The Solution to Showing Video Art

November 13th, 2006 · 3 Comments · Artists, Writing


One of the problems with video art is that there’s no good place to see it in established exhibition venues. There’s the monitor-on-a-podium strategy. Then there’s the darkened-cordoned-off-space-and-projected-onto-a-wall strategy. Both have their problems: light control, space occupation, how the video piece interacts with other artwork.

But perhaps the biggest problem with video art exhibition is the simple fact that hardly anybody wants to stand there and watch a time-consuming video when you can zoom through a gallery and take in the static work at 30 seconds-per. Sure, there are people who do stand there and stick it out, but my guess is they do it because it’s broccoli. You know it’s good for you, and that your body will thank you for it later, but it’s not nearly as appealing as chocolate cake.

Video art is here to stay, and what’s more: it’s good stuff. So it’s not the artwork that’s unappealing, it’s the presentation. It’s the choice between standing in a dark room for an indefinite period of time, or squinting at a small tv screen stuck in some corner by the bathroom (MOCA!). If it’s the presentation that’s the problem, then whose responsibility is it to begin to make changes as to how we exhibit video art, the institution or the artist?

Should the artist make demands about presentation? Does that mean that the artist is responsible for providing the equipment? Does that mean that the artwork is not just a DVD that’s handed to a curator, but it’s a high lumen projector, audio equipment, speakers, a DVD player, a surface to project onto, and an instruction sheet stipulating the exact distance between the projector and the screen. Oh, and instructions about the precise calibrations of the projector — and the DVD with the artwork. It’s a tricky question.

Two institutions come to mind that have addressed this question in innovative ways. The Orange County Museum of Art’s Orange Lounge is a video art gallery with couches, chairs, desks with computers that access databases of video art, and a video installation gallery. It’s in a mall. Actually, it’s at South Coast Plaza, which is slightly more, hmm, upscale, than a regular mall. Nevertheless, you can pop into the Lounge after buying a ridiculously expensive pair of jeans, and chill out on a sofa while watching William Wegman’s early stuff from the 70s.

The second example was an exhibition we saw last summer in Barcelona at Caixa Forum called Histories Animades, (our friend and fellow artist-in-residence Megan Lynch reviewed the show here). This animation show featured over 33 artists, and it was one of the most enjoyable exhibition-viewing experiences I’ve ever had.

The audience had three choices when it came to seeing the videos: all 33 were projected or displayed on monitors throughout the gallery; all 33 were loaded into a bank of user-friendly computers, and the videos could be manipulated easily (speed up, slowed down, skipped over); or you could sit in an auditorium filled with couches and pillows and watch all 33 on a loop. Murray and I spent hours there, and the time we put into it had everything to do with a successful exhibition strategy.

We have a new video work opening in a solo show at Webster University on Friday, and we’ve been wrestling with how to show the work in a way most conducive to attentive viewing.

We bought a couch. It’s the best we can do to encourage the viewer to hang around a while: a little over two minutes, in fact. It’s the length of a long pause, or a television commercial, or a trip in an elevator. Could be no time at all. Could be an eternity. It helps if you’re sitting down.

Category: Artists · Writing

3 Comments so far ↓

  • russell

    off topic easier than e-mail…. i was just wondering if you were familier with audio and video and text archives of tons of great work… and teh recent additions of Toshio Matsumoto films form 61 to 87 i thought you might especially like..

  • CL Moore

    What was you impression of the sound clarity and quality on the show? Unless the intent is to have antiquainted sound as art, which would be a concept…most sound reproductions shoud be invisible, In my opinion.

  • Audio Equipment Speakers

    Art is after all everything under the sun. Its all in the eye of the beholder, and whether its visual or audio, print or pure sound, it is art. The blending of visual and audio should be pursued more often. I think it is the next horizon for the art world.

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