Video art

Fast forward video art

Artists love it as a medium, but are collectors and dealers too busy for time-based work at an art fair?


Video art has often been under-represented at art fairs, proving problematic for dealers to show and sell. The size of many installations and the technology needed to screen or project images and sound in a satisfactory way at a busy fair has, until recently, ruled out the idea for many dealers—who are unsure that collectors have the time to watch the works, anyway. But where others see pitfalls, Ed Winkleman and his business partner Murat Orozobekov have spotted an opportunity, launching Moving Image—an art fair devoted entirely to contemporary video, which opened to coincide with Armory Week on 3 March. “We wanted to present a fair that responded to a comment I had from a New York-based critic a couple of years ago,” says Winkleman. “[The critic] said he never watches videos at art fairs—he just doesn’t have the time.”

In a cavernous space in Chelsea, Moving Image features 40 works from around 30 galleries, plus big sofas to encourage fair goers to dwell a little.

Videos have been popping up more and more at major art fairs, installation challenges aside. This December, Art Basel Miami Beach set aside a section devoted to the medium called Art Video, with viewing pods designed by Tom Postma.

In collaboration with the Armory Show and Volta NY, the School of Visual Arts Theatre is hosting Artprojx Cinema, a programme of over 80 artists’ films and videos from more than 40 galleries participating at the fairs, as well as international public arts organisations and curators.

A slew of films and videos are also on view at Piers 92 and 94. London’s Rokeby Gallery (P94/1501) is presenting a video by Conrad Ventur on six monitors that re-edits 13 of Andy Warhol’s “Screen Tests”. “There are limitations to showings videos at an art show, but these are virtually still images, so that works. We were tempted by the Moving Image show, but we can’t split ourselves,” says gallery co-founder Edward Greenacre. An edition of three is priced at $20,000.

Anna Schwartz Gallery (P94/1161) from Australia is displaying videos by Shaun Gladwell, Daniel von Sturmer, and AES+F. “It wasn’t a decision based on medium,” says owner Anna Schwartz. “Video works can be very affordable and accessible. People are just desperate for them.” AES+F’s 68:15-minute video, Feast Of Trimalchio, is on sale for €140,000, while on the lower end Ian Burns’ sculptural Across the Nile v.2, 2011, which incorporates found objects, is priced at $15,500.

Collecting video art

Despite the relatively recent popularity of videos at art fairs, there are a handful of longstanding, heavyweight collectors of video art. Most notably, Pamela and Richard Kramlich from San Francisco, who were pioneers in the field. They started collecting in the 1980s and founded the New Art Trust in 1997, which is devoted to the medium and supports research and scholarship at, among others, London’s Tate, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Another patron is Julia Stoschek from Düsseldorf who began collecting media art in 2004 and has amassed around 400 works.

Video art collecting has historically been the preserve of major museums rather than individuals, however. It is not hard to find evidence of the importance that institutions now place on the medium. In December, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC opened a permanent exhibition of media art. “Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image”, includes work ranging from Nam June Paik’s 9/23/69: Experiments With David Atwood, 1969, to Cory Arcangel’s Video Painting, 2008. New York’s PS1 Contemporary Art Center is currently showing “Modern Women: Single Channel” (until 2 May), again an exhibition drawn from the museum’s holdings, which features 11 female artists, including Lynda Benglis, Valie Export, Pipilotti Rist and Carolee Schneemann. “Across the board museums are definitely paying attention to time-based work,” says Winkleman.

As technology has advanced and the hardware has become smaller and more reliable, video art has become more accessible. “As the medium becomes digitised, it’s easier and more flexible to install and it runs without maintenance,” says John Hanhardt, the senior curator for media arts at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “We have plasma screens with Bill Viola’s work, so it can hang on the wall in a domestic space, right next to a painting or photograph.” He says such changes are having an effect on the private market, too, adding that video work “is very easily folding into the private collectors’ domain. It’s fundamentally changing.”

UK collector Frank Cohen, who owns around 15 multi-media works including a Viola video, agrees that plasma technology is beginning to change the way collectors view video art. “You still don’t see a great deal of video art in most people’s homes, but what you do see will be on plasma screens,” he says.

Hanhardt, who began curating video in the early 1970s, establishing the film department at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis in 1972 before going on to head up the film and video department at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art in 1974, says the shift in attitudes towards collecting video, even in museums, has been gradual. “It’s a change that has been going on for a long time, but it expands more and more with every generation and the change becomes more permanent,” he says.

Video art first emerged in the mid-1960s. In 1963, Paik had his first exhibition at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, Germany, in which he presented upended television sets broadcasting distorted signals, including his first television sculpture, Zen for TV, 1963. That year, Sony released the Portapak, the first portable video tape recorder and player, which enabled the medium to be brought into the artist’s studio. “The Portapak became this instrument by which artists could control, remake and rethink the moving image,” says Hanhardt. But it was in the early 1970s, with the advent of alternative artist spaces in the US, that video art really took off. “It became increasingly accepted internationally in the 1970s. It really began to be recognised and was constantly developing as a technology in terms of its portability and its ability to be installed in a variety of spaces,” says Hanhardt.

One of the major issues for museums and collectors has been the difficulty in preserving video art because of the speed with which technology has developed—video-tape technology has been updated over 50 times in analogue format, and several more times in digital format, since the 1960s. “Changing technology has understandably given collectors pause for thought,” says Winkleman. The digitisation of video works, however, is having a beneficial impact on preservation. Artists are dealing with the issue by giving collectors “the most current and up-to-date platform that they want the work to be seen on, [and] also a hard drive with the raw files so that, should the technology become obsolete, the collector can easily keep exhibiting the work from the raw files,” he says.

Dominant position

“Twentieth-century art history is going to be rewritten through the moving image,” says Hanhardt. “The history of video and film is being recognised as extremely important because it had an impact on all the arts. Dance, literature and architecture were all affected by the moving image.”

As critics and curators continue to explore the history of video art, artists are increasingly turning to the media. “Even if [artists] are predominantly making sculpture or painting,” says Winkleman, “we are seeing more and more artists using video as part of their practice.” Hanhardt also observes a near universal take-up of video and film. “Today [video art] is an art form that many generations of artists are moving to because it’s flexible; it allows them to explore issues of representation that they can’t in other media,” he says.

DVD to go

While big name multi-media artists are commanding high prices at auction—Paik’s television sculpture, Rocketship to Virtual Venus, 1991, sold at Christie’s Honk Kong last May for $372,353, and Doug Aitken’s 2000 video installation, I Am in You, sold at Phillips de Pury New York for $176,500 last March—there is still a sense that the market needs to catch up.

“Video art hasn’t really broken through because it’s not friendly for homes, it’s more for showing in museums and exhibition spaces,” says Cohen. “The problem with video is that you have to have a house to accommodate it. If you have hundreds of video works, how and where do you display them?”

For collectors still nervous about taking the plunge, however, there are clear benefits, not least video’s easily portable format. “You can just pop it in your handbag,” said one Brazilian collector, keen to avoid expensive import duties into the Latin American country. “That’s why it’s so popular here,” he says.

The advantages extend to dealers too. As Winkleman points out: “What’s really nice for a dealer is that there is no shipping involved. They can just bring their DVD with them on the plane and they’re ready to go.”