Thank you Karin for introducing and inviting all of us to discuss these questions. I have to admit that in the current moment, as the world turns upside down in the U.S. (though hardly exclusively) it’s difficult to concentrate on anything, but I’ll give it a solid go.
Your questions point in many directions including the need for new, or at least updated and expanded, art historical methodologies that address Internet art and within that new hermeneutics for grappling with continuously changing artworks (perhaps these would be called evolutionary hermeneutics or, ironically in the case of Internet art, stateful hermeneutics.)
But I wanted to back up first to the idea of studying the single work of Internet art. I get that we’re talking about a way to discuss artworks, per se, but starting with the single artwork may predetermine the range and type methods we devise. As Internet art and new media art more broadly was accepted into the mainstream art world (historically, I would argue that moment is 2000 and of course this is an ongoing event) it was accepted under the condition that each work be admitted separately and then assimilated into the discourse of contemporary art; it’s previous technological and social contexts downplayed if not erased. Stallabrass offers an analogy from “Netpioneers 1.0: Contextualising Early Net‐based Art”, page 167…
“The recent apotheosis of photography in the museum offers a warning [for Internet art]: the art‐historical texts that accompany, for example, Andreas Gursky’s major show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2001), or Thomas Struth’s show at the Metropolitan Museum (2003), certainly break photography out of its ghetto but at the cost of suppressing the history of photography, the comparisons being with the grand tradition of painting. It was as if photography could only be validated by (doubtful) associations with the already sanctified tradition of Western art.“
I get that the art world has moved past the practice of medium-specificity and that a positive part of this negotiation was to bring the rich intellectual toolkit of contemporary art discourse to bear on Internet art works. But I also think that the art world status quo was/is uncomfortable dealing with these new artworks on their own terms and that something was lost when the art world chose to atomize active communities into trendy (non)objects. It’s as if the wave of new media art broke upon the rock of the institution and we’re now studying the droplets. This negotiation took place only half in the light of public discourse and half more subtly behind closed doors. We see it in the pained look we get from a senior museum curator of painting when we utter the phrase “Internet art” at the curatorial meeting.
Back to methods. So, connoisseurship or close reading could certainly be applied in interesting ways to single works of Internet art. But Internet artworks may reveal new facets when seen in relation to other works or collectively. Toward that end, context-leaning methods such as social art histories might, for instance, name the relationship a given work has with a global tech industry/economy/culture outside the art world as one of those essential qualities that it shares with other Internet art works but not with oil painting. This is not to say that we should revive Greenberg, but only to say that focus and scale could be relevant to our discussion.
I apologize if I’ve unnecessarily focussed on the minutiae of this discussion, and of course it’s not meant as a criticism of the topic (we discussed this off-list before bringing it online.) But these questions got my mind spinning and this was simply the first go-round. Like I said, I’m distracted. I’m eager to hear what others here have to say on the meatier questions.
Samek Art Museum
“Re-Collection: Art, New Media, & Social Memory” (MIT Press)