Indexing

by Cat Kron*

Indexhibit is, amongst a certain circle, a well-known and widely used tool that goes mostly unnoticed outside that group. Designed in 2001 by Daniel Eatock, it has emerged as one of the primary open-source programs for artists who want to create online portfolios. Of the 20 sites most recently generated using Indexhibit freeware at the time of this essay, two were not yet live, one supported the website of a Swiss Feldenkrais instructor, and the remaining operational sites were created as online portfolios for artists and designers. The authors of these remaining sites are based all over the world, but all are in their 20’s and 30’s. None of the 20 artists appeared to work in the Internet or new genres as their primary medium and, more significantly, none of them have apparently secured gallery representation. On the democratizing platform of the web, Indexhibit attempts to expose their work to a viewing (and potentially paying) public, a service once the exclusive province of galleries.

typical layout of an artist page on the site of a large commercial gallery

Fine artists who became successful before the time when having a studio practice necessitated having a website generally do not make websites for themselves. Older artists that have managed to sustain their practice and to exchange their work for money usually have a gallery or institution that supports them. The exposure that accompanies such financial support now extends beyond the length of a show, to include a professional, easily navigable web portfolio accessed through the gallery’s site. Established artists who want their own personal URL, who are between galleries or whose work cannot be fully encompassed within the confines of a gallery sponsored page, find a small army of young designers and studio assistants willing to assist them. But emerging artists who are eager for exposure have significantly less money at their disposal to facilitate this. They are thus put in the awkward position of needing a means for interested parties to access their work in order to acquire a gallery, obtain grants et cetera, while being unable to afford an outsourced designer to organize their content into a site.

William Wegman is an example of an established artist whose practice includes work in painting and video not shown at Pace Gallery, the gallery which represents him, but which is included on his own site.

Mike Smith is an established artist who is not represented by a gallery, and whose work in video translates particularly easily to viewing within the context of a website. Creating a professional website is also a means by which video artists can control how much of their work is accessible on the Internet. Alternatively, the artist Matthew Barney allows none of his work to be distributed on the web and strictly regulates its distribution, while the much younger Ryan Trecartin uploads every video he makes to his own Youtube channel.

While this is no setback for a certain sort of industrious, techy DIY’er, nor for the many artists who have acquired web design as a job skill, it presents a problem for artists whose practice is unrelated to digital and web design, and who have no incentive to learn it beyond expediency. As art schools pump out increasingly more digitally skilled BFA’s and MFA’s, web design is often the last skill to be gleaned by those young artists who are intent on making something physically tangible. HTML is prescriptive and inflexible in the sense that it is either correctly written (and works) or miscoded (and doesn’t). CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) can be frustrating and unintuitive. Indexhibit appeared at a particularly opportune moment when young artists found themselves in need of a website to show their work but without the skill set to design one.

The spare homepage of artist Joshua Abelow, who is represented by James Fuentes but who maintains his own site, generated without any CSS formatting at all.

“I have an interest in all things that function so well that they become invisible,” Eatock said in 2007. Indexhibit owes its success to this invisibility, to its ability to display image galleries in a format that feels universal, without the distracting signatures that would link the sites to a brand. While many Indexhibit-generated sites share navigational features like the vertical menu and the scroll bar at the bottom of the page, the program is mostly unobtrusive. Blog formats work in much the same way, but offer none of the feel and navigability contemporary users expect of websites, to say nothing of the associations and stigmas surrounding blogs as they have come to be regarded in current web browsing culture.

a typical site generated using Indexhibit

Regardless of whether it relates to their practice, if a young artist really did want to delve into web coding, they would probably have done it by now. Those who want an infrastructure that supports their work in the most utilitarian, unstylized way possible, are the most likely candidates for Indexhibit. It is the ideal tool for artists who echo the sentiment of one painter I interviewed for this article.

-My website is bad and I hate the experience of working on it but wish it were better.

-I think that is a sentiment shared among many.

-Yes.

*Cat Kron is 2011 graduate of MA in Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies Program at Columbia University.