Here's how the most expensive art website ever sold signals changing market attitudes towards digital art.
New media artist Alexandra Gorczynski is known for net art that obliterates lines between the fine and digital art forms. After Dark, her first collection for DIY publishing platform NewHive, sold for $5,000 at Gorczynski's Zhulong Gallery exhibition at the PULSE Art Fair during Miami Art Week. Howard and Zhulong didn't make the buyer's name public, but noted the person is a well-respected contemporary art collector. After Dark is still globally accessible to anyone with Internet access at smokeinmirrors.net, however, and Howard has said that the collector will give After Dark physical incarnation—a screen running the webpage—public exhibition opportunities.
After Dark is a blend of video, photographs, and digital painting informed by Gorczynski's background in painting. It features video of the artist's roving eye, scanning, perhaps, a computer screen, on top of which appear images like a photoshopped leaf, a cursor icon, and a procession of colorful, digitally-painted shapes. A click on Gorczynski's eye reveals a page with billowing blue and red smoke, and a sculpture possibly mutilated by Gorczynski's hand.
So what rules govern the sales of artworks like After Dark? It's an important question since these works have domains that must be maintained and upheld. As Howard said, After Dark was sold using the artist Rafaël Rozendaal's Art Website Sales Contract, which the artist created in 2011 with the help of a lawyer, his gallerist, and other advisors and artists.
“The contract states that the domain name will be transferred to the collector so they can renew it annually, keeping the work publicly viewable, and in exchange his and/or her name will be listed in the title bar above the URL,” Howard told The Creators Project. “The genius of the Art Website Sales Contract is that it appeases both the economic model of scarcity by providing a unique domain name, while also remaining free and open to the public online. Rafaël Rozendaal's Art Website Sales Contract has become the industry standard and can be used by anyone who wants to buy or sell an art website.”
Rozendaal himself told The Creators Project that he's been selling “websites-as-artworks” to various collectors since 2004. This summer, the artist made waves with the $3,500 sale of ifnoyes.com at the Paddles ON! exhibition at Philip's Auction House. “I made this contract public to encourage the sale of websites-as-artworks, because I think it is important to support art that is publicly accessible,” Rozendaal explained. “[I've] sold about 40, [and] I've made 112 websites so far. It's collectors who are interested in radical forms of art ownership.”
And what might appeal to collectors interested in radical new forms of art ownership? Zach Verdin of NewHive thinks it might have something to do with a redefinition of the frame. With a digital art sale, Verdin believes the public site public opens up a conversation as to the expanding nature of the frame: “[N]ow that art may be directly accessed via a URL—and may be, in the case of NewHives—transported to other websites via an iframe, the traditional notions of the frame are being re-contextualized,” Verdin said. “One thing for certain is that I want to have art around me wherever I go, which is what makes the portable, flexible nature of digital art exciting to me."
While Gorczynski is happy that After Dark sold during Miami Art Week, she does have some reservations about collectors' motivations for buying new media art works. This, she believes, has to do with limitations of art displayed on the Internet. “My approach to making and viewing works of art comes from a sense of attention, one utterly different than any other form of consumption,” said Gorczynski, who describes herself as a painter and not a web designer or computer scientist. “To me, the Web invites everything but that kind of patience. As a result, I am truly mixed over displaying 'art' on the Internet; it evacuates not only context but the specificity of display and thereby denies the artist any control.”
“At first, I enjoyed the immediacy and cost-free, DIY aspect of using current technology to make digital based videos and images,” she said. “There was a time when it was avant-garde to use the Internet as a zone for sharing and creating work. But now, that immediacy has been transformed by all sorts of forces into an acceleration that urges this awful, rapid fire production.”
Gorczynski also sees an erasure of artists' individualized senses of color and form because of collectors' “buzzing desire” for work that reflects technology. “Things are less records of expression and more reflections of novel technology itself,” she said. With Recital, her latest work which was commissioned by curator Lindsay Howard, Gorczynski succeeds at reemphasizing this personal expression, imparting the same appreciation of color and form that was at the heart of After Dark.
Recital grew out of painting processes both traditional and digital, as well as video manipulation. It needed to be something other than an eye-popping spectacle of technology. So Gorczynski built the work out of mined found-Internet videos and an emotional attachment to 20th century experimental composer Erik Satie's “Gymnopedie No. 1.” To wit, Recital features amateur and imperfect YouTube videos set to the composition. She collages these videos with stills as well as digital and traditional paintings, forging these elements into an emotional interactive experience.
Recital's multimedia collage moments remind us that net art can move—and not just dazzle with technological abilities. Some collectors, like the radical ones Rozendaal hopes to attract, will appreciate this depth, while other collectors may not. Either way, today's market is like the Wild West when it comes to new artforms, presenting unprecedented opportunities for the artists, gallerists, and collectors of the future.