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Paddles ON!

Auction house Phillips partners with Tumblr for its first ever digital art auction, selling YouTube videos and video game screenshots

by Nara Shin in Culture on 07 October 2013

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Although its main focus has been on contemporary art and design in the last decade, Phillips has never held an auction dedicated to digital art—until now. The historic international auction house partnered with Tumblr (undoubtedly one of the most popular platforms used by emerging and established digital artists to share their work) for Paddles ON!, an exhibition and auction curated by Lindsay Howard that showcases artists who are using new technologies to create works that are shaping the developing genre of digital art.

This move from Phillips—whose lots typically include works from major names like Andy Warhol to Jean-Michel Basquiat that sell for millions of dollars—is a significant show of support for digital artists and adds welcome validity to their place in the contemporary art market; which for the most part, has favored more traditional mediums. Furthermore, the auction house will not take a cut: 80% of the proceeds from the auction go to the artist and the remaining 20% will be donated to Rhizome—the NYC-based non-profit dedicated to supporting new media and digital art, like their recent commission of internet art grants. The organization was founded in 1996 by artist and the newly-appointed chair of the MFA Fine Arts Department at SVA Mark Tribe, who also has a piece in the auction from his 2012 series, "Rare Earth." To learn more about how an artist uses new technologies as a medium, CH asked Tribe about his artistic process in creating "Black Creek" and similar landscape photographs that he took inside first-person shooter video games and then rendered into large-scale, high-resolution pigment prints.

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"I hacked some of the games, others I just used out of the box, but I always spent a lot of time exploring the worlds and looking for interesting vistas. The process was remarkably similar to taking landscape photographs in the 'real world'—I wandered around, climbing hills, bushwacking, peering around. Sometimes I would have to step around a bush or climb up onto a rock to get the right viewpoint," Tribe says.

"And this experience reinforced for me one of the conceptual underpinnings of the project: how the boundaries between the virtual and the real are blurring in contemporary life. Futurists and science fiction authors have been predicting this moment for decades, and it is finally happening: not only is it getting hard to tell the difference sometimes, but the real and the virtual are no longer separate territories." Tribe's choice to separate these snapshots from its original context, sterilizing the violent fantasies into peaceful, beautiful landscapes, brings forth questions about the sophistication of virtual reality and the shrinking perceptibility of our own world.

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CH also spoke with curator Lindsay Howard about how she set the criteria for choosing the works in this auction. "I had been thinking about MoMA's acquisition of 14 video games and how Cooper Hewitt recently became the first museum to acquire code as a living object. The idea of 'What will stand the test of time?' intrigued me, since technology often goes hand-in-hand with obsolescence," she says.

Howard continues, "I looked for artists who are pioneers in developing the visual language for digital art, as well as those who are creating monetization and preservation models that are reflective of their creative process. As technology takes a more central role in our lives, the artists who possess not only aesthetic skills but also technical intuitiveness and mastery will become increasingly desirable." The 20 original works she curated for the auction, including an interactive website by Rafaël Rozendaal to a patterned GIF by Nicolas Sassoon meant to resemble natural elements, explore the ephemeral nature of new technologies and the social and political ramifications of our relationship with these tools. The networked digital realm provides infinite possibilities for creative expression.

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To view the entire collection and submit an online bid, visit Paddles ON! hosted by Paddle8 before this Thursday 10 October at 7 P.M. The highest bids will then transfer to the live auction at 8:30 P.M. at Phillips, 450 Park Avenue, New York.

ifnoyes.com by Rafaël Rozendaal, 2013. Website, Javascript and HTML. Image courtesy of the artist and Postmasters Gallery, New York

Black Creek by Mark Tribe, 2012. Archival pigment print, 44x69", edition of 5 with 1 AP. Image courtesy of the artist.

RGB,D-LAY by Petra Cortright, 2011. Webcam Video File. Image courtesy of Steve Turner Contemporary, Los Angeles.

Asymmetric Love Number 2 by Addie Wagenknecht, 2013. Single produced sculpture (steel, CCTV cameras and DSL internet cables). Image courtesy of the artist.

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