My Art World is Bigger Than Your Art World

Cory Arcangel does not seem to be particularly concerned with the multiple formats his work exists in when it comes to it being acquired by a collector or institution.

He does see the value in it being circulated in various realms, especially on the internet, where eight trillion people could potentially be exposed to the project. According to the artist, this was his whole reason for creating the work in the first place.

In 1997, 80 years after Marcel Duchamp made an impact on the art world with his now-famous urinal, a selection of artists who specialized in internet-based art were invited to attend documenta, an exhibition held every five years in Kassel, Germany.

Known for its controversial topics and its willingness to welcome new art forms, documenta was the perfect spot for what was then commonly referred to as

This international and impromptu collective of web art practitioners, including Heath Bunting (UK), Vuk Cosic (Slovenia), (Netherlands), Olia Lialina (Russia) and Alexei Shulgin (Russia), had only connected virtually and in person at festivals.1

These artists from Eastern Europe and Russia, who were isolated from the contemporary art market, found the internet to be an effective way of displaying their artwork to a global audience.

Bruce Sterling wrote an essay in 1993 which outlined the reasons why the internet was seen as “utopian,” “revolutionary,” “equalizing,” and “democratic”; he noted that the internet was a “true, modern, functional anarchy” with no “bosses,” “board of directors,” or “stockholders” as long as the TCP/IP protocols were followed.

Furthermore, the notion of what constituted art and the existing institutions to contain and present it (museums, galleries) were questioned due to the “web art,” “internet art,” and “new media art” which challenged the separation of art and non-art and the artist’s involvement in the creative process.

Heath Bunting’s 1994 work, which was posted to the web and is now accessible at, is often cited as the earliest example of web art. His creative project involved randomly connecting hundreds of internet users to hundreds of London commuters by asking visitors to his site to call the numbers at Kings Cross Station.

This event demonstrated the vast reach of the internet and the potential of grassroots participation.

Olia Lialina’s 1996 work, My Boyfriend Came Back from the War (, is considered a landmark in what she refers to as the “heroic” period of internet art.

Lialina used early web browser technology and HTML to create a story about war and love that is both personal and political. Users navigate the narrative by clicking on images and text, which lead to a system of multiplying frames.

Exploration of the web’s artistic and creative capabilities began in 1991 with various independent groups. One of these was The THING, a forum devoted to modern art and cultural studies.

Wolfgang Staehle, the creator of The THING, articulated his enthusiasm for the outsider status of web art in an interview with internet art critic and theorist Tilman Baumgaertel, claiming, “I thought it was absurd to criticize the art distribution institutions within those same institutions.

It was like just moving furniture around… One of the things that made The Thing successful was that the traditional art distribution system didn’t even pay it any attention. We also enjoyed the thrill of feeling like a clandestine group.”

The artists Sterling cites may not have subscribed to his utopian visions, even though they acknowledged the freedoms of working online. Being of an age that witnessed the fall of Communism, they still viewed the web as a potentially dangerous place (being the product of the RAND Corporation and the Pentagon).

Matthew Fuller, an artist and writer, conveyed to the “nettime” mailing list his disapproval of the naive acceptance of the internet as a revolutionary medium.


Subject: SPEW

From: Matthew Fuller

Date: Wed, 8 Nov 1995 23:00:39


The internet is populated by a wide variety of people from all corners of the world. Islamic astrologers, office bombers, terrorist aspirants and vacuum cleaner devotees are all connected and communicating.


Furthermore, the private security firm Group Four is using GreenNet to investigate U.K. environmental activists.


Statistics devotees are also present, and according to Time magazine, a few weeks before the U.S. intervention in Haiti, CIA PsyOps teams were part of the virtual community by sending emails to some of the members of Haiti’s oligarchy who had computers.

The works of the early web era often displayed a combination of fascination and distrust. In 1995, (Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmas) released a piece that intentionally revealed the core of the web and the HTML language that was used to program it.

This “View Source” feature, which is featured on the menu bar of any web browser, opened the door to an open-source culture that allowed people to learn, exchange, or take (depending on the perspective) any webpage and its content.

he artists’ “” page showed up as a black background with green, and seemingly random, alphanumeric code. However, once the “View Source” option was activated, it became clear that the lines of code were forming an image – a precise diagram of a bomb.

