Myths About Curating Video Art

You should read this essay at Artwrit along with the other stellar essays for the Summer 2011 Quarterly. Even if you can’t manage to click over there with the touch of just one finger,  I’ve included a preview of the essay in this post. If you want to watch me talk for hours without interruption, bringing up video and new media will do the trick. Even though video’s become historicized, too many misunderstandings exist about its early history in the 1960s and 1970s – and museums are partially to blame. Museums aren’t always forward-thinking with acquiring videoworks for their permanent collections; some don’t even collect video and new media, even if video’s shown in traveling exhibitions.

In a recent show at MoMA, video art received less-than-preferential treatment, exhibited in a wedge-like corridor between an elevator and a wall. This thin walkway disguised as an exhibition acted as a curatorial dumping ground for video, a common fate for this difficult-to-exhibit form. Although video’s become a well-historicized media art, it’s more often than not kept out of the museum’s encyclopedic galleries of painting, photography and sculpture. Some museums even maintain an official “no video” policy; they won’t acquire video art for its permanent collection. As much as MoMA’s mini-exhibition appears curious, if not downright sloppy, there’s one aspect to its installation that informs a more complete picture of video art then and new media now: the big, black and bulky monitors.

It’s a small detail to pick out amidst other problematic curatorial decisions, of course, but emphasizing the extended physical situation of video away from the on-screen image has become more and more common in recent exhibitions.

2 Responses to “Myths About Curating Video Art”
  1. Biobebop says:

    You wrote an excellent essay. As video art offers a multiplicity of forms, there really isn’t a panacea for the problems of exhibition, so I think at some point compromises will have to be made that will lead to the downplaying of the materiality of video apparatus. You mention the discomfort of seating, and I feel that it is somewhat on purpose; you never hear museums tout the length of patrons’ stay, only how many are herded through annually.
    Museum architecture often presents problems as well. The adaptability of galleries for a variety of art forms also signifies their unsuitability for video. Lengthy running times and sound don’t jibe well with “contemplating” paintings, sculpture, installation, all of which encourage movement and talking . Projected images need dark, and CRT monitors now seem like quaint hipster atavisms (VHS collecting is sexy now) existing outside that weird feedback loop of clean, white galleries and clean, white haute-bourgeois condos. CRT monitors are probably only desirable these days in apocalyptic decay installations.
    There are probably any number of limitations and caveats that you could list to this suggestion, but I would like to see museums actually make use of their often empty lecture halls or adapt a room to a black box theater set-up, with movable risers to accommodate more people. Although you weren’t too hot on cinematic processes, I would also like to see museums take a stab at actual programming, with showings and runtimes. Confront visitors with several videos or films under the conventions of a movie theater, and people will likely take a longer, more discerning look. Or seeing philistinic walkouts might engender a sense of intellectual endurance that A.R. Warwick discusses in his Artwrit essay, and casual judgements do always make me feel better about myself.
    By the way, I like the new format.

    • Thanks for another thoughtful comment. Showings and runtimes are a great idea for video and other time-based media. I’ve seen a little bit of this, but I would welcome seeing more of it or else the average time spent looking at video will probably stay somewhere around just a few seconds. For theatre style seating, I would hate for all videos to take up a huge screen; not all videos would translate well to large projections, but I’m fine with doing it for some.

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