Internet Art Commissions

Internet Art Commissions


Projects by Artists Mark Napier and John F. Simon, Jr.

Press Event: February 26, 2002, 6–9 pm

NEW YORK, NY—February 18, 2002—The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum launches two new Internet art commissions on February 18, 2002. The two works, Mark Napier's net.flag and John F. Simon, Jr.'s Unfolding Object, will enter the permanent collection of the museum. For several years, the Guggenheim has been commissioning works of Internet art in recognition of the extraordinary promise that new media, and the Internet in particular, holds for transforming the creation of and access to visual culture. The acquisition of these works represents the latest stage in the Guggenheim's efforts. As of February 18, a special introduction to these projects, and to Internet art in general may be viewed at; the projects can also be accessed individually at and A special launch event featuring the artists will be held at The Sackler Center for Arts Education at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on February 26 from 6 to 9 p.m.

"Art created for the Internet has come a long way in a short time, said Thomas Krens, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. "In less than a decade online art has become a major movement with a global audience. When we look at Internet art, we glimpse some of the new directions art may take in the 21st century."

"The act of collecting these works demonstrates the Guggenheim's commitment to art on the cutting edge of culture and technology," said John G. Hanhardt, Senior Curator of Film and Media Arts. "The museum is proud to be in the forefront of preservation efforts for these and other new media works." The Guggenheim is bringing a particularly long-term vision to collecting online art by acquiring Internet art commissions directly into its permanent collection, alongside painting and sculpture, rather than into ancillary special collections as other museums have done. The largest obstacle to collecting Internet art is the rapid pace of Internet evolution, which renders online art far more vulnerable to technological obsolescence than film or video.

The Guggenheim's approach to preserving online art, called the Variable Media Initiative (, prepares for the obsolescence of ephemeral technology by encouraging artists to envision the possible acceptable forms their work might take in future mediums.

The preservation of intangible and often collaborative works dispersed across a global network requires the museum to forego its expertise with traditional artistic media and develop a facility with 21st-century tools and technology. However, preserving Internet works of art requires more than simply archiving Web files on a server or CD-ROM. Along with the digital files corresponding to each piece, the Guggenheim compiles data on how the artwork is to be translated into new mediums once its original hardware and software are obsolete. To prepare for such future re-creations, the Guggenheim has created a variable media endowment, the interest of which is earmarked for future costs of data migration, emulation, and reprogramming.

Past Internet art projects supported by the Guggenheim include CyberAtlas (1996–98,, a compendium of maps of cyberspace that was awarded Best Online Exhibition Site at the 1998 Museums and the Web conference; and Brandon (1998–99,, a one-year narrative project by artist Shu Lea Cheang that explored issues of gender and the body in public and online spaces.

Mark Napier's net.flag
For his Guggenheim commission, Mark Napier has created net.flag, a symbol for the Internet as a new territory composed of people from various geographical regions and ideological backgrounds. The design of net.flag changes constantly as it is manipulated by users who make selections from menus of familiar flag motifs: stars, fields of color, bold patterns, insignia, and stripes. As viewers add their contributions to the palimpsest, the cumulative identity of the flag changes as one country's insignia or symbols temporarily overlap those of another. Net.flag also includes a "browse history" feature that permits access to the evolution of its net symbolic value—that is, the percentage of signs indicating "peace," "valor," or "blood" present in the flag at a given moment by its aggregate components.

In a world where global trade, facilitated by telecommunication and e-commerce, has blurred national borders, nationalism in general had seemed increasingly to be losing its relevance—until September 11. "In the past six months, we've seen many more flags," said Jon Ippolito, Associate Curator of Media Arts and curator of the commissions. "But the nation has also come to realize that we can't be an isolated sovereignty in a global economy. What happens to an emblem of solitary statehood when that state's internal affairs become entangled with geopolitical commitments? Net.flag is one answer to that question."

