Vectors: Digital Art of Our Time
At the World Financial Center Courtyard Gallery, 220
Vessey Street. Gallery Hours: Tue, Wed, Fri 11 a.m.-6 p.m.;
Thu 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat & Sun, 12-5 p.m.;
Closed Mondays. Through May 25.

A digital cutting edge at the World Financial Center

The visitor hesitates before a clinically white screen. She sets her champagne glass down with one manicured hand and places the other on the smooth plastic shell of the mouse. The image on the liquid crystal display screen above blossoms into a sphere, which then sprouts dozens of pseudo-organic stems. A frown emerges as she tries to make sense of this—this work of art.

Confusion, bewilderment and, eventually (for some) exhilaration, are common feelings at the New York Digital Salon exhibition, “Vectors: Digital Art of Our Time,” a group show of cutting edge work that uses computers, video, the Internet and other cutting-edge technologies to create works of art on view at the World Financial Center,

Started in 1983, the New York Digital Salon is a new media art organization dedicated to the exhibition, research, and development of digital art in all its genres. In 2003, the same question that lurked behind the organization’s founding—Is it art?—is still on visitors’ minds.

John Klima is the creator of “Glasbead,” a computer-generated musical and visual toy, which allows players to create their own soundscape. “Why should art always be on a pedestal?” said John Klima. “I usually like to let people figure it out for themselves. Quite often I’m not here and things start getting out of hand. But I know if you play with ‘Glasbead’ for a while, you are put in control and it’s quite easy.”

Christine Paul, adjunct curator of New Media Art at the Whitney Museum and one of the curators of this exhibition, describes Klima’s “Glasbead” as a “multi-user persistent collaborative musical interface.”

Interactivity, which determines that artworks are only complete with the participation of the viewer, is a predominant characteristic of contemporary new media art. The courtyard gallery in the World Financial Center, situated above the shops and restaurants of the Winter Garden, is a venue more suitable for this kind of informal play than an astringent art museum is.

“We want to create greater public awareness, to encourage interactivity and to pay tribute to the history of digital art,” said Bruce Wands. “The show is geared towards the general public more than a museum audience.” Like a scene out of “Star Trek,” players tweak dials on a circular table to manipulate a veil of surreal cosmological images in Perry Hoberman’s “Timetable.”

“I don’t really know what I’m doing,” giggles Yuki Ikeda, a student from the Fashion Institute of Technology whose neon green t-shirt takes on an unearthly glow under the “Timetable” projections. “But this is more fun than staring at a Monet!”

Art intermingling with technology, has inspired its own lexicon of elaborate, often puzzling, terminology. It has been called computer art, digital art and now, new media art. “Vectors: Digital Art in Our Time” is a mélange of Internet-based installations viewable on computer screens, video projections, CD players in sound booths, and old fashioned static—2-dimensional—displays. The one binding quality: instead of paint and clay, artists use a palette of bits, bytes and electronics.

“I hope that digital art will be absorbed into contemporary art,” said Bruce Wands, chair of the MFA computer art department at the School of Visual Arts and director of the New York Digital Salon. “The word ‘digital’ wouldn’t exist anymore.” Instead of digital art being a genre in itself, Wands (a computer artist, writer, photographer and musician) anticipates that video art, installations, performances and other forms will become manipulated with digital effects.

Unlike traditional artworks hanging from austere gallery walls, new media art almost always requires the shortest of attention spans, and the involvement of an urban audience reared on ten-second commercials and MTV videos.

For example, the detached demeanor of many Chelsea art gallery visitors disappears in the “Vectors” exhibit. People squeal as they play with an animated, fuchsia bear named Momo, a ‘postpet,’ a character in a software program, which transmits email.

“When the Internet was not so popular as nowadays, and most Internet users were men, I wished my girlfriend would also use the email,” said Hachiya Kazuhiko, a Japanese artist who developed the program in 1997. “One day, I dreamt that a teddy bear delivered an email to me from a girl. And that was the start.”

While computer pixels may never take the place of the Impressionists’ textured brushstrokes, digital art and all its perplexities is invading the art world with a storm. Going beyond a static show of artworks, the pieces in the New York Digital Salon’s 10th Anniversary exhibition foreshadow the work that will like someday hang alongside more traditional fine art.


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