Art + Thought / AF 2011 - Wolf Lieser

AF 2011 - Wolf Lieser

Let's not talk about digital art, let's talk about art!
Wolf Lieser

20 years ago, I made a decision to focus on digital art because I saw that this medium would have strong future influences on the artworld and offer fascinating new aspects and contributions to art, culture and our daily lives.

With the invention of the computer, man has been able to execute structured computations increasingly quicker. The continual decrease in the amount of time needed to do this has changed the intervals in our lives. For example, we are now used to communicating with the world in seconds, even while traveling, whereas before, letters would take at least various days to arrive at their destinations. We travel with a complete concert library in our pocket and have our picture files at hand.

Besides the conceptual aspects of this medium, as a result of the information age, new aesthetic forms and styles have appeared and have inspired numerous artists. Virtual 3D work, for example, built with 3D-software allows us to develop whole environments with the computer we can navigate through.  Commercially created computer games, as a whole genre have encouraged artists such as Gerhard Mantz and Eelco Brand to create their own worlds. Or to comment on them like JODI or Joan Leandre did. Even more traditional media like painting or photography have been affected and show the influence of digital aesthetics. This style is mainly defined by commercially produced software tools such as Photoshop. And, it is no secret that artists like Andreas Gursky are using these useful tools as well.

You can find that Jeff Koons develops his paintings as collages on the computer and afterwards has them painted by his assistants [1] Or, if you look at Tony Cragg’s sculptures in which he has developed a specific aesthetic vocabulary, in many cases, they have obviously been designed on the computer as he confirmed to me in a conversation at the preview of his exhibition “Das Potential der Dinge” at Akademie der Künste in Berlin in 2006. I could continue and give more examples, but the most important thing is: the computer as a tool and in some cases as a medium for artists has arrived at the art world. It has stepped out of the insider group of festivals and conferences and is about to change the art of the 21st century.

Also, more curators and art historians have begun to understand the characteristics of this medium, its unique possibilities and its potential for the future of contemporary art. There is a new generation that has grown up with the computer and computer games. After the establishment of video at the end of the 1960s to the wide acceptance of photography in the 1990s, it has taken digital art nearly 50 years to be accepted within serious art circles after its first exhibitions in 1965. Now curators from MoMA, New York, Victoria + Albert Museum, London, Whitney Museum, New York and Centre Pompidou, Paris have recently bought digital artworks and included them in their exhibitions. [2]

Rather than using the computer as a comfortable way of sketching or collaging, with the result later being transferred onto canvas or into another traditional medium, it seems to be more interesting when artists reflect on the medium or use it in a way to accomplish something new in the arts, in the way you can experience this on the classic pieces of JODI's net art, for example. They disappoint our expectations by deconstructing the “function” of a website, see example: By doing this they confront us with the meta-level of the nice and polished surface that a browser normally shows us. Younger artists like Aram Bartholl create art-projects which directly relate to the internet and existing hardware. Recently his internationally renowned interactive social sculpture “Dead Drops”, which consists of regular USB-sticks placed in a public environment. The sticks are accessible to anyone who finds them by chance or looks up the locations on the website They can be used to drop off or pick up files.

On the other hand, digital media automatically raise the question of the original artwork, a question raised by photography before when it entered the art market about 20 years ago. The art market likes original artefacts, ideally single expressions made by the hand of the artist. The digital medium actually incarnates the opposite: once something is translated into 0s and 1s, it can be duplicated forever without any differences. Like music, which is, as a digital file, easily distributed through the internet, digital art files could be exchanged in similiar ways. This would and probably will bring about a new way of consuming digital art, like software, often combined with music on our screens, wherever we are. This is just the beginning.

Caught in between, as a gallery owner on one hand who is supplying unique pieces to his collectors, I fully understand the artificiality of limiting these pieces by agreement with the artist. As you might know, some artists are also offering software pieces such as Apps through existing lines of distribution with increasingly good results. Lia was one of the earlier ones in this line. With [DAM] we see ourselves “in progress” with a new art scene developing while, at the same time, we offer historic plotter drawings to museums and collectors. As long as we gain a greater understanding of this artform while creating an income for the artists, we feel we are on the right track. It has been fascinating and challenging all the way.

[1] Robert Rosenblum in Jeff Koons, Easyfun-Ethereal, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, 49.
[2] Vera Molnar in the group show “On Line”, MoMA, 2010; Digital Design Sensations with several artists, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010 and more.

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