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This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 30, 1999.

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Searching the Artful Web

Visual arts students, art buyers, and art lovers who

hate to drive in the rain; who are museumed-out, or housebound; who

feel anti-social, or like staying in their PJs for a day or two can

still "follow their bliss" on the Internet. The World Wide

Web encompasses what is probably an incalculable array of art: images

of it, information about it, tips on making it, and — gee whiz

— opportunities to buy it.

Just as, semantically speaking, the word is not the thing, neither

is the picture on the screen (oops — the monitor) the actual work

of art. Robert Hughes, art critic for Time magazine, said it best

only last month: "A great song and dance is made about the marvels

of the websites and of getting people wired into art history. But

it’s the actual works of art, not their teensy digital clones, that

count." The World Wide Web really cannot substitute for the local

artist or the gallery around the corner, or the Met or the Louvre

— but it can supplement all of them, as well as all other physical

venues where art is made or seen or sold.

Can the Internet introduce real-life art? For me, the Net currently

works best for art I know of, art I already have expectations about.

It is one thing to call up an image of something I have seen before

to check a detail — but quite another to try and get a first sense

of something cold. Different only by degree are art history courses

fueled by slides shown on a big screen. True, this viewing is accompanied

by informed discussion, and a good professor will always emphasize

the necessity of seeing the art itself. But we can’t always do that,

or the bunny slippers are just too cozy, or we just want some background.

That’s when the Internet serves best.

Disclaimers made, biases owned, it is undeniably true that it is easier

to consult a website than go buy the book or visit the library if

you want a capsule idea of what the Dada movement was all about. It’s

preferable to use your PC to check on an art exhibition in Montclair

than to drive there, or even to phone. And, if you’re yearning for

tropical vistas or shopping for sophisticated note cards, or considering

a day trip or a weekend, there are art websites waiting for your visit.

All it takes is a computer and your time (the amount of time varies

both with your equipment and with the skills of those who have created

the site), a bit of manual dexterity and a willingness to sit, for

a change, instead of striking that tough-on-the-lower-back gallery

stance. Yet this survey is not about choosing a computer, browser

features, speed of Internet connection, or plug-ins that could be

required. You know how to get there and get around once you arrive

— this is about the sites you might enjoy visiting.

On the principle, "Think globally, act locally," we’ll

start with some sites connected with recent U.S. 1 feature stories

about the visual arts. Digital art, for years associated with Princeton’s

Williams Gallery, is part of the focus of its website: http://www.wmgallery.com.

This is a notably varied and deep site, appropriately high-tech and

professional. It includes such options as a gallery catalog, featured

artist, visiting artist, what’s news, fun with art, and the key basic

ingredient, gallery information. The layout is varied — not screen

after screen of typed text that deadens some sites — colorful

and inviting. You could spend an afternoon "at" the Williams

Gallery, and never leave home.

Need more dimension to your art surfing? Try the site for Hamilton

Township’s esteemed Grounds for Sculpture, helpfully called http://www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Considered hard to find during its early years (before the advent

of New Jersey Transit’s Hamilton Station), the burgeoning sculpture

park’s website offers detailed travel directions, including estimated

travel time, and a map. After clicking on the "Collection"

option, you can click on the featured artists who interest you and

for each one, see an image of the work and read a short biographical

sketch. Wondering about Magdalena Abakanowicz? Forget about "Who’s

Who in Sculpture;" check her out on the Grounds site. The same

banner tops each page, and the type face sometimes seems needlessly

large and/or bold, but, better that than the tiny, illegible type

of some other sites.

The website for the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton —

http://www.state.nj.us/state/museum/musidx.html

— gets off to a strong start, with a useful overview of what’s

where in the museum, along with a brief history. In other ways, though,

the site is disappointing, largely because as presently configured

and updated, it’s just not current enough. The predictable categories

are there, but some "current" exhibitions I found listed were

already closed, as was the artist’s show listed in the Cafe Gallery.

At the time of my mid-June visit, the "Current Calendar of Events"

began April 10 and ended with June — perhaps because the site

can only be updated quarterly, and then by a busy office outside the

museum proper. That’s the bad news.

