Video Art: Stayin' Alive

By Chris, Cynthia | Afterimage, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Video Art: Stayin' Alive


Chris, Cynthia, Afterimage


Just over three years ago, I wrote an essay for Afterimage on current trends in artists' video ("Video Art: Dead or Alive?," Afterimage 24, no. 3). It seemed that during the late 1980s and early 1990s many videomakers, programmers, grant-providers and media librarians had managed changes in the financial climate of the art world, public and private philanthropy and university budgets by turning away from single-channel video as an obscure and unprofitable art form. Still, rumors of the death of video art were greatly exaggerated. On the contrary, a look at a flurry of critical attention to video art, and to the recent use of video by artists, suggested that it was under close scrutiny and evolving in response to a complex set of aesthetic interests, technological developments and restructured opportunities for exhibition.

As the twentieth century draws to a close, video is alive and kicking, even commonplace, in the art world in the form of multi-media installations and interactive projects in both physical and virtual space. Analog, digital and HDTV formats and the convergence of film and video technologies have only just begun to transform all aspects of independent feature filmmaking, from visual texture to budgeting. Countless artists and media activists working in narrative, experimental, documentary and hybrid forms continue to use video as their primary medium, showing their work in dozens of festivals accepting both film and video, and in ostensibly video-only festivals such as L.A. Freewaves, the Dallas Video Festival, the Worldwide Video Festival in The Hague and the New York Video Festival, whose publicity materials for their July 1999 festival claimed that "video is now...an almost classical notion." Long-time video curator David A. Ross (now director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art [SFMOMA]) can confide ntly state that "a whole new generation of artists now uses video like a pencil, as John Baldessari predicted." [1]

Indeed, both established and emerging artists who use video are exhibiting, accumulating press coverage and winning prestigious awards in unprecedented numbers. A handful of artists with decades of experience working primarily in video have been graced with retrospectives (e.g., Antonio Muntadas at the Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango in Bogota in 1999; Tony Oursler at the Williams College Museum of Art and the new Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, both in Massachusetts, in 1999; Bill Viola at six museums in the United States and Europe from 1997 to 2000; Bruce and Norman Yonemoto at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles in 1999 [see Afterimage 27, no. 3]; and "Martha Rosler: Positions in the Life World," a retrospective honoring Rosler's influential works in various media including video, which originated at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England in 1999 and travelled to several international venues before its scheduled installation at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City in J une 2000 [see Afterimage 27, no. 1]). While these exhibitions have surveyed both new and old work by well-known artists, video from the 1970s has also resurfaced in venues varying from historical exhibitions such as "Reel Work: Artists' Film and Video of the 1970s" at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, in 1996 to single-channel sidebars in exhibitions of otherwise new work. For example, the Cheim & Read Gallery in New York City showed Female Sensibility (1973) by Lynda Benglis alongside an exhibition of her new sculpture in 1998. Similarly, the same year, the Geffen Contemporary at The Museum of Contemporary Art-Los Angeles (MOCA-LA) complemented an installation of Richard Serra's recent sculptures with selections from his earlier work in film and video such as Television Delivers People (1973, with Carlotta Fay Schoolman) and Boomerang (1974, with Nancy Holt).

Not all of the current frenzy surrounding artists' video focuses on its origins and originators. …

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