Despite their initial wariness of using the web as an exhibition space, some net.artists and other artists agreed to take part in the 1997 documenta (nicknamed documenta X).

The show promised to use the web for both instructional purposes (to support artists working with painting, sculpture, and video) and to allow artists to create art specifically for the web.

Curators made the works available on the documenta website, but they were also installed in what were called “office spaces” as opposed to the typical white-cube gallery spaces other artists were given.

The relationship between the art world and the clandestine group began to deteriorate shortly after.

The curators meant to take the artwork off the internet at the end of documenta X and offer it for sale as a CD-ROM, which threatened to make a project based on total accessibility limited to only a few.

Vuk Cosic, to show disapproval of the curators’ inability to recognize the importance of web art, copied the entire documenta X website and posted it to a different server, calling it Documenta Done (1997).

This website, preserved on a Slovenian art lab’s page (, has made these works available to the public without a fee or any institutional assistance, and it has been that way for the last 8 years since the closing of documenta X.

In comparison to the work of other celebrated artists, Duchamp’s act of placing a urinal in a gallery might seem, in hindsight, like an unimportant rearrangement of furniture. While once viewed as a bold statement against the accepted standards of art, Fountain has since acquired a place of significance in the art world, similar to the works of Picasso or Matisse.

A replica of Fountain can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art and another was sold for over $1.7 million in 1999.

This demonstrates that Duchamp’s critique of the system was ultimately confined within the system, as a urinal can be bought, signed and owned. As a result, his progressive message was quickly adopted and utilized for monetary gain.

In contrast to this, web artists who value open-source systems have posed the most considerable challenge to the art world’s ambitions for money and status – due to their knowledge of both closed and open systems.

This has enabled them to outsmart those who sought to impose value on them, by adding layer upon layer of ironic commentary and humorously ridiculing any attempts to do so.

In 1979, Sherrie Levine’s series After Walker Evans, a powerful comment on originality and authorship, was copyrighted and became a much sought-after item.

Meanwhile, the original Evans photos were public domain and available to anyone who wanted to purchase them from the Library of Congress.

Michael Mandiberg’s internet art website, (and also scans the same Evans exhibition images, making them free to download and print.

Each print comes with a certificate of authenticity for the “owner” to sign. Mandiberg has a strategy of creating physical objects with cultural value, but with little to no economic value.

This raises many questions: why would an artist strive for no economic value? How can a system outside the system become viable if the main means of cultural and financial viability is intentionally prevented?

Will the revolutionary impulse become weakened if internet artists work both inside and outside of the closed and open systems? Is it likely that, to future generations, internet art will look like pointless rearranging of furniture?

A Brief Account of the Growing Power of Soundless Art in Outer Space

Through the years, numerous projects and artists have attempted to disturb the closed-off and ostentatious nature of art world customs, with varying levels of success.

Photography was more influential in shaking up the market systems of the art world than Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. Walter Benjamin, a German philosopher, posed an interesting query in his renowned essay

“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”: “Was the invention of photography transforming the complete nature of art?”

Benjamin then utilized the medium of photography to explain his historical explanation of the essential nature of art–its “aura.”

The aura, which is referred to as the intangible trait that endows the object with its unique and original character, is weakened by a photograph’s capacity to be quickly and identically replicated.

Despite its lack of an iconic ‘aura’, photography has still managed to be highly regarded in the art world, with the concept of ‘vintage’ prints, limited editions and special mounting techniques all being employed to make the reproducible appear unreproducible.

Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer and the creator of Camera Notes opened Gallery 291 in New York in 1905, a pioneering gallery in North America exhibiting photography.

Stieglitz was instrumental in improving the standing of photography in the art world, while still being devoted to the qualities of the medium that set it apart from traditional art forms.

In a catalogue preface to a later exhibition of his own work, Stieglitz summarised his goals:

“My ideal is to achieve the ability to produce numberless prints from each negative, prints all significantly alive, yet indistinguishably alike, and to be able to circulate them at a price no higher than that of a popular magazine or even a daily paper.”7

Sixty years after Alfred Stieglitz opened Gallery 291, a similar push for inclusion resulted in the emergence of video art.

