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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Living | Arts / Cyberlinks
An on-line Louvre of the art of web design

By Patti Hartigan, Globe Staff, 05/21/99

Where do you go when you're suffering brain cramps? You could stare at a wall, but you feel like you need something a little bit more, well, artistic. The Museum of Web Art is the perfect antidote, an on-line gallery that is the visual equivalent of ambient music. Its displays are easy on the eye yet entertaining. There's even an exhibition of wallpaper. Not the stuff you hang in parlors, but the stuff that decorates your monitor.

The brainchild of a California graphic artist named Amy Stone, the museum (http://www.mowa.org) is a showcase for Web design elements, used mainly in commercial art. The wallpaper gallery features stripes and slithery snakes. Another gallery features different designs for click-on buttons; another features page counters.

Strange stuff for a museum, that. But Stone, and her partner Mark Kaproff, set out to create a site that is both utilitarian and artistic. ``I got on line about two years ago, and as a designer, I was looking to find good examples of Web elements,'' Stone says. ``I had to surf constantly.''

She started to collect examples and launched the museum in January. Originally, the ``collection'' featured graphic design works, but now some of the exhibitions straddle the line between fine and commercial art. In ``Millennium Diary,'' for instance, one artist designs a new page for each day of the year leading up to 2000; poetry and multimedia images mark the passage of time.

The site is designed to emulate a physical museum, with arrows pointing to a visitors' center, various galleries, and the main entrance. It's quirky, yet fascinating. Web art is an emerging form, and nobody has really defined it beyond saying that it can exist only in cyberspace. But like Stone, other designers are looking for resources; the site showcases work by more than 50 artists and receives about a million hits a month.

``We think we have a friendly collection of things that can be useful, whether that be the design or the technology that drives it,'' Stone says. ``Whenever there's a new technology, you're going to have more things that are mediocre than excellent. That's why you have to have institutions that call attention to what is excellent.''

An eye for an eye? Is it a publicity stunt or a political statement? Last week, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (``Roger and Me'') set up a Web cam outside literary agent Lucianne Goldberg's New York apartment. Goldberg set off the scandal we're all trying to forget by urging Linda Tripp to tape a certain former White House intern. ``Lucianne, it seems, does not respect the privacy rights of others,'' Moore writes on the site, www.iseelucy.com. ``She believes in keeping an eye on persons who are a threat to the country. So do we.''

There are no state secrets revealed: All you learn is that Goldberg keeps the place cool in the summer and that she's staging a low-tech retaliation by hawking the National Enquirer in her windows. ``It's an unfunny stunt,'' says Goldberg, who claims she is selling ad space in her windows for $2,000 a week.

Moore has said that he set up the camera to make a statement about the invasion of privacy -- and to promote his television show ``The Awful Truth,'' which debuted last month on Bravo. Moore's leftist ``guerrilla video'' style was effective when he was taking on General Motors, but here the line blurs between plain old publicity and in-your-face politics. No doubt, this will happen again; campaign 2000 is not far away.

There used to be a guy in this office who referred to himself as ``The Encyclopedia of Useless Information.'' With minimal prompting, he could tell you how to harvest echinacea or give an impromptu lesson in the physics of flight. Alas, our human resource is now elsewhere, but when we're stumped by a pressing question, we can find the answer on line at www.uselessknowledge.com.

Launched in November by Web designer Joe Edelman, the site offers a wealth of information that could come in handy in awkward situations. For instance, if you're ever stuck in an elevator, you can break the tension by informing your fellow riders, ``Most lipstick contains fish scales.'' We found that one in the random factoid section; the site also includes a database of useless quotations, vocabulary words, and inexplicable phenomena.

The site gets 240,000 user sessions a month, and its newsletter has a subscription base of 34,000, says Edelman

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