The good news: a new and improved New Jersey State Museum website

is under construction, with anticipated beneficiaries being both visitors

to the site and the important information it conveys. Now, for instance,

under "Research News," a dense, gray account of paleontology

expeditions is further marred by huge paragraphs with no illustrations

or indentions. This should all change before long, better reflecting

both the museum and its deserving staff.

As a museum and venue contrast, there’s the Montclair

Art Museum, or MAM, whose site is http://www.montclair-art.com.

Its home page, in keeping with its neo-classical Greek revival structure,

is both pretty and efficient, quickly telegraphing Native American

art and culture as key components of the collection, and introducing

a stylized arrow used throughout for moving around the site. Crucial

driving directions to Montclair and a quaint history of MAM are two

features, and the site includes a terrific "collections database"

that enables searches by artist’s name — Daniel Chester French

to Louise Nevelson to Tony Smith — or by three other criteria:

themes, Native American, collections. Potentially expediting the process,

thumbnail images are optional at two stages.

Billed as "Your on-line guide to arts and culture in New

Jersey," http://www.jerseyarts.com is hard to resist. This site’s

variety of information includes "Current Gallery Exhibitions,"

showcasing 10 artists, each with one image and a brief biography.

Easily its best feature is "Showcase Listings," allowing a

visitor to search for events based on selections by "from-to"

dates, type of event, and region of the state. We tested the system

for "visual arts" for mid-June to mid-July and for the first

time heard about "The Big Print," to be produced via steamroller

at the Newark Museum on Sunday, July 3. That finding alone justified

the surfing time. (See separate story on "Big Print," page

35.)

News of other regional artists can be found on http://www.newhopepa.com,

after clicking on "artists" among the myriad other possibilities

arranged alphabetically. Apparently a non-commercial site, the page

for each of 10 artists included a photo and statement, and thumbnail

images to enlarge if desired — and street and E-mail addresses,

and phone numbers, but no prices. Date of updates would help at this

site to prevent a visitor from falling in love with a work that’s

long-since sold.

And, still in the realm of calendars for regional events, http://www.philly-art-world.com

is chock full of art news, listings, profiles, and more. A joint venture

of Art Matters, the publication, with Philadelphia Art World, this

site is resource-ful. While advertising a current-month calendar of

events for Delaware, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey,

and District of Columbia, the listing gets serious — and detailed

— only with Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Other states are sketchy

at best. An artists’ directory arranged by medium, includes a statement

and three images for each.

For would-be "out-of-towners," try the much-touted Museum

of Modern Art website, http://www.moma.org. Attractive from the

get-go, it justifies its glowing reviews. Text is terse and interesting;

audio commentary for images is available; and in an intelligent recycling

of resources, MoMA press releases are among the options for detailed

information about the artists. You can scan the collection and check

current exhibitions, counting on cross-references to other places

here where information about so-and-so can also be found.

And moma.org is truly interactive: an E-mail query about P.S.

1, the contemporary art center in Queens that recently merged with

MoMA, was answered in less than 24 hours.

In contrast to MoMA, the website of the Metropolitan Museum

of Art, http://www.metmuseum.org, is much more staid. The

sweep of exhibitions and installations must be considered enough to

suggest the Met’s vast holdings, for the "Collections" category

does nothing but list where each category is located in the building.

In the "about the artist" sections under "Exhibitions,"

dull-looking left-to-right text is the rule, however authoritative

it may be, and the "search" feature wasn’t operative on two

or three tries, foiling attempts to search by artist, title, or key

word.

"From the sublime to," well, to the contemporary, the

Dia Center for the Arts, on West 22nd Street, New York, is reflected

by http://www.diacenter.org. A multi-disciplinary, arts organization,

Dia facilitates artists’ realizing "extraordinary projects"

— as its website will quickly make clear.