Sony’s invention of the portable Porta Pak video camera in the mid-1960s enabled the cheap, straightforward, and convenient production of moving images, which caught the attention of artists such as Nam June Paik, Steina and Woody Vasulka, and Bill Viola.

These artists not only adopted the technology, but also the ideology, with a vision for independent television stations and distribution networks which would be free of the rules of traditional broadcasting and art galleries.

Bill Viola, interviewed in a New York Times article about the video art collection, expressed that “we wanted art that could not be sold, but broadcast on television.”

In 1969, the Howard Wise Gallery hosted the notable TV as a Creative Medium exhibition, introducing the New York art world to a unique style of video art.

Nam June Paik’s 1963 piece Participation TV, which had already been showcased in Germany, and Ira Schneider and Frank Gillette’s Wipe Cycle (1969) were among the works.

The latter included nine television sets and a closed-circuit camera, where live images and broadcast television were cycled, with visitors to the gallery also becoming a part of the video landscape.

Though the exhibition was influential, Wise decided to shut down his gallery in 1970 and shared his reasoning in an open letter: “[Artists] are focusing their energies on works of such scope that these can only be hinted at here in the Gallery, and cannot be shown or realized here.

These artists are going out of the Gallery into the environment, the sky, the ocean, even outer space.”

In 1971, Wise created Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), an organization that served as an embodiment of the early days of video art production.

He had an ambitious outlook for EAI and the potential of video to alter mainstream television, and he expressed his excitement for its social and artistic capabilities.

Dinosaurs could be replaced by mice in terms of technological innovation. Video artist producers can now benefit from the new, lightweight and affordable portable equipment which can produce programs of broadcast quality.


In theory, producers can now participate in the broadcasting system, yet, in reality, the system is still closed off to them.


With the advent of cable TV, there are a multitude of new channels and distribution networks that could provide the artists a chance to showcase their innovative programming.

The North American broadcast industry was greatly impacted by the introduction of cable TV and the growth of public access television and the Public Broadcasting System during the 1950s and ’60s.

As a result, broadcasting networks devoted a lot of resources to artist projects and community programming. In 1969, WGBH in Boston engaged various artists, including Paik, to create works for broadcast.

This program, The Medium Is the Medium, is the initial example of the union between public television and the arising medium of video art. From 1973 to 1984, WNET in New York had The TV Lab, which provided the same assistance and support for the works of Viola, Gary Hill, and Mary Lucier.

In 1973, with the help of both WGBH and WNET, Paik produced one of the most renowned video works of the 1970s, Global Groove, an aggregation of commercial images, Korean folk dancers, and footage of Allen Ginsberg playing the tamblas–preceded by a voice-over that prophesies:

“This is a glimpse of a video landscape of tomorrow, when you will be able to switch to any TV station on the earth, and TV Guide will be as thick as the Manhattan telephone book.”

In North America, numerous video collectives and distribution centers were formed by social and artistic groups to promote awareness and activism.

Examples of these successful structures include Video Data Bank in Chicago, V-Tape in Toronto, and Ant Farm in San Francisco (Europe had a related movement).

Two of these active video collectives–the New York-based Raindance Collective and Videofreex–published the journal Radical Software from 1970 to 1974.

This journal offered an open dialogue about video’s potential as a creative and social instrument.

It featured contributors such as Gene Youngblood and Buckminster Fuller, and discussed topics such as artwork theory, reviews of equipment, political and social commentary, and user-friendly instructions on how to construct a video production studio in the back of a Volkswagen bus.9

Video posed a philosophical challenge to the structures of art, such as photography, by casting doubt on the idea that only original and unique works could be seen as art.

The notion of artistic genius was also put into question as new media opened the door for anyone with a camera to become an artist.

This disruption to the aura of the art object and the artist caused a major obstacle in gaining acceptance from traditional critics and institutions.10,11

In 1972-73, the art world looked to find a way to integrate the emerging medium of video art into the gallery system.

Leo Castelli and Sonnabend, two of New York’s most successful commercial galleries, joined forces to distribute “artist videotapes” (as the works were then called) created by artists such as Bruce Nauman, John Baldessari, and Richard Serra.

