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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.
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.
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.
— 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
home page on the Internet, the websites mentioned are easily accessible
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