In considering video art presentation in museums, and in particular at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a number of questions and issues are raised. By including video art in the Whitney Biennial Exhibitions, the museum's survey of significant American art made during the previous two years, does the Whitney help bring the medium into comparison with other fine art? Within the museum video is ghettoized by virtue of the limitations of the medium itself. The videomaker's aspiration of integrating video art into mainstream TV and into the art market has never been truly realized; and considering the medium's twenty-plus-year history as an art form, international recognition has been accorded to relatively few artists working in the electronic arts. Within the mainstream art world, video is still considered a sidebar to more traditional art forms, and even to such related media as alternative film, photography, and performance. On television video art is relegated to late-night scheduling, if programmed at all.
Museums may find difficulty in obtaining support for video exhibitions by definition. The American Association of Museums, in its accreditation requirements, defines a museum as an organized and permanent nonprofit institution, essentially educational or esthetic in purpose, with professional staff, which owns and utilizes tangible objects, cares for them and exhibits them to the public on some regular schedule" (my emphasis). Video's ephemeral, time-based qualities make it difficult to define as a tangible object. Because of this lack of priority status, media programs within cultural institutions may be easily viewed as money drainers and not significant to the institution's overall mission. The high costs of equipment purchase and maintenance, along with screening fees, make it difficult to justify to the powers that be that media programs should continue. The manufacturers of electronic equipment and new technologies should be more supportive, but unfortunately they are not. This, often experienced by the few media art curators in this country, is compounded by the fact that within the institution, media programs compete with fine art and education programs that have track records of funding, critical support, and marketability and are already sanctified within the art world establishment. To my knowledge only two art museums in the United States have made an ongoing commitment to collecting and preserving video art-the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Long Beach Museum of Art in California. Video art in more museum collections could greatly substantiate video's recognition as an art form. And more inclusion of video in exhibitions may make it more acceptable to view video within a museum context.
Lack of support for video is a problem not only within the museums. For those that have worked in the creative arena of electronic media, the ongoing lament is that few distribution, presentation, and support systems exist. There are two major distributors of video art in the United States (Electronic Arts Intermix and Video Data Bank) and few exhibition, production, and research venues other than the small number of museums that have regular video programs. …