August 1, 2001
A review by Don Archer
The New York Digital Salon: Selected Works
at the Corning Gallery at Steuben
New York City
in collaboration with the Visual Arts Foundation (NYC)
Through September 8
This show is best described as an advertisement for themselves: Corning (Steuben) and the School of Visual Arts (NYC).
Housed in Steuben's expensive retail store on Madison Avenue in midtown NYC at one of the shopping world's most exclusive addresses, this exhibit spreads a warm self-congratulatory glow over Corning's high-tech philanthropy (Corning is one of the major developers and purveyors of the fiber optic cable; Steuben is its artsy sub-divison). Perhaps the exhibit will also help to enhance the prestige of Steuben's designer glassware and sculpture (available at this location at prices often in the thousands of dollars, thank you) by such stalwarts of the art as James Houston.
The New York Digital Salons are annual exhibits that have been going on for at least eight years and are sponsored by the School of Visual Arts in New York City, a private, degree-granting, high-tuition institution with roots in the graphic arts industry. They are juried affairs of still digital art and animation videos, curated by Bruce Wands, described as "chair" of the MFA Computer Art program at the school. These salons have been notable for the exceptional quality of their art (full disclosure statement and sour grapes admission by this reviewer: my own art has been rejected by the Salon on the two or three occasions that I submitted it), but I have always felt the Salons had a kind of inbred hot-house atmosphere about them, as the jurors were often closely associated with the school and the artists were often students or graduates of the school as well.
This show is described as "An exhibition of the best works of computer art selected by juries of the last eight New York Digital Art salons." With Corning's patronage, the exhibit lends to the School of Visual Arts a glitzy platform with which to promote itself and its Salons.
Does the show do much for computer art? I don't think so. It is premised on the idea, as the promotional literature accompanying the show advises, that computer art has come of age, but this is something computer artists have known for years. Witness the thousands of websites (maybe tens of thousands) dedicated to digital art, to fractals, to 3D rendered art, to computer manipulated photographs, to computer-painted and -drawn art, and to mixed-media computer art that may integrate different techniques and traditional art as well. What computer art needs now is not another celebration of its great achievements in an orgy of self-abuse, but careful and rewarding study of the work of individual artists, and how an artist's work may have changed and flourished, and how his or her style may have developed and matured, and of how one artist's style and subject may differ from that of another artist, or how the the artist may have adapted his or her art, if he or she has, to the onslaught of new hardware and software. I am tired of group shows, and want to see an artist's work in depth and over time, to gauge and measure it. It is time we take the art form for granted and look past it to the artist.
The remarkable art displayed at this exhibit includes 23 pieces of still art by almost as many artists and several short animation films or videos, along with two or three interactive computer displays responding to mouse or keyboard input. One of the more memorable animations is "Burning Desire" by Avi Renick of two cigarettes courting and making erotic love and burning themselves out in the process.
The still art was generally outputted at large size by Iris or other inkjet printers, but there was at least one electrostatic print on display, and a print produced in 1993 by a pen plotter, almost an extinct technology today. It was good art then and is good art today.
If you can get to see the show, do so. You will see some striking examples of computer art.
The five images that follow are part of the Salon review.
Permission from the artists to use these images has neither been sought nor granted.