Down in Miami, celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Sean Combs are flocking to spend their cumulative millions on contemporary works of art, from Picasso to Keith Haring. One of those pieces snatched up at one of the many satellite fairs by an undisclosed buyer on Thursday was by an artist named Alexandra Gorczynski, which ordinarily isn’t all that surprising.
But what Gorczynski’s camp sold isn’t a painting, or a sculpture, or even what one might consider a traditional installation. It is a digital piece of multimedia hosted on a URL, smokeinmirrors.net.
Its selling price, purportedly the first of its kind at a major international art festival, is $5,000.
“After Dark,” pictured below on the right, was created and presented on the art-sharing platform NewHive. We’ve written about NewHive before–it’s essentially a collection of webpage tools designed for creatives with big imaginations to build whatever beautiful/demented thing they’d like, the only limitation being it has to fit in the browser.
Artists like Gorczynski–many of whom have made names for themselves via the Weird Internet–use NewHive’s tools to slather GIFs, videos, MIDIs, and other kinds of artfully arranged pixels all over standalone web pages, all without the prerequisite of knowing how to code. Each “hive” is a bit difficult to explain and break down with a traditional art appreciation vocabulary, and that ambiguity is kind of the point.
“After Dark” was displayed on a screen in an exhibition by Zhulong Gallery at PULSE art fair, which decided to feature the piece alongside a collection of Gorczynski’s other prints. Its purchaser is choosing to keep their identity private, for now, though I’m told it is a “well respected collector who owns a lot of important work in the contemporary art scene” who will—notably!—continue to host the piece freely in the public domain. It’s why we’re allowed to embed the work here, like so:
“It’s an opportunity for all these artists creating digital work to know there is a market for their work,” says Lindsay Howard, an independent curator working with NewHive. “It’s a whole new way to think about doing collecting. It’s a unique piece. You’re the only one who owns the domain name.”
It is a bit like loaning a painting to a museum, only instead of a roped-off exhibition that you have to wait in line for, it’s on display for anyone with an Internet connection to consume, critique, or reinterpret.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the sale is the contract that was signed, which sheds light into the ambiguous process of transferring the ownership of digital property–or what actually gets handed to the new owner of the URL.
It isn’t a matter of simply forking over a login and password. In this case, the contract used here was drawn up originally by artist Rafaël Rozendaal, which has been used for digital art purchases before, and is freely available online for anyone to use.
Rozendaal’s contract includes a stipulation that the intellectual property rights, “including but not limited to copyright,” per its language, will continue to remain with the original creator–Gorczynski, in this case. The agreement stipulates that the new owner will also inherit the responsibility of making the artwork as accessible to as many potential eyes as possible. These protections fall very much in line with the artist-first, egalitarian principles on which NewHive was created:
It’s a bit mind-bending, certainly, especially considering the fact that intellectual property on the Internet—especially image-based IP—is still largely chaotic, abstract, and difficult to enforce without the technological infrastructure of, say, Google. But NewHive is at its most comfortable when it is operating outside of the parameters of convention, just like the artists who use it. “This is the first-generation of Internet artists trying to make money off their work,” NewHive CEO Zach Verdin told me earlier this year. “If you’re a multimedia artist and you’re making money on the Internet, everything goes.”