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By DANIEL E. SLOTNIKJAN. 22, 2014
Douglas Davis, who had parallel careers as an art critic forNewsweek and as an artist himself, doing work that explored the possibilities of video and the Internet as creative and interactive mediums, died on Jan. 16 in Queens. He was 80.
His daughter, Laura Davis-Chanin, confirmed the death. No cause was given.
Mr. Davis was a writer before he became an artist, and in addition to his work for Newsweek in the 1970s and ’80s, he was the author of several books, including “Artculture: Essays on the Post-Modern” (1977) and “The Five Myths of Television Power: Or, Why the Medium Is Not the Message” (1993).
He began working on his own art during the creative explosion of the 1960s, and by 1970 had started to experiment with video and performance as mediums.
In 1977, Mr. Davis took part in a project in which he, the video artistNam June Paik and the conceptual artist Joseph Beuys broadcast performance pieces to 25 countries via satellite for Documenta 6, a German art exhibition.RELATED COVERAGE When Artworks Crash: Restorers Face Digital TestJUNE 9, 2013
Electronic Arts Intermix, a nonprofit organization dedicated to media art, reported that it was the first time live performance arthad been telecast internationally.
Mr. Davis’s segment of the satellite broadcast was titled “The Last Nine Minutes.” It featured him staring out from the television at viewers and pressing his hands against the screen, as if in a futile attempt to either connect or escape.
In 1994 Mr. Davis created “The World’s First Collaborative Sentence,” a participatory work of online art, for the exhibition “InterActions” at the Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx. The sentence began “I DID NOT FEEL SEPARATED I FELT VERY CLOSE EVEN THOUGH WE WERE THOUSANDS OF MILES APART,” and invited anyone to add words online.
People did. For the next six years, 200,000 people from around the world contributed all kinds of thoughts, some rambling, some lucid.
The resulting document has the feel of a comments section (before such forums were commonplace) conveyed in an exuberant stream-of-consciousness fashion, emphasized by a riot of type sizes and styles. The languages used ranged from Spanish, German, French and Polish to gibberish. Color printouts of screen after screen of the “Sentence” adorned walls when it was installed in museums. (The Whitney Museum of American Art acquired the piece in 1995.)
Reviewing an art exhibition in which the “Sentence” was on view, Vivien Raynor wrote in The New York Times in 1996, “As noted in the accompanying documentation, the sentence, to which anyone can contribute, will continue into infinity, or until ‘the world has no more to say.’ (Fat chance.)”
Douglas Matthew Davis Jr. was born on April 11, 1933, in Washington, D.C.
“I first entered an art museum by mistake, at age 11, to get out of the rain,” Mr. Davis wrote in an Op-Ed article in The Times in 2000. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from American University and a master’s from Rutgers University before he became a freelance writer and editor and later the art critic for The National Observer. He moved to New York in the late 1960s and joined Newsweek soon afterward.
His work has appeared in the Pompidou Center in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York.
His first marriage, to the former Mary Virginia Miller, ended in divorce. His second wife, Jane Bell Davis, died in 2005. In addition to Laura, his daughter from his first marriage, his survivors include another daughter from that marriage, Mary Elizabeth Davis; a daughter from his second marriage, Victoria Davis; and two granddaughters.
After leaving Newsweek, Mr. Davis wrote articles and lectured while continuing to produce art.
“The World’s First Collaborative Sentence” eventually became obsolete, crashing later-generation browsers with a blizzard of indecipherable text, but the Whitney was able to restore an updated version of the work to functionality in 2013. People can stillcontribute to that version atartport.whitney.org/collection/DouglasDavis/live/writesentence.html. The museum also managed to keep the frozen original text available online at the artport.whitney.org site as a testament to the work’s origins and the Web of old.