TV MUSEUM: Contemporary Art and the Age of Television

By Wielgus, Alison | Millennium Film Journal, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

TV MUSEUM: Contemporary Art and the Age of Television


Wielgus, Alison, Millennium Film Journal


TV MUSEUM: Contemporary Art and the Age of Television Maeve Connolly Intellect/University of Chicago Press, 2014

Maeve Connolly is a believer in a new golden age of television: not one that refers to premium cable shows that explore the dark side of human nature, but one that finds artists invested in television's capacity to shape cultural memory and national history. In TV Museum: Contemporary Art and the Age of Television, Connolly rakes through post-2000 exhibitions in Europe and the United States to show how television's industrial practices, aesthetic formations, and material existence have come to shape the art world's relationship with the public sphere. As Connolly winds her way through installations, video art, experimental films, and projects commissioned for public television, she reveals a medium so often identified with presence and liveness repositioned as a repository for history.

Acutely aware of the pitfalls in juxtaposing the manifold worlds of television and the museum, Connolly uses their moments of collision in ways both fruitful and frustrating. By linking television and the museum, she charts a history of contemporary art's increasingly enamored incorporations of television, revealing the laziness of a hastily applied high/low cultural dichotomy. Harnessing the comparative brevity of this relationship-which dates back to the 1960s-"televisual distance," or an outsider's perspective, provides a tool to examine the museum's operations from a new and revelatory perspective.

Asserting the museum's televisual turn, Connolly links together disparate fields of scholarship. Her primary interlocutor emerges from Television Studies. John Caldwell's Televisuality: Style, Crisis, and Authority in American Television contributes a model of selfreflexivity. Televisuality refers to a formal foregrounding of style, the process of stylization, and the industry's role in manufacturing appeals to audiences during the network crisis of the 1980s. Caldwell's multifarious term bolsters Connolly's cross-institutional approach, in which she considers the roles occupied by television in a vast number of museums, art fairs like Art Basel, and exhibitions like Documenta. Using a corpus of over thirty post-2000 texts, with special attention to works by Gillian Wearing and Phil Collins, Connolly links fragments of Museum Studies and Media Studies into a larger commentary on the public face of contemporary arts. Rather than retread earlier analyses of Jürgen Habermas's theory of the public sphere, Connolly briefly employs work to discuss how contemporary art perceives its own publicness through museum space.

Connolly moves swiftly through the 1990s, when contemporary arts' increased interest in television seemed to coincide with its waning power as a dominant cultural form. One tantalizing but briefly mentioned idea is that the "curatorial practice [of exhibiting television in a retrospective mode] can also be read as an indirect response to the growing importance of the internet (and social media) in private and public life." (99) Incorporating the televisual is not simply a canny way for museums to reach out to an increasingly disinterested and distracted public, but it also lets artists explore television's role in shaping cultural memory. However, it also positions the museum a few steps behind the curve, struggling with how to display the amorphous and interactive Internet.

The Internet hovers like a specter over TV Museum, a clear next problem for the museum (and for scholars) to tackle as it further reshapes television and art's relationships with the public sphere. Changes in the new media environment have challenged earlier medium-specific approaches to television, and Connolly's cross-institutional approach creates a necessary flexibility for taking stock of these changes. Shifts to flow, broadcasting, notions of liveness, and the set itself all emerge in Connolly's selection of texts, as does a consideration of television's shifting relationships to private companies and public broadcasting. …

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