Skip to content →

The Ephemeral and The Artifact

Phillipe de Montebello

Curatorial expertise is the Metropolitan’s most valuable currency.

Philipe de Montebello

After spending hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, your mind spins. So much taken in, so much to process, to sort through, to connect up, to start whole new trains of thought. The items kept and displayed in the Met are often exemplars of their type.

Woman Seen From The Back

But as Montebello notes, it’s the ability of the curator to find a particular item, a painting, a cultural artifact and tell a coherent story about it; to connect that story to the others floating around the culture in which the object was embedded. The value of the curator’s thought and writing ensures that the objects in the collection have value and that the value continues to grow and deepen.

Compare this to the value of the digital object. While our understanding of a digital work can grow in depth, can the artifact itself actually grow in value? The digital object’s relationship with time has been one of depreciation, its existence ephemeral. The business of the digital has been managing a downward slope toward commoditization, and ultimately a price of zero (Of course there are strategies of renewal).

Will the digital object ever have the same investment characteristcs as the items in the Metropolitan’s collection? In the Computer History Museum, the collection is comprised mostly of the physical computers– the software isn’t much to look at. While Jonathan Ive’s designs will certainly earn a place at the Cooper-Hewitt, will there be a day when we will see digital objects in a physical building like the Metropolitan Museum? If there is such a thing as a digital art object it may displace the Museum. Is there a reason to view such a work in such a place? The digital object can only be viewed in a digital venue. Unlike the artifacts in the Met, the digital object is not unique. It’s always a copy, it can always find its way to you through the Network.  And the most valuable currency in establishing a collection? Curatorial expertise.

Published in art culture digital value zettel