Internet Art Subverts the Monetary Ecosystem With Viruses, Spyware, and Leaks

Art on the Internet has to deal with a few central, radical departures from the traditional gallery-and-museum context. Artworks are presumed to be scarce goods valued for their uniqueness, but digital files are freely accessible and sharable online without any loss in viewing experience. There’s no need to pay to own Internet art, acquisitioning is as easy as a right-click of the mouse. There are no gatekeepers to determine what’s visible and what isn’t, but then there’s also no viable system for artists to support themselves.

C.R.E.A.M.,” an exhibition organized by new media curator Lindsay Howard at the crowd-funding-based online art space Art Micro Patronage, confronts these issues of monetization, access, and scarcity in a no-nonsense way that too many exhibitions, let alone online-only presentations, shy away from. The work on display both embraces its native online context and deals self-consciously with the problems that this context presents — like the virus comically satirized by Netherland duo JODI in “GOODTIMES,” the show’s opening gambit, each piece is insidious.

“G.R.E.E.D.” is a browser extension, a small piece of software, by Greg Leuch that acts as a parasite to its voluntary audience, monitoring the browsing history and identity information of users. Should a user attempt to deactivate it, “G.R.E.E.D.” will publish their stored (and presumably private) data. This is only preventable by paying a licensing fee to Leuch through Art Micro Patronage. It’s aggressive spyware as art, a work that blackmails its own bounty from collectors.


Artists Ole Fach and Kim Asendorf continue their investigation into the commodification of Internet art with “The $20 File,” a once-off downloadable file that contains a randomly generated abstract composition of digital characters. Each work is unique, and verifiable through a certificate number at the top of the file. The piece’s structure and its title play at art-world norms of scarcity, but the final value of the drawing is entirely up to the consumer. The artists suggest the collector (downloader) immediately “raise the price” of their piece, a purely theoretical gesture that was made more literal in the escalating estimates of the duo’s “GIF Market.”

Other works play at the Web’s capacity for democracy, but also hint at its impossibility. Aram Bartholl’s “Open Internet” is a mashup of LED signs flashing out the title, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the movement for uninhibited surfing. David Horvitz’s attempt to get 10,000 people to mail $.58 to Sallie Mae to cover loans incurred for his Bard College MFA is a Kickstarter-age stunt that lands flat. Why are we paying for his MFA, again? The content-hungry Internet demands a certain amount of titillation in exchange for cash.

While it’s true that, as Howard writes in her curatorial statement, “Artists need money… Good art should not only be widely distributed, but also financially supported,” the show’s last piece underlines the Internet’s innate anarchy and the difficulty of receiving both money and exposure. Anonymous collective 0-Day has offered up the entirety of Art Micro Patronage’s online exhibition history for download, subverting the space’s model of tipping artists for their work. You can pay, if you like, but no one’s forcing you — yet.

— Kyle Chayka