Thea Westreich is a newbie, a newcomer to cyberspace. But Ms. Westreich, a SoHo-based art consultant, is in good company. As the art world is poised on the edge of its own technological explosion, she and others who are getting involved now are among the pioneers in the field.
Artists are creating works for the on-line world. Museums and galleries, private dealers and auction houses are staking out their own territory, too. They're all linking up to the World Wide Web, an international method of handling information over the Internet.
The Web gives computer users the ability to display text, images, sound and video on color screens that make art look realer than real. All they have to do is point and click for images to appear instantly.
"The potential is enormous," said Michael Govan, director of the Dia Center for the Arts in New York. "While this is no replacement for looking at art, it's another medium with which to engage an audience and hopefully attract more visitors to Dia."
Computer experts estimate that 10 million to 20 million Americans will have access to the Web by fall. All you need is a computer, a modem and Internet connection with Web access.
The Web serves different needs for different participants. For small institutions like Dia, it provides a forum for artists to create digital projects especially for the Web and allows millions of users a chance to learn about Dia.
Advertising may be the most obvious reason the art world is hooking up to the Web. For galleries, it's a way to let people know about their shows; for consultants, it tells people the services they offer, and for museums, it allows scholars access to collections and catalogs. For the public, it's a way to learn what's around to see.
The Web offers an unlimited audience. "If you are an artist who has a gallery show, how many people actually see it?" asks Stacy Horn, founder of Echo, a bulletin-board service she describes as an electronic salon. "The potential on the Web is millions. If you have something generally cool, within a matter of days everyone around the world knows about it."
Word travels fast in cyberspace. "It's instant access all over the world at the touch of a button," Ms. Westreich said. On-line services like Artix, Echo and Art Net are also helping galleries and artists reproduce images on the Web. Dia is just now going on line, as is the Whitney Museum of American Art.
David Ross, director of the Whitney, says about the Web that he hasn't been so excited about a project's potential since the '60s. "This is where video art was in 1968," he said the other day. "It's not going to change art or replace art. It's simply creating new ways of communicating about art in a new medium."