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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 World’s First Collaborative Sentence is a “classic” of Internet art. With its collaborative, polyvocal, multilingual, and boundless nature, the Sentence became a microcosm of the Web itself. As a decidedly low-tech “multi-user environment” that allows for combinations of textual, visual, and aural components, it is a collective space which, in its broad array of voices and topics, achieves fluent transitions between the prosaic and the sublime.