To preserve the object value of these works, limited editions and certificates were created, and the artist’s signature was added to VHS tapes and DVDs. This was a way of adapting art world conventions to the new media.

Under the pressure from galleries, the art market, and the validation by museums and collectors, Video Art evolved into Video Installation.

This transformation brought with it the need for a gallery or museum to properly view the installation’s multiple projections and complex sculptures, thus the grassroots open access of video was overshadowed.

Nowadays, video is not chosen as the medium of choice because of its freedom from the market system, but rather because it is as prevalent as any other art commodity.

Despite its initial complexity, contemporary video art has achieved great success, but not in the manner initially envisioned.

As David Ross, a renowned curator and former director of the Whitney and SFMOMA stated, “Artists were producing old wine in new bottles” and also that “most video art was incredibly boring, dreadfully underproduced, if intentionally or not, as if in a way to reframe Andy Warhol’s Empire as an action drama, which in a way it was.”

In the past, Electronic Arts Intermix was established as an alternative to the gallery system; however, now it has a beneficial relationship with these galleries, offering artists and collectors access and support at an economical rate.

Despite the fact that the conception of Wise and his contemporaries did not fully come to fruition, the internet has ultimately taken the place of television in the last three decades.

Net Artist Origin: Availability of Net Art for Purchase

CJ: Did you ever have a notion of coming to New York to pursue art?

CA: No, it was by chance. My parents sold their house in Buffalo, which led me to New York, and it wasn’t until I got here and learned about galleries that I thought about showing my artwork.

CJ: How did you make contacts?

CA: I visited a small gallery in Chinatown and told the curator that I had artwork. She asked me to show her my portfolio, and I got a show. I then slowly started to learn about other galleries and curators. I had no idea what a New York gallery was until I arrived.

CJ: You and your collaborators were making art in college, correct?

CA: Yes, but not with any serious artistic intent. We were just having fun and putting our work on the internet. We even had a record label that we created online and the art only came when I moved to New York.

When we met Cory Arcangel, he was 27 and wearing a “Codewarrior” t-shirt and a blazer with a Netscape logo on the lapel. His 2002 hack of the classic Nintendo game, Super Mario Bros., has earned him recognition from art collectors, the internet community, and gamers.

The hack was done by taking out the cartridge’s computer chip, reprogramming it, and then putting it back in. The result was a starkly minimalist landscape with no Mario character, coin blocks, or poisonous mushrooms; only white clouds floating in a blue sky.

Super Mario Clouds can be experienced in a variety of contexts. In a gallery setting, it is presented as an installation consisting of the Nintendo computer, a modified game cartridge, and multiple projectors that project the video onto the walls.

What sets Super Mario Clouds apart from other works featured in the Whitney Biennial is its presence in the online “home brew” computer culture. This involves a network of gamers and hackers promoting open-source software development and creativity. Examples of this include sharing software modifications, the latest video game emulators, and even methods for hacking Domino’s Pizza.

Although it is possible to purchase copies of Super Mario Clouds 13 from Team gallery for a hefty price, you can also get it by going to Arcangel’s web page and downloading it onto your own computer. Or, even better, you can follow the instructions to make your own version.

Put #DELAYSCROLL into the accumulator.

Store that value in address $21.

Place #NTShow in the A-register.

Store that in address $22.

Load #SCROLL into the accumulator.

Place this value in address $24.


The only thing I altered was the program chip; I left the graphic chip from the original game as it was.


Since I didn’t change anything about the graphics, the clouds you see in the game are the exact same ones that were soldered to the Mario cartridge in the factory.


There is no degradation of the image, and no copying was required since I didn’t even need to make a copy. Wasss up.

Arcangel’s “help files” have enabled others to completely reimagine Super Mario Clouds in a variety of forms, including a Game Boy version, a screen saver, and a DVD. His goal, despite his atypical approach, was to produce something that could be hung up on the wall, leading him to create a large edition of Clouds posters that he sold on his website for $19.95.

A decade ago, member Lialina created My Boyfriend Came Back from the War, which has since grown into a larger entity known as The Last Real Net Art Museum (

The museum is a collection of works by other artists based on Lialina’s original, including paintings, a T-shirt, a video game, a PowerPoint presentation, a blog, and more.

