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|Masters of Their Own Domain
by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech
By now, internet aficionados are familiar with domain names and the battles they've engendered. Most recently, the Swiss-based conceptual art group Etoy used public relations to triumph over a trademark infringement lawsuit by the mass-market toy retailer eToys.com. But there's lots more -- Yahoo! even has a category for the controversies.
Faced with a shrinking pool of available domain names, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names is considering adding new domains, among them dot-sex for adult sites and dot-art for art sites (where an artist like Annie Sprinkle would fit in that plan remains to be seen). Until that pandemonium starts, we thought we would take a look at the current state of artist domain names.
A handful of contemporary artists have built websites using their own names as the URL. GilbertandGeorge.co.uk (the suffix is the Brit equivalent to dot-com), AlexKatz.com, even AliceNeel.com (established by her estate) are some of the better known efforts in this regard. The painter Steve Miller, who recently exhibited digital montages at UCU in Chelsea, was an early pioneer with SteveMiller.com, and the psychedelic artist Alex Grey does a lot of business selling his posters, books and tapes at AlexGrey.com. And there is much to be said, of course, for the community of artists who have their websites at Artnet.com, where URLs don't include the artist's actual name but feature instead an association with a popular, much-visited site.
But far more artists seem a little -- web-phobic? Media maven Cindy Sherman, for instance, recently remarked in a panel discussion that she had no interest in forging a web presence. It's just as well, since CindySherman.com has been taken by mega-squatter TheWordBank.com, a Canadian company that seems to specialize in registering the proper names of artists and other celebrities. Other names in TheWordBank.com's roster range from JeanDubuffet.com to Basquiat.com and DamienHirst.com.
And if you think you can still get the domains for younger artists, think again -- InkaEssenhigh.com and JohnCurrin.com have already been gobbled-up by Selavy Communications in Florida, while various other companies own YBAs like CecilyBrown.com, TraceyEmin.com, SarahLucas.com and GaryHume.com. Even the aformentioned Annie Sprinkle name has been taken by a commercial porn site -- her official site can be found at http://www.gatesofheck.com/annie/.
By the way, Sherman's colleague at Metro Pictures gallery in New York, Mike Kelley, seems to have pre-empted the cyber-squatters by registering the domain, though there is currently no website at MikeKelley.com.
Of course, getting the domain name is just part of the battle. Earlier this year, the estate of graffiti painter Jean-Michel Basquiat shut down Basquiat.net, a noncommercial educational site dedicated to the popular artist, after five short months. The site, created by John Seed, one-time assistant to Basquiat and art department chair for Mt. San Jacinto College in Cal., featured a personal account of Seed's experiences with Basquiat, a lengthy biography, numerous images and a popular message board. Seed says Basquiat estate lawyer Robert Cinque rejected his claim to "fair use" of the copyrighted Basquiat works, saying that Basquiat.net used the images to advertise itself -- and threatened fines up to $100,000. The estate has said it will set up its own website, but there are no signs of it as of yet.
For some artists, the web has brought out a certain flair for the commercial aspect of the enterprise. Finster.com, the official site for the Rev. Howard Finster, hawks silkscreens, prints, autographed books, t-shirts and even a couple of works by the Reverend's granddaughter. Finster has his own toll free number -- 1-800-Finster!
You would expect commercialism from Peter Max, and he doesn't disappoint in his slick site, PeterMax.com, which offers Flash animations along with inummerable products for sale and a schedule of the artist's appearances on QVC. Similarly, GerardMalanga.com is very high end, offering the Warhol Factory regular for speaking engagements and selling limited edition photos and stock photography. The "about the artist" link provides a brief overview of Malanga's career, calling him "a major influence on many of the paintings and films created in Andy Warhol's studio."
A site that strikes a more pleasing balance between oeuvre and merchandise is www.haring.com, which offers a bio, plenty of information on current and upcoming exhibitions, a morphing screensaver, and of course, tons of t-shirts and posters. But the most impressive feature by far is tucked away in the kids' section (which, admirably, does not feature anything for sale) -- an interactive Flash coloring book that allows one to choose a number of Haring images and letters, move them around, change their sizes, and, of course, color them.
Damian Loeb's "unofficial" website, owned and apparently run by the artist himself, seems designed to promote the celebrity appeal of the famously photogenic young painter -- more than a quarter of the images are photographs of Loeb. The site opens with a picture of the artist and his daughter, looking all the world like an outtake to a Gap ad. A link to "images" leads to pictures of the artist mugging with electronic musician Moby, posing with Cecily Brown and John Currin and sharing a boat ride with Mary Boone in some unidentified location in France. Other personal photos can be found on the "biography" link, including one of a young Damian sans shirt. And Loeb gets points for chutzpah -- the site displays overwhelmingly negative reviews of Loeb's work written by New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman and Robert Mahoney of Time Out.
Another interesting personal site belongs to art-celebrity photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Its features include some samples of his work (including a portrait of Damian Loeb), a Lou Reed movie I couldn't play in my computer, plus flattering essays by such heavyweights as Peter Halley, Wayne Koestenbaum, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Mark Strand and Robert Pincus-Witten.
A personal favorite is Richard Kern's site, RichardKern.com, which opens with a warning that no one under 18 is permitted. In a matter of seconds, before any law-abiding youngsters can go back to the Keith Haring coloring book, the screen presents a highly pixelated, animated image of a topless cutie smoking a cigarette. But this is just a tame preview of the erotic charge that awaits -- links to nude pics of downtown beauties, some playing with adult toys. The site also has a short filmography of Kern's transgressive super-8 work. With all this, Kern seems to have forgotten about commerce. RichardKern.com offers little for sale other than a few books and videotapes.
Our dot.com survey would not be complete without mentioning Artnet Magazine's favorite advice columnist, Mark Kostabi. Besides maintaining his own site at markkostabi.com, readers of Ask Mark Kostabi know full well the importance Kostabi places on the internet -- he often counsels artists to bypass art dealers by offering their wares at eBay, and his namesake domain features a prominent link leading to current items up for sale on the mega-auction site.
Finally, a tip to would-be cybersquatters among our readers: ChrisOfili.com is still available, if you hurry!
Other artists' domain name sites of interest:
GIOVANNI GARCIA-FENECH is a painter who compiles Artnet News for Artnet Magazine.