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'Cache Monet' Woos Art Collectors with GIFs

Digital art is usually a hard sell, but this loop of retro GIFs has broken into the collectors' scene.
December 12, 2013, 10:50am
A screenshot of Cache Monet

On November 13, the Brooklyn-based interactive creative Tim Nolan launched Cache Monet, a retro site filled with 1990s-inspired GIFs. In three weeks, he had over 880,000 visits, received offers from galleries, and sold a four-minute video clip to a social network founder for over $3,000.

He's inspired by the unusual combination of computer caches and impressionist painter Claude Monet, and the result of this eclectic blend aims to be autonomous and generative. The website is a mixture of curation by Universal Scene, code by Lasse Korsgaard, and music by Jib Kidder.


Cache Monet's unending loop of GIFs, both custom made and hand picked from Tumblr, are hinged on net nostalgia. Everything from MS Dos to potato chips, VHS and Windows XP capture a time when Nolan first saw the internet as exciting, experimental and fun to explore, and this focus brings an old school vibe to the work.

One retro GIF makes up the foreground, and another the background.

While digital art is undoubtedly popular, it can be notoriously difficult to sell in an increasingly conservative art market. As the Digital Art Collection notes, only a handful of collections worldwide focus exclusively on digital art. But at the same time, Rhizome reports that collecting contemporary art has to mean buying digital art.

Nolan has a day job at an ad agency, but Cache Monet is nevertheless a good example of how digital artists can profit outside the typical art world, where galleries take up to 50 percent of artist’s profits: Selling your work online means removing that middle man.

Nolan spoke to me from his studio about curating Tumblr, net nostalgia and why he remains hopeful about the future of digital art.

cachemonet alpha via Vimeo/Universalscene

Motherboard: How did this project come about?

Tim Nolan: When I am making things for the web, sometimes the domain name comes first, and I try to figure out how to use it, and sometimes the idea comes first. In this case I had the name first, and it took some time before I felt I had the right idea for it. Once I had the idea of a computer and human working together to create art, I quickly wrote some archaic code to share with a developer friend who helped bring it to life as it stands on the web today.


Did you expect to get so much attention?

I'd like to say yes, but definitely no considering how it was released. I really only mentioned it in one email to Julia Kaganskiy that resulted in one tweet from her account. The growth and spread was completely organic. The traffic from social media (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit) far outweighs the amount of traffic sent from sites like Buzzfeed, The Atlantic, The Verge, Gizmodo, and the like. Within 24 hours, the site had spread to a quarter of a million viewers worldwide.

You go for a nostalgic aesthetic. Why?

For me it reminds me of the time during the late 1990s when the web was experimental and fun to explore. Some of the first work I created professionally for the web back then was submitting animated GIFs to for what they called WORDtv that sat in the site's header. There was something a bit more magical about the web back then. I assume this is because everything felt so new and uncharted.

So you select and create GIFs but there is an autonomous selection program running in the background. How does it work?

The way the site works is that there are two 'curated' sets of images cached on the server. The animated images are either created by me or they are hand-picked based on their aesthetic and timing from Tumblr. The application runs two random scripts against the image arrays and delivers the two animated images to the composition. One image occupies the foreground, the second is repeated in the background within the browser's viewport. Each randomized pairing is displayed for four seconds before a new pairing is generated. The visitor can override the timing element and generate new pairings upon mouse click at any time during their visit.

Is this how the video you sold was made? What is it called and what’s the concept behind it?

The piece that was sold is a stand-alone version of the site. It was delivered as a single channel video file and presented during an event in Las Vegas earlier this month. The concept is the same as the site, it is only the format that changed. I literally screen captured myself navigating the site for the duration of the song. This is something that artists working with the Internet as a medium will continue to wrestle with. How do you sell art that naturally lives on the Web?


How did the sale come about?

The buyer encountered Cache Monet though a shared link. Being a founder of a popular social network, and having a history with the web, he was enamoured by its nostalgic appeal. He then reached out to me via email.

How much of this is a moving music video, unable to stop? What else is it?

I think that if you view it for its commercial value, it could totally be a great vehicle for distributing a single. It does work in a very similar way to how a music video worked to amplify a song prior to the internet. It gets people interactive, or passively enjoying the experience, and the music is a huge component. The primary driver was to explore the idea of man and machine working together to create new and unexpected results within a set of defined parameters. It also plays into the short attention span people have for consuming entertainment online. Using Vine as an example, each video file is six seconds long. On Cache Monet, the system delivers a new composition every four seconds. Beyond that, it feels both nostalgic and contemporary at the same time. This guy had an interesting take on it.

Is curating Tumblr a new thing, in this way?

I suppose it can be perceived as curating Tumblr. I also see it as a way to use the culture happening on Tumblr as a palette to work with. Either way it is drawing its aesthetic from that world.

Is it true that art gallerists are interested in showing your work? Any plans there yet?

Yes, we have spoken with a few gallery spaces, and net art-friendly spaces. I quite like the idea of Cache Monet running on four walls simultaneously to the music. It gets interesting to think about the different participant and observer situations that occur when watching something that is live on the internet, and in an exhibit space. We are also thinking about including it in a larger group show of single-serving sites that are adapted to physical installations.

How hard is it to sell and make a living from something like digital art? It can be replicated so easily.

There is a strange parallel in the marketing and selling of street art and graffiti and net art. If you think about it, the natural environment of street art is of course in the streets. The street, its placement and the surrounding environment plays heavily into how a piece is positioned, painted, or wheat-pasted by its creator. A great deal of art created to be experienced in a web browser also adheres to a similar set of parameters, in theory. Basically, the confines of a web browser act as an application. Net art and street art both fall victim to being easily replicated or bootlegged. To answer your question, I guess that does make it hard for one to make a living from creating digital art. But honestly, you can remove the word "digital" from your question and the answer would be the same.

What do you think the future of digital art is?

Exciting and new.