For this edition of Fan Mail, the Masur Museum of Monroe, Louisiana has been selected from our worthy reader submissions. Two artists are featured each month—the next one could be you! If you would like to be considered, please submit your website link to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line.
For the upcoming exhibition Computer Aided, the Masur Museum is showing works by the artists Keliy Anderson-Staley (AR), Joshua Chambers (LA), Harold Cohen (CA), Craig Damrauer (LA), Hasan Elahi (MD), Jenny Holzer (NY), John Rodriguez (LA), Marni Shindelman & Nate Larson (GA & MD), Jes Schrom & Graham Simpson (LA), and Kate Shannon (OH), in addition to short video loops from well-known artists Mat Collishaw (UK), Damien Hirst (UK), Shepard Fairey (LA), Jenny Holzer (NY), and Bill Viola (CA), purchased online.
Computer Aided takes a hard look at hierarchy in contemporary art, considering the Masur Museum’s own position as a small institution in upstate Lousiana. By purchasing videos from s[edition], a company founded two years ago to sell limited-edition digital art, the Masur can exhibit these famed contemporary artists “who are otherwise beyond the Mansur’s means,” says curator Benjamin Hickey.
Since the works have been translated to a new kind of art object to be displayed on the screen and bought online, meaning is inevitably altered. Viewing these fabrications or reductions of esteemed visionaries is strange, as is the case with Hirst, Fairey, and Viola. Holzer and Collishaw seem better suited to this format: Holzer’s slogans move across the screen and feel like the kind of art that makes sense to be distributed as a digital file; Collishaw’s Whispering Weeds (a recreation of Albrecht Durer’s Great Piece of Turf, a watercolor from 1503) is beautiful and loops perfectly.
Bill Viola’s video A Phrase from “Chris”, part of his Transfiguration series, is so short that it feels incomplete and its transcendent power is stripped away. Hickey says the “Viola['s] work here is like the title, a phrase. You get what you pay for, [a] very short excerpt.” In this case, the art has been reduced to a repetitive backwards loop.
S[edition] wants to tap into an unexploited market of consumers with limited funds for art collecting. This is not a new idea—it seems like the same kind of thing as selling cards and magnets in museum gift shops. The word seditionis worth defining here—”the stirring up of rebellion against the government in power.” Hickey notes “It is no mistake that s[edition] puns on the word sedition, because it circumvents traditional critical outlets and brings a segment of the current art historical canon out of its ivory tower to be critically appraised.” S[edition] seems to challenge the existing gallery hierarchy, but I imagine people buying these art pieces primarily as screen savers.
The limited edition digital art reminds me of illusory Wall Street financial products, created by imaginative use of contracts and paperwork. S[edition] has strict rules for owning and exhibiting purchased art. “All s[edition] art must be streamed online. This is one way for the site to monitor the dissemination of its content and make it less likely to be distributed or purchased outside of its purview.” Most other kinds of media allow you to use the media while offline, and S[edition]‘s Frequently Asked Questions section notes, “Moving images or videos are not currently available to download…Free s[edition] apps to support offline video viewing will be added soon.” And like the recent lessons of Wall Street, these works raise many questions: what ensures that this art will hold its value? What happens if s[edition] fails?
Hickey describes how the s[edition] videos will be shown: “All of the purchased pieces will loop endlessly while on view in the exhibition. The five s[edition] artists will be displayed together in one of the two main galleries to illustrate the hierarchy concept of the show. Viola and Hirst will play on ceiling mounted projectors. Holzer, Collishaw, and Fairey will be shown on tv pedestals. Hickey says “In the bottom of the pedestals you will be able to see the laptop playing the video. The non-s[edition] artists will have larger installations of their work in the three galleries on the second floor above the main galleries.”
Hickey selected artworks that utilize mass-market electronic technology, so that “museum visitors can take stock of newer art forms as well as evaluate technology’s potential impact on culture in broad terms.” Bringing together “a variety of artists at different points in their careers” emphasizes the non-heirarchical approach to curating a show that the internet allows.
Computed Aided is on view at the Masur Museum from June 26 through October 5, 2013.