[#DIGART] Excavating Abandoned Digital Art Galleries

<p>From Rhizome to Hell.com, we count down the OOG&#8217;s (Original Online Galleries) that fell by the wayside.</p>

Emerson Rosenthal

This week we’re exploring the Digital Arts Market (or lack thereof). We’re asking the tough questions: What will it take for a sustainable digital arts market to form? Is that even a possibility? Can the digital arts make money? And will they ever be incorporated into the contemporary arts dialogue? We invite you to participate in the discussion in the comments section, on your own blog (send us the link!), and on Facebook and Twitter (#DIGART). Let's get the conversation started!

In a world of perpetual newness, it’s easy to lose track of all the history and culture that went in to getting us where we are today. The “analog” historian has access to thousands of vaults and archives worldwide filled with millenniums of human existence for his or her browsing. Lucky for us, the digital arts world that we’re delving into this week has an instantaneously searchable, swiftly navigable archive for our historic purposes—it’s called the internet, and even with advances in HTML and the death of GeoCities, it’s been able to preserve a healthy digital arts archive since the glory days of the dancing baby GIF.

First appearing as a message board, and later on as a community, today’s digital gallery performs everything from interactive webcrawling to art sales. But how did we get here? Join us on a trip back in time, as we count down a few of the essential digital arts galleries that brought us into this brave new world.

The Thing

Screenshot from Diane Ludin’s Vanities

Wrought out of the primordial melting pot that was cyberpunk, critical theory, and early 90s internet technology, The Thing was originally developed in 1991 as a locally-based (and we’re talking location-based), new media arts-focused predecessor to today’s online forums, called a Bulletin Board System. In 1995, The Thing founder and early net.art pioneer Wolfgang Staehle fostered the original BBS into a website able to host artists’ pages (like Mariko Mori and Heath Bunting), critical theory forums, arts journals, and more, all operating outside of contemporary art institutions. While the main site appears to be down for the moment, the feeling lives on through a number of linked and associatedartists’ websites.

äda ’web

The äda ’web homepage

With the advent of Mosaic (later Netscape) in 1993, the world welcomed the world’s first multimedia browser into existence. With the newfound ability to log into a server via remote location, media arts critic and founder Benjamin Weil began releasing projects from Muntadas to Jenny Holzer. Ultimately, like many former net galleries, äda ’web’s hosting was purchased by Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center. Its constantly-changing homepage serves as an honest testament to the earliest in net art.


Screenshot from Cory Arcangel’s Data Diaries

Realized in 1996, Turbulence is a New York-based net arts foundation directed by New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc., as part of their commitment to “individuals and collectives = emerging and established – that creatively explore the Internet as both a site of production and transmission.” Turbulence currently features over 200 international projects encompassing the past 16 in net art, and continues to provide studios and commission money for anyone able to secure a fellowship.

Gallery 9

Screenshot from Vivian Selbo’s Vertical Blanking Interval

“A site for project-driven exploration, through digitally-based media, of all things ‘cyber,’” the Walker Arts Center’s 1997-2003 online exhibition space saw projects and commissions from hacktivists 0100101110101101 to preeminent 90s net.artist Olia Lialina. While the project ended in 2003, it featured work from over 100 prominent net artists and still exists in its original, digitally preserved form here.


Luka Frelih’s Desktop

In 1998, when net art hit a peak and was ripe for the commissioning, net artist and theorist Alexei Shulgin asked a couple dozen friends to contribute interactive versions of their personal computer desktops, complete with links to actual folder contents. “The first international exhibitions of desktops online,” the page ran the art world gamut, with desktops from abstract sculptor Jonathan Prince to the New York Times.

Rhizome Artbase

Screenshot from Jon & Alison Thomson & Craighead’s Short Story

Rhizome was originally founded in 1996 as an email list dedicated to the new media arts, but by 1999 they expanded into the net arts powerhouse they are today with the inception of their fittingly titled Artbase, a net art database dedicated to ensuring the, “longevity of these works, not only to ensure that years from now an accurate record of this period of creativity and culture exists, but also to enable researchers to interact with and observe these materials in their intended forms.” Over 2,100 artworks exist on the server, today, from Creator Takeshi Murata to perennial Second Life theorist Jon Rafman. While Rhizome continues to push the net arts envelope worldwide, with seminars, commissions, and showcases worldwide, even you (yes, YOU!) can get in on the action by submitting your own work here!


Screenshot from David Blair’s Waxweb

“It’s about the artist’s look at the way society and technology interact with each other, are each other’s ‘condition.’” Such is the statement at the heart of Germany’s Center for Art and Media Technology’s online gallery space. Started in 1999, Net_Condition features works from net.arts theorist Vuk Cosic to digital-arts pranksters-at-large, JODI. The site currently houses 69 different projects, from 69 different artists, and continues to serve as a global platform for the proliferation and promulgation of all things net art.

Whitney Artport

Screenshot from Mark Napier’s Four

2002 saw American gallery giant The Whitney’s foray into the world of net art, featuring works from heavy hitters Cory Arcangel to Margot Lovejoy. And the best part? Artport is still thriving, boasting a number of new commissions annually, all the while maintaining all of their commissions from 2001-2006 here.


Screenshot from 0100101110101101’s Hell.com copy

Easily the most enigmatic “gallery” on the net (considering that if you aren’t on the in, you can’t get in), Hell.com was part of a private parallel web, an exclusive digital playground made up of numerous sites made inaccessible to anyone without a highly-selective, secret invite. What we know: Hell.com was started by artist, consultant, and architect Kenneth Aronson and sold to domain investor Rick Latona in 1999. But don’t abandon all hope just yet! In 1997, during the first 48 hours of one of Hell.com’s private events, the badass brains behind 0100101110101101 acquired the site’s code and, much to the chagrin of the site’s owners, posted an open copy of the site, still viewable here.Hell.com reacted pretty severely, threatening to sue for copyright infringement, among other things, in one of my favorite strongly-worded emails of all time. RIP Hell.com, you’d be missed more if we could have visited.

Did we miss any? Tell us in the comments below!