[#DIGART] Is Digital Art The New Pop Art?: Q&A With Michael Ruiz Of The Future Gallery
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!
If you look around your city’s local galleries, you’re likely to find the standard fare of paintings, drawings, sculpture and collage. The more experimental among them may do performance pieces or installations or the occasional video show. But few among them will be exhibiting digital art work. In fact, in New York’s Chelsea district, which is home to over 370 galleries, just one is dedicated to new media and digital art. Those aren’t encouraging odds.
Gallerists and curators looking to work with digital art certainly have their work cut out for them, not just because the stuff can often be a pain to exhibit (trust us, we speak from experience), but also because there are few collectors interested in buying. And if you’re a commercial gallery, that means you won’t be open long. Today we speak to Michael Ruiz, artist and co-curator of the Future Gallery in Berlin, who gives us some insight on exhibiting digital works, how he pitches them to potential collectors, and the importance of hyper-real installation documentation.
The Creators Project: What are some of the challenges you face when exhibiting digital art works?
Michael Ruiz: Digital art is a quite art historical term with a history of successful artists, in both the institutional and commercial realms. Does digital in this sense refer to the tools used to arrive at a certain result, or rather is the artwork displayed in digital form?
I started the Future Gallery in 2008 with the aim of striving to understand how artists were making work today, specifically with regard to the internet. Moreover, what role did the internet play in the creation, distribution, consumption, and dissemination of the work? My research led me to drastically different positions, some of which I felt the need to promote and exhibit, simply for the reason that I believed they should be seen and that people might be interested in understanding that this was, at least in my eyes, art. My mission became to translate these sometimes internet-based works into physical space. I was not interested in whether the translation was a failure or a success, but more excited about trying to interpret work, bring it into another context.
To be quite honest, a lot of the works I showed were better seen on a laptop than in a gallery. For example, with an artist like Rafaël Rozendaal, whose primary practice consists of creating websites as works of art. The premiere experience of his work can be had in front of a screen. Nevertheless, his work is brilliant and deserves to be shown in the gallery and museum context, and he has found innovative ways of displaying his work in [three dimensional] space.
I feel the challenge is not the exhibiting this type of work but more facilitating a dialogue about these positions.
“Thank You Very Much,” Rafaël Rozendaal, Exhibition view at Future Gallery
What are the opportunities of exhibiting digital art?
Exhibiting such positions allows for experimentation. Does one simply use a screen, or try print, building, or emulating the digital experience? There are countless ways of interpreting the work in space. One aspect of the work that has become increasingly important is photo documentation of the installation. Artists use Photoshop to manipulate the installation photos to arrive at a hyper-real depiction of their work. Interestingly enough, the majority of art that most people see today is in JPEG form, so the photos that are traveling around the web become highly important in terms of how they represent an artist’s work. There is certainly an opportunity when it comes to producing the documentation images of the work, which are essentially what most people see.
Is there a market for this type of art and if so, how big is it?
Sure, I think there is an increasing market for this type of work. Collectors use computers, too. That being said, collectors tend to be more comfortable collecting objects and tangible matter. So maybe they can’t wrap their head around buying a digital file or even a video, but they can justify buying a printed image.
Future Gallery booth at artgenève fair 2012
How do you facilitate relationships with collectors?
I’d like to think that I do this in the same way as any other gallerist. Usually a collector is interested in certain work or artist, and I try to provide a context for the further understanding of the artist and his or her practice. I try to be brutally honest. Instead of hide the fact the work is digital, I try to use that as a unique selling point. More often than not, they are fascinated to have such conversations.
Why doesn’t the art market truly reflect the contemporary digital arts?
The art market does what it has to do to sustain itself. People want to have things, objects. That is what they buy. Nevertheless, I feel there is room for introducing positions that represent new ways of imagining and understanding the world, which this internet and tech-savvy generation of artists are bringing to the table. The forms these works take can be similar to those that collectors or institutions might be used to dealing with, however, the process involved in arriving at such results can be radically different. Take for example 3D printing, an artist can render a sculpture in a CAD software program, then print it out as a sculpture.
terrainfacialmappr (2012), Brenna Murphy, Archival Digital Print, 150 × 100 cm
What will it take for this type of work to move out from the underground and become profitable and properly integrated into the art historical canon?
I don’t feel this work to be radical or underground, quite the contrary—the work is often quite pop, in its form and content. Take for example Jon Rafman’s Nine Eyes of Google Street View project.
Jon Rafman has spent countless hours exploring the world through the window of Google Street View, saving striking images from the service’s panorama of stitched-together snapshots. The images displayed here represent his collection’s range of sights and moods. Rafman has compared his work with Google Street Views to that of classic street photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, who sought out moments of urgency and serendipity. If Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” then Rafman has decided that his is to make it meaningful.
The work has just as much to say about the history of photography as it does our contemporary condition. The work confronts us with our undeniable humanity by abstracting snapshots taken by a robotic camera. In fact, it makes perfect sense that artists are looking to technology and the internet, because that is what is happening in the world today. If art is to say something about who we are and what we are doing, then who we are, are people behind screens communicating with the each other online via countless possible platforms. Why can’t art do the same, or at least be able to say something about what that means?
8 Rue Valette, Pompertuzat, Midi- Pyrenees, France, Jon Rafman, Digital C-print, 40 × 64 inches
Michael Ruiz is a Berlin-based artist/curator working in the realms of conceptual and new media art. He co-runs The Future Gallery project space.