller editions or unique objects.
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