This work, much like Arcangel’s Super Mario Clouds, explores the intersection between ephemeral and object, open and closed systems – all within the realm of digital art commodification.

When Lialina launched Art Teleportacia in 1998, which she called The First Real Net Art Gallery, her intention was to make net art available for purchase.

The first exhibition, Miniatures of the Heroic Period, consisted of a single page with descriptions of the works and prices ranging from $1,000 to $2,000.

Despite this, Lialina claimed in an interview with Baumgaertel that she never said the internet was her way of escaping the art institutions.

She believed someone would be willing to buy the art even though it could be seen online for free. This initiative posed questions regarding the distribution and reception of works lacking physical attributes and whether or not the scene and the art market would take part in it.

Although some articles were written about the lack of response to the gallery, it ultimately sold very few works.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, museums around the world sought to acquire internet art for their collections (including the Guggenheim, the Tate, the Walker, and the Whitney).

However, the enthusiasm was short-lived due to the dot-com bust and lack of market interest, leading to the removal of new media curators and programs from major institutions. Writer Isabelle Graw denounced web art in the well-known magazine Texte zur Kunst in 1998.

In response, Baumgaertel wrote “Mafia Versus Mafia: About Tribal Wars Between Conceptual Art and Net Art,” in which he argued that anyone with a computer, modem, and internet access could be an artist.

Unfortunately, “net art per se” suffered consequences from the institutionalized art world.

Despite the challenge, some New York galleries such as bitforms and Postmasters Gallery are still attempting to market network-based art to customers.

Tom Vanderbilt’s feature on bitforms proprietor Steven Sacks which was published in Wired magazine in September, highlighted Sacks’s mission to “turn high-tech into a hot commodity,” and asked “whether Americans are ready to hang screens on their wall that don’t get HBO”.

Nevertheless, as with the emergence of video installations, new media art installations have also developed as artists explore ways to reconcile these two production paths.

While some may see this commodification as the weakening of a progressive impulse, the work of artists such as Arcangel and Lialina suggest another potential: that the most effective way to critique a restricted system is through the inclusion of an open practice.

Despite the potential for success, some lament the current state of affairs. Cosic expressed his feelings about the premiered of his File Extinguisher project at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in an email to curator Sarah Cook.

“It wasn’t like this in the past when work was shared through Heath, Jodi, or Alexei. It was more of a collective search and a kind of competitive love.

This time, it felt like I was a career artist blindly running, hoping the noise and bustle was the fast lane and not the jeers of the crowd…something like that (sorry for being poetic).”

Cosic, who has exhibited in renowned art events such as the Venice Biennale and the Vienna Kunsthalle, has also expressed regret: “I am not only criticizing the art world I was born into, but also acknowledging my own role in its propagation.

It is not enough to simply recognize the transformation from community to audience; I must accept my part in it as well. I believe this is a significant factor; maybe it’s something related to my European Jewish heritage…”

It is not solely the market that causes works of new media art to become commodified; the artists themselves need to make a living, and numerous, like video installation artists before them, are switching to a two- or three- (or six-) pronged approach to art making–free websites and installations or objects for sale.

Though closed systems provide clear advantages, open systems can potentially provide the advantage of exposing more people to more products.

Couldn’t the aim be, as Arcangel proposes at the beginning of this essay, to create something whose online availability gives it an intangible worth?

The development of new media art mimics that of photography, video, and the urinal of Duchamp, and brings to light the mixed feelings of all progressive art movements: the shameful urge to be accepted into the commercial market to demonstrate an artist’s success.

In the middle of September, Cory Arcangel posted on his website the source of one of his creations that uses Nintendo, Japanese Driving Game (2005).

This racing game is composed of only the road ahead and no cars or other obstructions–the epitome of a road-trip movie. Just like with Clouds, Arcangel is providing a run of Japanese Driving Game posters for a brief period at a price of $19.95 each.

CtlnJns (4:51:03 PM): So, I noticed you have posters for sale. What was the motivation for making them again? Was it because you wanted your friends to have an original Cory Arcangel?

rudytardy (4:54:29 PM): Yes, I wanted to make something for people that could hang on their walls, but I had bad luck with limited edition silk screens in the past. So I thought it would be a good idea to make them available at a low cost. Plus, my internet audience is different from my art audience.

