As artists experiment with the internet and digital media with increasing frequency, museums of all kinds are aiming to crack the code of how to display such art online to a wide audience. Now the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow is entering the field with an ambitious new effort.
Garage, which was founded by art collector Dasha Zhukova and her then-husband, billionaire Roman Abramovich, is starting a multi-pronged new initiative, Garage Digital, which will allow its curators to commission new digital artworks and offer historical context for old ones.
Part of the platform’s role will be to support programming within the museum’s walls, and right now, in connection with “The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100,” its survey exhibition about contemporary art and environmentalism, Garage Digital is hosting new works by artists Posthuman Studies Lab, Sascha Pohflepp with Matthew Lutz and Alessia Nigretti, Gints Gabrāns, and James Ferraro and Ezra Miller.
Katya Inozemtseva, the senior curator of the Garage Museum and a member of Garage Digital’s workgroup, said that the program is intended to shift the public’s understanding of how art and technology interact. “We arrived at the idea of sort of non-space, a digital limbo, where the new art could exist and be seen,” she told ARTnews in an email. “It lives on the logic of a feed and under the legislation of general experience of everyone who uses a smartphone with internet connection. Garage doesn’t intend to create a digital ghetto or ‘a museum on the internet.’ We’re reacting to the transformed relationships between physical and digital realities.”
The New Museum’s 2002 acquisition of the New York art-and-technology organization Rhizome serves as a precedent for Garage’s moves, but Garage Digital comes amid quick-moving changes in the field. Numerous shows about the internet have arrived at global art museums over the past few years, the Serpentine Galleries in London has started an augmented-reality program, and museum director Daniel Birnbaum left the Moderna Museet in Sweden to lead a company focused on virtual-reality works by artists.
Russia presents a particularly unique home for the project, given the country’s unique history with digital art. During the 1990s, many of the most important works from the net.art movement were being produced by Russian artists like Olia Lialina and Alexei Shulgin, who used digital interfaces to ponder the exchange of visual and political information online.
Inozemtseva said that Garage Digital will contextualize works by such pioneers—and also aim to create new groundbreaking works through a grant program. Importantly, she said, the texts hosted on Garage Digital’s site will appear in both English and Russian, in an attempt to “stimulate researchers and scholars of younger generation to move forward, to use the optics and approaches of posthuman theory in order to invent/see/analyze various phenomena in our reality.”
Among the initiatives Garage Digital has already started is one dedicated specifically to gaming. According to Inozemtseva, the divide between the digital sphere and everyday life is growing thinner, and games are offering new ways of immersing oneself in technological environments. With that in mind, the museum plans to commission works making use of video games and computer simulations.
But the political climate in Russia could be an obstacle for some of the programming Garage Digital has planned. In November, Russian politicians unveiled a plan to create a “sovereign internet,” effectively starting a network that’s walled off from international countries. Experts have raised questions about whether the new plan could lead to increased censorship online in a way similar to China’s Great Firewall. Inozemtseva did not seem worried, however.
“We think that it’s more an ideological construct and political tool than a reality,” she said of the sovereign internet plan. “It definitely does not influence our programming and is not able to. Any regulation of this kind immediately appears absurd, and might be only used as a trigger for artistic production.”