How Digital Art Degrades

For a generation, institutions from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Pompidou Center in Paris have been collecting digital art. But in trying to restore the Davis work, which was finally debugged and reposted at the end of May, the Whitney encountered what many exhibitors, collectors and artists are also discovering: the 1s and 0s of digital art degrade far more rapidly than traditional visual art does, and the demands of upkeep are much higher. Nor is the way forward clear.

“We’re working on constantly shifting grounds,” said Rudolf Frieling, a curator of media arts at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which has been at the forefront of sustaining online art. “Whatever hardware, platform or device we’re using is not going to be there tomorrow.”

Fascinating work, and bound to be an increasing area of concern. I have piles of floppies with HyperCard stacks on them, and a library of Atari 2600 cartridges that says this has been a problem for some time.