Regardless of futurist diatribes and the invectives of cyber exclusivists, relics of past aesthetics are and will remain immense repositories of culture (William Gibson in Count Zero queries the eery power of art objects: "How could anyone have arranged these bits, this garbage, in such a way that it caught at the heart, snagged in the soul like a fishhook?"). The myriad ways in which we are learning to glean the history of art works are not just informing us about our past, but are actively forming our perception of current existence. Notions of evanescence and fugitive electrons are not the prerogative of nascent virtual worlds, but henceforth pervade the realm of purportedly fixed objects. It has become extremely difficult to define what constitutes even a longstanding art work, in light of growing evidence concerning vigorous, die hard habits of appropriation, transformation, accretion, and incorporation of cultural artefacts. Which of several superimposed layers of parietal painting should be conserved, and according to what criteria? In what physical state - freshly restored or time-worn - can a work be deemed to most closely reflect its maker's intentions, and do those intentions in fact deserve priority? How we choose to read the temporal strata of our civilizations is a vital social question, a "riddle of the Sphinx" constantly posed by a museum like the Louvre.|
Alongside the latest communication and cultural centers born and raised in the networks, museums anchored in objects have an essential role to play in extending our historic and aesthetic awareness. The Louvre's networked progeny via Internet and the French telephone system (the "Joconde" minitel server has been available to the public for years) is disseminating spectra of works which continue to draw throngs in search of an increasingly elusive, duplicitous original. One of the most unforgettable radiographic images revealed by the Art and Science CD-ROM is that of Mona Lisa's shifty stare: Leonardo endowed her with two angles of view, before finally opting for the enigmatic gaze that has gone down in history. The hundreds of thousands of objects in the Louvre have much to tell us yet.