A moving moment: why video art is taking centre stage

Lockdown has taken interest in video art to another level, says Francesca Gavin

A still from Man Ray’s Emak Bakia (1926), from Gagosian’s film-only online exhibition
A still from Man Ray’s Emak Bakia (1926), from Gagosian’s film-only online exhibition | Image: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP

When Gillian Wearing won the Turner Prize in 1997, it appeared that video art as a medium had finally arrived. But despite its omnipresence in exhibitions, biennials and institutional shows over the past two decades, lockdown has taken the interest in video art to another level. While paintings feel a bit flat and sculpture loses its depth, video is a medium that works beautifully on screens (even if projection is often the preferred approach). A tsunami of video art has hit inboxes, websites and social media in the past two months. The film arena has been conscious of the skill emerging from the art world for a decade – hence the flurry of stunning features from Shirin Neshat, Steve McQueen and Rashid Johnson among others. Collectors are also taking serious notice. Video art simply makes sense now.

From the Daata hub: Women and Smoke, California (1971-1972) by Judy Chicago | Video: Courtesy Judy Chicago and Salon 94, New York

Daata is a well-respected hub for video-art collecting. It was founded in 2015 by David Gryn, who curated the film section at Art Basel Miami Beach from 2011 to 2017. The company’s focus is on commissioning, selling and streaming video and audio works, with more than 100 commissions under its belt. Since 14 May, Galleries at Daata has allowed partner galleries worldwide to showcase and sell video art. “We are focused and diligent in our vision of supporting digital mediums and have an audience that is equally passionate, interested and supportive,” Gryn says. Anat Ebgi and Maccarone in LA, Société and Peres Projects in Berlin, Salon 94 and Simone Subal in New York and Goodman Gallery and Stevenson in South Africa, among others, are all on board, with works by artists ranging from Judy Chicago to Takeshi Murata. Gryn is enthusiastic about the future. “With the advent of multiple platforms and the ability to show, stream and sell video art so fluidly, it can only thrive.” daata.art

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From the Julia Stoschek Collection: Sanctus (1990) by Barbara Hammer | Video: Courtesy of the Estate of Barbara Hammer and KOW, Berlin/Madrid

Julia Stoschek is the most lauded and recognisable collector of time-based media in Europe. She has been collecting moving-image work for 17 years, and shows it in a stunning multistorey exhibition space in Dusseldorf and a companion space in Berlin. She is using this moment to share her collection with a global audience. “The coronavirus lockdown has precipitated my long-cherished dream of making the collection accessible online,” she says. “Exhibition-makers have started to consider the specific needs for its presentation – instead of putting every video work in the darkest corner of an exhibition, they look for innovative ideas. The black box is no longer the only option.” She is aware that the complexity of issues around presentation and conservation play a major role in attracting collectors. With works by Arthur Jafa, Laure Prouvost and WangShui in her collection, the investment is clearly worth it. jsc.art

Galleries have also been placing their video artists centre stage at this moment, notably when their exhibition spaces were less accessible. Berlin’s Isabella Bortolozzi launched the Bortolozzi Gazette on the gallery website when lockdown began. “I had been planning to do the Gazette for a while,” she explains. “I wanted to do something beyond the website, a free space for the artists we represent whose practices are complex and diverse. The lockdown became the perfect excuse to start doing it.” James Richards, Wu Tsang and Ed Atkins have all submitted work. Bortolozzi notes that galleries and institutions have been investing in video for a long time, citing purchases by MoMA and Tate, as well as private collectors. “The market is also part of the cultural body – everything moves as one, nothing is autonomous.” Video is also central to upcoming shows in the now reopened (by appointment) space, including Leila Hekmat’s first solo exhibition, centred around an 80-minute film. gazette.bortolozzi.com

Excerpt from Robert Longo's 2019 film Icarus Rising, from Metro Pictures’ Online Film Festival | Video: Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

New York’s Metro Pictures gallery has used this moment to start its own Online Film Festival, showing for a limited time over a series of weekends until at least the end of June. The programme was an immediate response to the gallery temporarily closing its doors. “Since a great number of our artists have made work in film and video, it just made total sense,” gallery co-founder Janelle Reiring says. “We chose a variety of works from as many of our artists as possible and tried to feature works that perhaps fewer people have had a chance to view in real life.” Cue rare pieces by Cindy Sherman, Paulina Olowska, Isaac Julien and Oliver Laric. “The interesting thing about the artists we represent is that we don’t think of any of them specifically as ‘video’ artists. Artists currently have a great deal of freedom to explore all mediums.” These weekenders nonetheless help shine a light on their varied approaches. metropictures.com

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Gagosian, which never likes to be left behind, has just launched its first film-only online exhibition. The chapters of Broadcast: Alternate Meanings in Film and Video mostly last two weeks. As you would expect, the artist list is incredible, including Nam June Paik, Chris Burden, Richard Serra, Taryn Simon, Ed Ruscha, Vera Lutter and an early collaboration between Angus Fairhurst and Damien Hirst. The exclusivity of the material is part of the draw. “Even if they are familiar with a particular artist’s work, not all viewers may have seen this material, and the videos sometimes reveal another side of the artist’s practice,” says Kara Vander Weg, a senior director at Gagosian. Put together by an in-house team, the works are for sale. The show riffs on the famous quote from Timothy Leary: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Sounds like good advice. gagosian.com

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