CtlnJns (4:57:59 PM): I understand. There is a market that pays thousands of dollars for something, people who want to make stuff themselves, and then there’s a third group, who want to have a 19.95$ poster on their wall. I guess I’m in the third category.

rudytardy (4:59:19 PM): That’s great; I had a kid order one of my posters with his dad’s credit card. He was 14 or something.

Arcangel’s relaxed attitude towards art is the result of a long history of complicated relationships among the pieces, the market, and the creative drive. With technology being the source of expansion, our concepts of art will remain challenged.

As it was before with photographs, urinals and videos, the internet will provide more opportunities both inside and outside the art realm for work to be created and evaluated.

But, perhaps the most groundbreaking subversion of the traditional art-world economy is the appearance of multiple types of economies, with art that can be given away, exchanged, or sold–as long as your dad consents to having $19.95 charged to his credit card.

At a conference called per se, Vuk Cosic was credited as the first to use the term “” This was a gathering of artists who normally interacted via email, and the title was seemingly the outgrowth of a chance computer error.

Bruce Sterling’s work entitled, “A Short History of the Internet,” was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in February 1993.

The nettime mailing list,, and other virtual and social platforms, offered the digital art community a place to post messages and circulate artworks. This created an atmosphere of creativity and productive activity.

In 1964, the artist created a set of eight Fountains, and these two were part of the group.

In his work, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin examines the impact of technology on art. The English translation of his treatise was published in 1969 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc. and Schocken Books in New York, NY.

He describes the “aura of art” as something that is transferrable from its origin, which encompasses its duration as well as its past.

Christopher Phillips wrote an article titled “The Judgment Seat of Photography” that was published in October of 1982.

Many of the pieces created by 8 Global Groove can be found at Electronic Arts Intermix.

All episodes of Radical Software can be accessed online on their website,

A technical explanation: a video art piece is just a video signal on a tape. Early analog video technology is known as lossy, meaning that each successive copy has a decrease in quality.

There was still some sense of an original in analog, such as a negative for a photograph and a master copy for video.

However, Sony’s digital video formats of the 1990s changed this concept, as they made perfect reproduction possible. Video is now a string of ones and zeroes that can be endlessly duplicated with no distinction in value among them, making the word “original” without meaning.

The presence of editing software in the box of every Apple computer increases the apprehension of users, asking them to make and share their own material.

To either reinstate the idea of the creative genius or to submerge it in the democratic era of media, Jeffery Deitch, a well-known art gallery owner in New York, is producing a reality TV show named Art Star.

David Ross, a lecturer at San Jose State University, spoke in 1999 about the topic of 12.

The limited-edition set of 13 Super Mario Clouds has been completely sold out, with all five versions being purchased.

The website of Tilman Baumgaertel ( contains links to interviews and other projects, as well as writings, by him.

15 Lialina had made a sale of her own work, titled If You Want to Clean Your Screen (1998), to the Entropy8Zuper! web design and art collective (the evidence of the transaction is available at

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was home to a highly respected and progressive new media art department headed up by the curatorial direction of Steve Dietz.

Unfortunately, in 2003, due to budget issues, the Walker had to let go of the department, the renowned curator, and his team from their program.

A 1999 article from Telepolis, dated 14 April, can be found on the Heise website at

One might wonder who these collectors are. Several of them were the same individuals who had the insight to purchase Cindy Sherman’s pieces when the remainder of the art world felt there would be no demand for contemporary photography.

Moreover, there are some from the tech industry who are comfortable with the impermanence and intangibility of digital technology, so the idea of hanging a monitor on the wall to show off software art does not seem strange to them.

I have been fortunate enough to benefit from the ideas and discussions of many people during the writing of this piece, including but not limited to: Kris Cohen, Sarah Cook, Alison Craighead, Steve Dietz, John G. Hanhardt, Jon Ippolito, Heidi Julavits, Christiane Paul, Keith Romer, and Maria-Christina Villasenor.

I am grateful to them for their contributions to my work.

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