By Kendall George, February 26, 2013
One hundred years ago, visitors and critics loathed Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” at the Armory Show. Its Cubist style was apparently both difficult to visually decipher and an affront to the aesthetic canon of nudes; Duchamp was great at revealing our lizard brain’s “I don’t understand it, so I don’t like it” mechanism. New styles and subcultural art movements have always been maligned, then slowly, and often begrudgingly, accepted. During the Armory Show’s 100th anniversary week, Hyperallergic and Tumblr are holding “The World’s First Tumblr Art Symposium,” examining the pieces of what might be the new avant garde: the Tumblr platform as a medium, net art, and the new aesthetic. The new avant garde doesn’t need a fair, and it doesn’t need a museum, but it can exist in them.
In June of 2012, artist and writer Ben Vallentine posted “Tumblr as Art” on Hyperallergic. Vallentine simply stated that art was being made using the Tumblr. How Tumblr is art is not defined but you can follow links to prominent net artists’ work. His fear of forming a definition is frustrating, but understandable. When dealing with something so large, eclectic, and often obscure that you can’t see its shape, it’s kind of like feeling a patch of fur in the dark and deciding it’s a cat. There are some commonalities in Vallentine’s examples: the platform is used like a canvas, it is often collage-like, re-blogging vs. original material is irrelevant, the new aesthetic is often represented, and there is a cohesive thesis. He critiques the expected viewer experience of viewing the art in Tumblr’s endlessly scrolling and refreshable dashboard, intermixed with the posts of whomever else you follow; the artists’ expectation is the viewer would see the new post in their feed, and revisit the full blog. Viewing through the dashboard feed is imperfect, but it is a novel approach to temporally based artwork.
“The World’s First Tumblr Art Symposium” will move towards a definition of Tumblr art by way of pedigree: net artist G. H. Hovagimyan will supposedly draw a line between “net art” and “Tumblr art”; it will be rooted in the three dimensional world by Lebbeus Woods’ “Light Pavillion” collaborator Christoph a. Kumpusch; and there will be an exhibition prominent Tumblr artists. Hopefully, the art exhibition will nod to its irony.
There isn’t a clear delineation for the length of time a trend must be in vogue, the number of its participants, or the cohesion of a thesis—a catch-all might be “communicating with technology and the subsequent growing pains”—before it turns into a movement. SFAQ favorites, Fluxus, Gutai, “street art” (ew), performance art, and conceptual art are indicative of the nebulous nature of modern and contemporary art movements. It is time to shine a light on a (maybe) net art movement and a (potential) New Aesthetic. But let’s do it online.