John F. Simon, Jr.'s Unfolding Object
John F. Simon, Jr. describes Unfolding Object as "an endless book that rewrites itself and whose use dictates its content." Originally a blank square visible on a Web page, the object unfolds in response to the virtual tugs of visitors from across the globe. As new facets branch off the original shape, each is patterned with a visual graphic that reflects the state of the object at the time the facet was created. For example, each leaf of this "book" that has been turned four times in the past is marked with four vertical lines; a horizontal line, meanwhile, stands for many such unfoldings. In Unfolding Object Simon and his collaborator Nik Mikros have created a visual analogue for the computer's ability to "unfold" a wealth of possibilities from a compact set of instructions.

Unfolding Object places the viewer in a space that—though virtual—is communal. The work is an object shared by the users whose fingerprints are left on the pages they unfold. Facets that have already been unfolded darken as they become distant from the central square, but a facet that has not yet been altered rewards its discoverer with a brightly colored figure untouched by previous markings. "Unfolding Object presents a fresh alternative to the prevailing model of interactive artworks," said Jon Ippolito. "No matter how 'dog-eared' Simon's pages get, his object will always leave room for fresh discoveries by individual visitors."

Artist Biographies
Mark Napier has been creating artwork exclusively for the Web since 1995. He combines his training as a painter with 15 years of expertise as a software developer to create "art interfaces," software that addresses issues of authority, ownership and territory in the virtual world. Napier has received a NYFA Fellowship (2001) and a grant from the Greenwall Foundation (2001), and his work has been reviewed by The New York Times, ArtByte, Wired News and many international publications. Although net.flag is the first work to be acquired by a museum, Napier has also been commissioned to create Internet artwork for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His work has been shown in the Whitney Biennial (2002), SFMOMA's 010101, the Whitney's Data Dynamics, ZKM's net_condition, the Walker's Art and Entertainment Network; at new media festivals in Germany, Italy, Denmark, and South America; and at his own Web site,

John F. Simon, Jr. uses programming language as an activated extension of written language. Simon has investigated this principle in mediums as diverse as plotter drawings, acrylic sculptures, and online projects visible at his own Web site, His software programs displayed on wall-mounted screens, for example, feature unpredictable patterns of color and movement. His software panel works have been collected by the Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. In 2000 Simon was selected to receive the Aldrich Museum Trustee's Award for an Outstanding Emerging Artist, and his Internet project Every Icon was exhibited in the Whitney Biennial. He holds an MFA degree from SVA and a Masters degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Washington University. He lives in New York City with his wife Elizabeth.

Education Programs

All programs take place in the Sackler Center for Arts Education at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and are free of charge.

Art in a Networked Space
Monday, March 18 at 7 pm
New Media Theater
Computer Lab
New Media Artist Mark Napier will focus on the underlying social implications of net browsers and networked environments. The artist will present past projects including P-Soup, Shredder, Feed, and also the new work commissioned by the Guggenheim, net.flag, to illustrate the issues raised. The audience will then have the opportunity to interact with net.flag in the Sackler Center computer lab.

Collecting the UnCollectible
Tuesday, April 9 at 7 pm
New Media Theater
What are the challenges and potentials of buying and selling software-based artwork? Join artists John Klima, Mark Napier, and John F. Simon, Jr. with gallerist Michele Thursz in a discussion and exploration of new business models for artists working in digital media and the implications of its production and sale.

Reflections on the Residency - An Interactive Multi-User Art Screening with Mark Napier
Monday, May 6 at 7 pm
New Media Theater
Computer Lab
Transforming the Computer Lab into a multi-user networked environment, Napier offers a rare opportunity to experiment with a new interactive Web-based project created during his 3-month residency in the Sackler Center. Participants will contribute to an on-site testing of his artwork and provide the artist with real-time feedback.

Coding As Creative Writing: Reflections on Software As Art
John F. Simon, Jr.
Wednesday, May 15 at 7 pm
New Media Theater
Multimedia Lab
New York-based artist John Simon will elaborate on his process of using computer programming as a type of creative writing. In conjunction with the launching of his artwork Unfolding Object on the Guggenheim Web Site, he will present samples of his programming code and demonstrate the vast possibilities that the code implies.

February 18, 2002

For Press Information:
Betsy Ennis/Sasha Nicholas, Public Affairs
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Telephone: (212) 423-3840
Telefax: (212) 423-3787

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