Guest Post by Mark Sheerin

Art needs networks, and the 20th century testifies to that. There could never have been a lone fauvist, a solitary cubist, an isolated futurist, etc, etc. The avant garde loves company, and, without it, could never have made the great strides which came along with modernity.

Now we live in a different landscape. Cafes have become corporate part-time creches and third place venues for business meetings. Cigarettes and pipes, both intellectual props, are banned. And just try paying for your triple shot latte with a sketch, it can’t be done.

The avant garde have been in retreat everywhere for decades now. So it is good news to have some networking technology which might serve as a focal point for new visual ideas. So brew your own coffee, and read on, then redirect your browser to ArtStack here.

“How do these groups of people come together?” asks Co-Founder Ezra Konvitz. “What do they come together around, what was the particular moment where you have a group of people who have all converged around an idea?”

Some journals and meeting places may still exist, but these days many artists find it just as easy to share works, inspiration and ideas online. Like any social network worth its salt, Konvitz says his project hopes to replicate the social dimension of the real world.

For those new to ArtStack, the beta-stage website is a minimal, intuitive platform on which you can post images of your favorite art and browse those pertaining to other avant garde spirits. But I jest; the site is not at all elitist.

It is instead a space where you might find super-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist’s profile along with those of well-known artists from around the globe and emerging names from the most far flung parts.

“What’s really cool now is you’ve got people from Australia talking to people who are in New York and collaborating on shows. It’s so quick now,” says thirty-something Konvitz, whose democratic start-up is the fruits of a Masters in Art History and a timely enthusiasm for new and social media.

He talks of providing young people and other outsiders with, “the inspiration to go and be an artist, to go and be a curator, to get involved with art”. You don’t need a residence in a capital of culture to participate; ArtStack brings together people from 198 countries.

Konvitz is under no illusion that his site will replace the first-hand experience of a gallery. “Of course, real world interaction is always stronger,” he says. “Being able to have a conversation with somebody, or to see something in real life, is always going to trump an online interaction.”

And yet research has shown that some 60 percent of visitors to a show at Tate Liverpool, previewed online, said that seeing the displays online made them more likely make a visit.

At a later point in our conversation, Konvitz compares visiting an exhibition to experiencing live music. Jpegs and mp3s can help make you familiar with the work, but a live experience is always something special.

Perhaps it is inevitable, but the musical comparison brings to mind the rapid rise of band Arctic Monkeys, thanks to a page on music networking site MySpace. Anecdotal evidence suggests ArtStack has hooked up artists with curators, but the art world is still waiting for the meteoric artist without gallery representation.

However, interested parties might still learn something from a check-in with the website’s trending page. Major exhibitions in major cities tend to drive traffic to certain artists. “It’s a good way to keep tabs on what’s going on in the world,” says Konvitz.

It also offers the chance to see much loved works in new contexts – 3D pieces and video are both well served. “You can see a sculpture from the front, from the back, during daylight, at night, when it was in France, when it was in New York,” says Konvitz,

“It’s nice to get more of a rounded experience of a work or to view video art in your living room.” Indeed, to visit a page on which Giotto could rub  shoulders with a 21st century art student is the most rounded of experiences.

“Finding the way in which artists can have that success and connect with the people who will make a difference to them is a really important thing”, Konvitz says. Avant garde movements may be a thing of the past. But, all the same, you might watch this virtual space and hope.

Mark Sheerin is an art writer from Brighton, UK. He can also be found on Culture24, Hyperallergic, Frame & Reference and his own blog

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