10 February 2007

Slart - Second Life Art

Artnet News
Jan. 23, 2007
Ben Davis


Richard Minsky, an artist and founder of the Center for Book Arts in New York City, is launching the first magazine dedicated exclusively to the art scene in the burgeoning online universe of Second Life.

Dubbed Slart -- as in Second Life Art -- the publication is designed to bring "real world art issues" into the virtual sphere, and to make sense of an imaginary art scene that already involves some 100 online galleries. Among the articles on tap for the premiere issue are "Will virtual artworks appreciate in value?" and "Is all virtual art illustration?"

Second Life claims more than 2.8 million users (though independent estimates put active membership at 100,000), and has attracted major attention from both the media and corporations. Reuters has opened a bureau inside the virtual world, for instance, and stores like American Apparel are using the venue as a platform to sell their wares, both virtual and real.

The development of a Second Life art market has followed close behind, with the online universe’s unusual setup -- users are granted copyright to their in-world creations -- encouraging artistic investment, according to Minsky.

Examples of artworks traded in Second Life range from scanned copies of public-domain artworks to complex kinetic sculptures that could only exist in virtual space. According to Minsky, works produced in unlimited editions can be had for as little as 100 Linden dollars while unique works regularly sell for as much as 15,000 Lindens (Lindens are the currency of Second Life, and trade at a rate of 250 Lindens to $1 U.S.). Some artworks can even sell in the six-figure range -- which adds up to real money, in either world.

To judge by the advance issue of Slart, one artist to watch is Filthy Fluno, already the subject of multiple Boston Globe articles. Fluno is the avatar-name of artist Jeffrey Lipsky, executive director of the nonprofit Munroe Gallery in Lexington, Mass. His graffiti-influenced, semi-abstract pictures depict Second Life scenes and people, but they are also versions of works that he makes in the real world -- his clients may purchase artworks at Fluno’s gallery in Second Life and receive the flesh-world version via snail mail As if that weren’t confusing enough, the real-life Lipsky is white, while his online incarnation is a brawny African-American, seemingly a cross between Jean-Michel Basquiat and "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan.

In contrast, the fantastic sculptures of StarAx Statosky, arguably Second Life’s first art megastar, can only exist in the virtual universe, the physics of which are decidedly dreamlike. Statosky has already had a one-day retrospective at Second Life’s Aho Art Museum, Oct. 15, 2006, including many works lent by private collectors in the online world. The imagery may seem a bit hokey -- it ranges from an animated butterfly floating over a fairy on a large flower to a giant devil whose mouth you can walk into -- but to Second Lifers, the works display an immense command of digital craft. (Footage of the Aho Museum opening is available on YouTube.)

Yet Statosky’s story also contains a cautionary note for artists looking to do business in Second Life. His most popular creation was a "magic wand" that allowed users to translate their in-world dialogue into animations, which he sold for 15,000 Linden dollars a pop, or $60. It was a big hit; Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Labs, the company that produces Second Life, even described StarAx’s wand as "possibly the coolest single thing you can own in SL." However, after one of the periodic updates of the game changed the world’s operating principles, the device was rendered non-functional, destroying the artist’s business and apparently inducing him to abandon the world completely (rumors abound that StarAx has returned under a different guise).

Still, one way or another, the art scene in Second Life seems bound to grow. IBM, already a major player in the universe, is rumored to be amassing a corporate collection of virtual works.

Meanwhile, art galleries and institutions are getting onboard -- in December 2006, SoHo art dealer Jen Bekman launched an online version of her Spring Street gallery in conjunction with a show of images from Second Life by British artist James Deavin, while George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. spearheaded multiple exhibitions in the universe coinciding with its "Seeing Ourselves" show, Apr. 22-July 30, 2006, featuring online versions of photos by Matthew Brady, Richard Avedon, Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange, Edward Steichen, Mary Ellen Mark and Gordon Parks.

And, in case there is any doubt whether art in Second Life can address serious issues, the U.S. Holocaust Museum has taken the initiative and put up a virtual version of the photo exhibition, "Our Walls Bear Witness: Darfur -- Who Will Survive Today?"

Slart is planned as an in-world publication, readable as a magazine within Second Life. Minsky also intends to make the magazine available in paper form (check www.minsky.com for details) for all those still wedded to their first life.

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