New Media in the White Cube and Beyond: Curatorial Models for Digital Art is a collection of essays edited by Christiane Paul (curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art), addressing several topics of concern to new media art curators. The twelve essays cover the full range of territory that curators will encounter, from understanding how artists use the medium to considering how to preserve works far into the future.

Paul’s introduction to the book is a solid briefing for curators interested in new media art but who haven’t ventured far into this area yet, and it also usefully summarises the many issues in the field for veteran new media curators. Though each essay is generous with concrete examples, a case studies section is also included. The case studies provide intense and practical examinations of detail which also serve to bolster the points made in the essays.

The book focuses on addressing the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to new media and museums, which could be glibly summed up as “why don’t museums get it?”. As the introduction explains and several essays reiterate, museums are in the business of presentation, interpretation, and conservation, and the very nature of new media art makes those three actions difficult. In Jon Ippolito’s essay “Death by Wall Label”, he says “Like a shark, a new media artwork must keep moving to survive”. Museums in their current configuration are clearly a little more at ease with a stationary shark (in the natural history wing, stuffed; or in the contemporary art wing, preserved nicely in formaldehyde, perhaps?) rather than the restless shark-like character of new media. There is no “set it and forget it” if you are in the business of presenting this kind of work.

So what can be done? Several of the contributors offer concrete ways of addressing the gap. Sarah Cook proposes some metaphors for curatorial thinking around these exhibitions: exhibition as software programme/data flow; exhibition as trade show; and exhibition as broadcast. Metaphor and analogy is a tool used throughout, by multiple contributors: Sara Diamond also uses the metaphor of flows in her essay; Caitlin Jones and Carol Stringari use the analogy of removing old, darkened varnish from a nineteenth-century painting when considering the challenges in conserving media works. The heavy use of metaphor and analogy, and making direct links to traditional conservation as Jones and Stringari do with their painting example, will surely make the issues seem less alien to those who are relative newcomers to the presentation and conservation of new media.

Overall this book is an excellent reference and insight into new media from leading thinkers such as Sarah Cook, Jon Ippolito, Charlie Gere, Sara Diamond, and Christiane Paul herself.

More info and to order: New Media in the White Cube and Beyond: Curatorial Models for Digital Art

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