'The Thing' Redialed: how a BBS changed the art world and came back from the dead

One day in November of 1991, Wolfgang Staehle found himself at his studio, the basement of a former gallery in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood accessible through a hatch on the front stoop. With no art left on the walls, his contemporaries busy pursuing their own careers, and a recession settling in, he switched on a computer and brought to life “The Thing,” an electronic bulletin board system (BBS). It would become a kind of social project, he hoped — somewhere to discuss art and maybe figure out what to do next. Or at very least, a way to keep in touch with friends. It wound up becoming all of those things, and a lot more.