Duchamp’s Ideal Children: Internet Art, the Avant-Garde and the Readymade

by Ginger Scott


The collective term ‘new media art’ relates to what is currently ‘new’ and has referred to video, electronic, web-based, network, and interactive art at different times. There are also further distinctions for artworks that exist digitally – either through closed networks, on the World Wide Web, or as digital works that don’t need the internet to be viewed. From the early 1990s, ‘new media’ was used in reference to internet/online art that could be lumped in with considerations of the avant garde due to the paradigm shift in concept, medium and reception that it initiated. It uses the same context for its production, display and content – the work was self-referential because it was made digitally, displayed digitally, and communicated digitally. The trajectory of the avant garde, with artists claiming ‘non-art’ objects as ‘art’ objects, began somewhere with Duchamp and his urinal.  The readymade can be directly related to today’s digital and online art as we can observe the re-purposing of a pre-existing system as a tool for artistic exploration. Maybe it’s too simple to lump together a urinal and the internet  in a discussion about new media and avant garde. Even if the ties are obvious, there is a risk of limiting the interpretation of current digital and online production. This work’s mutable identity and confused role in the larger art world expresses the very nature of the media themselves and deserves space to expand and renegotiate itself on an ongoing basis. [...]