Hustling Fine Art on the Web
by Paul Beddoe-Stephens
NEW YORK -- Digital distribution is the key to making fine art accessible to a broader audience, says the director of the Whitney Museum.
"From all of the major museums -- the Getty, the Metropolitan -- down to the small galleries, we have to figure out how to derive income from licensing the images," said Maxwell Anderson, head of theWhitney for the past six months. "We try to deliver content in a nonprofit environment with the widest possible range."
The United States lags behind the rest of the industrial world in protecting intellectual property and copyright enforcement, according to Anderson. "Like musicians, we have to make replicas available of the original works, and structure a royalty payment model."
Anderson joined other advocates of Web distribution on Sunday at the CyberART 99 Symposium in a series of panel discussions organized by Art & Science Collaborations Inc.
Speakers discussed different models of digital distribution and the inherent problems -- notably, how to make money from art on the Web and how to divide that money among artists, museums, and the private sector.
Anderson, 42, is one of few major museum directors attuned to the potential of digital distribution. He recently presided over the launch of the Whitney's massive American Century exhibition, which was funded in part by a US$6-million grant from Intel.
He was also influential in founding the Art Museum Image Consortium, a group of major North American museums that provides subscription-based access to fine-art reproductions over the Web. Anderson hopes that the model will become the engine driving digital art distribution and that it will lead to works commissioned specifically for the Web.
Anderson stressed the difference between the Whitney's elitist approach and the unedited, ultrademocratic nature of the Internet.
"We make selections of works available to audiences. It's an admitted subjectivity, and it's full of holes," said Anderson.
But the Web is different, he said in a recent interview with The New York Times. "It's like the Yellow Pages with no glue binding it, so anyone who identifies themselves as an artist and can put something up will be doing so. There are pressing questions that need resolution if this young art form is to survive and flourish."
Many in the audience were unimpressed by Anderson's digital vision. One participant, Carl Skelton, noted that many of the same artistic and scientific collaborations appeared at the symposium 15 years ago.
"Everything was almost identical, except that then they said 'printmaking' instead of 'the Web,'" said Skelton.