Still further afield, watt.emf.net brings visitors to

the Web Museum, Paris. At the home page, switch to North Carolina

or Florida as a closer conduit, then go to "General Exhibitions"

and "Famous Paintings," to browse through the artists’ index

or the glossary (of painting styles). In the latter, for instance,

"Dada" is treated cursorily, while the Renaissance gets extensive

coverage. The student gathering data for an art history paper could

do much worse than consult this site; although 1996 is the latest

date shown, it’s still very good for short takes on artists and movements.

The website of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum (http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl)

is worth the trip. The source of the blockbuster Van Gogh exhibition

recently in the U.S. while the museum was closed for renovations,

it is presumably the stellar Internet site about "Vincent."

As might be expected, this site offers detailed information with numerous

images and frequent chances to click on sidebar information, then

return to the core.

For instance, Dr. Paul Gachet appears at the end of Van Gogh’s "life

and times," and at that juncture, there’s sidebar material on

him and his art collection. (Also note: The Van Gogh Museum reopened

June 24, 10 months after it closed. Through August 15, the Met’s "Cezanne

to Van Gogh: The Collection of Dr. Gachet" displays more than

50 works in this country for the first time.)

And, in case the wonder of the Internet has begun to pall, and

you take it just a bit for granted, think of this: The Hermitage,

the fabled Russian state museum in St. Petersburg, is now accessible

on the Web. And more than that — it’s readily accessible, and

far more layered and technologically sophisticated than many other

sites mentioned here. Treasures that for decades could only be speculated

about can now be seen, read about, and re-visited at will.

It starts with http://www.hermitagemuseum.org, and truly awe-inspiring

are these words, shortly afterwards, in "Hermitage History":

"In 1764, Russian Empress Catherine the Great purchased a considerable

collection of Western European paintings, laying the foundation for

the modern-day Hermitage." Phew. Powered by IBM, the website is

a marvel. One option with "Information" is "Quick Search."

Simply type "Matisse," for instance, then click to see numerous

thumbnails of his works in the collection, with optional enlargement.

Also possible: IBM’s experimental QBIC, or "Query by Image Content,"

that helps you "find artwork by selecting colors from a palette

or by sketching shapes on a canvas."

Browsing the digital collection is another option, one that could

take you weeks to move through six broad categories, with subdivisions.

And "about this site" tells the story of how IBM became involved

with the Hermitage in this two-year old, $2 million project, and to

what (good) effect. There’s some self-congratulation here, but it’s

seemingly well-deserved.

The Internet also offers a range of websites put up by individual

artists. At one end of the continuum is http://www.eileenseitzart.com,

a Florida-based artist’s site offering a kind of generic-tropical

imagery that’s easy to like — and to buy, in the form of art cards,

mini prints, posters, limited editions, and commissioned paintings.

Closer to home, http://pluto.njcc.com/~jhein introduces

Hopewell-based John Hein, a one-time librarian and self-taught furniture

designer and maker who writes that he "designs and builds elegantly

restrained hardwood furniture with a purity of form." Hein’s cyber-gallery

of work includes cabinets, sideboards, desks, tables, and accessories,

all of which he makes to order. His work will be newly accessible

to the ambulatory public with a work that has recently been given

to the Newark Museum by a collector.

Lonni Sue Johnson, a freelance illustrator, pilot, and daughter

of Princeton printmaker Margaret K. Johnson, "works in a house

by a pond on a hay farm near Cooperstown, New York, with three

cats and a flower garden," according to the "biography"

on her simple, attractive site, http://www.lonnisue.com. Mere tips

of her achievement iceberg, her watercolors have become New Yorker

magazine covers, MoMA Christmas cards, and corporate materials for

a range of companies.

Finally, those in any doubt about how the other half lives might

take a look at http://www.royal.gov.uk, the official site of Britain’s

"Royals." The "Gallery Online" shows art from the

Royal Collection and keeps visitors up with plans like the projected

10 million pound-facelift of the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace.

Editors’ Note: When this article is read from U.S. 1’s

home page on the Internet, the websites mentioned are easily accessible

by simply clicking on the hypertext. To find this article (or any

others in this and many other issues) go to U.S. 1’s website at http://www.princetoninfo.com

and click on "Search our Site." You can then enter key words

in the search engine, or just click on June, 1999, to find a list

of all recent articles.


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