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DOUGLAS DAVIS

THE WORLD’S FIRST COLLABORATIVE SENTENCE
1994

The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, created by Douglas Davis for a survey exhibition of his work in 1994 and donated to the Whitney in 1995, is a “classic” of Internet art. Allowing users to contribute to a never-ending sentence, it anticipated today’s blog environments and ongoing posts. In early 2012 the Whitney Museum undertook a preservation effort spearheaded by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Associate Director of Conservation and Research and Christiane Paul, Adjunct Curator of New Media, in concert with Farris Wahbeh, Manager, Cataloguing and Documentation, and implemented by Ben Fino-Radin, digital conservator at Rhizome, and the Museum’s Digital Media department. The result of the initiative are the two versions of the Sentence accessible here.

Learn more about the work’s preservation, view the live Sentence, and contribute by adding your own words.

Preservation of the Work

About the Sentence

Programming: Gary Welz, Robert Schneider.

Originally Commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, for the exhibition Interactions, curated by Susan Hoeltzel.

Douglas Davis’s The World’s First Collaborative Sentence (1994) is an ongoing textual and graphic online “performance” that was commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx, N.Y. and The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel. Although the Whitney Museum of American Art acquired the Sentence in 1995 after it was shown in conjuction with Lehman College’s “InterActions,” a 1994 survey exhibition of the artist’s work, the piece was maintained on the website of Lehman College from 1994 until 2005. The work was generously donated to the Whitney by Barbara Schwartz, in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz, her late husband. Together they had purchased the concept and a signed disk with recordings of the first days of the Sentence from the artist.

Visitors to the Sentence may add their own contributions to the webpages—there were more than 200,000 by early 2000, separated into twenty-one “chapters,” in dozens of languages and with a remarkable range of images and graphics. Any subject may be addressed, but no contribution can end with a period, as the Sentence is infinitely expanding. 

The Sentence as it appeared in 1994

These screenshots show the historic version of the Sentence viewed through an early verison of the Netscape browser.

Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994–, conserved 2012. Historic version: HTML and CGI script; live version: HTML and PHP script. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara Schwartz in honor of Eugene M. Schwartz 95.253. Originally commissioned by the Lehman College Art Gallery, The City University of New York, with the assistance of Gary Welz, Robert Schneider, and Susan Hoeltzel
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PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION, 1995–96

Between 1994 and 2000, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence was exhibited in gallery spaces including Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx New York; the 1995 Gwangju Biennale, South Korea; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The below floor plan, installation view, and “official image” of the Sentence provide insight into the work’s distinct materiality.

Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994– (installation floor plan for exhibition “Beyond Borders,” Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea, September 20–November 20, 1995)
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994– (installation view, Bronx Museum of Art, Bronx, New York, January, 1996)
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994– (“official image” of the work, provided by Douglas Davis)

In the News

“When Artworks Crash: Restorers Face Digital Test”
The New York Times

“Restoring The World’s First Collaborative Sentence
Rhizome

Essay: “The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction (An Evolving Thesis: 1991-1995)”

by Douglas Davis