Title:Curating on the Web: The Museum in an Interface Culture
Authors:Steve Dietz
Publication:MW98: Museums and the Web 1998

Museums, particularly in the cultural sector, are institutions of preservation. By and large their mission is not to lead culture but to preserve, understand, and educate about it. Will these and other bedrock functions be upgraded for the Net age--what Steven Johnson calls the "interface culture"--or are museums in danger of losing their cultural franchise to other more innovative, useful, or engaging enterprises, whether they be virtual organizations or entertainment conglomerates?

This paper will look at examples of working with artists on the Web and curating "Web art" to see how these map to traditional notions of museum functions and whether they suggest new strategies for dealing in more innovative, useful, and engaging ways with traditional works of art in a Net environment. Specifically, I will discuss my experience curating the Walker Art Center's virtual "Gallery 9"; our attempts to do more than present information about the work of artists such as Joseph Beuys, Mark Luyten, and Diana Thater; and experiments in the presentation of our permanent collection using QTVR and VRML ( - January 98). I will also present examples of practices at other institutions--virtual or otherwise--that I think are innovative, useful, or engaging efforts to present web art and art on the web.

If the goal is to compete effectively in the radically shifting cultural environment without losing the soul of the museum, the question remains how to do so. I believe that contemporary artists and "interfacers" (Johnson) have much to teach even museums about relevant possibilities of a new medium in a changing society.