The Mystery of Video Art

Typical scenario: you go to a museum for a contemporary art exhibition and after wandering around, you notice a mysterious dark room. After walking in intrigued, a conveniently placed bench invites you to sit down and enjoy the show. A few seconds in, you realize that a non-sensical video is being projected on the screen or wall.

It seems like a bunch of images pieced together with no order. After staring aimlessly for a few minutes you decide that it is "too contemporary" or "too crazy for you" and leave the dark room confused - Does this sound familiar?

You are not alone in your frustration. Understanding video art is complex and most people have many difficulty digesting this avant-garde art form.

People are still skeptical about video art, and when people don't understand something, they tend to mock or reject it. Even professionals within the art world share the same concerns as you: Is video a legitimate art form? Can it be bought and sold? Does it have any value? Video art has often been under-represented, and its collecting has been limited to major museums rather than individuals.

Appreciating video art requires patience. It is helpful to read into the context:

  • Who is the artist?
  • Where is he/she from?
  • What other works have they produced?
  • Why did he/she create this video?     What is the artist's message?
  •  In what time period or historical time frame was it created? 

This is guaranteed to help you not only understand but actually appreciate art, but also learn and open your mind (BTW this advice goes for any art exhibition in any context whatsoever).

You can find video art in two varieties: single-channel and installation. Single-channel works are much closer to the conventional idea of television, or cinema: a video is screened, projected or shown as a single image. Installation works, on the other hand, involve either an environment, several distinct pieces of video presented separately, or any combination of video with traditional media such as sculpture. Installation video is a common form of video art today.

With the rise of video technology in the 1960's many artists started exploring relationships between themselves, the physical world and other people, they used video as a convenient medium for recording these events. The pioneers of video art as a genre are usually considered to be the Korean musician, performance artist and sculptor Nam June Paik (1932-2006), and Andy Warhol (1928-87) the leader of the Pop-Art movement in his Factory Studio. 

Andy Warhol's "Chelsea Girl" 1966

Video art has not really broken through because it is not quite home-friendly. The technology requires wide exhibition spaces which are usually more adept in museums and exhibition spaces. In order to project one of these works in your home, you would need a large house and equipment to accommodate it. And, if you have hundreds of video works, how and where do you display them?

It does not help that video art has not been easy to sell, either. Part of the reasoning is because it takes longer to observe than a static painting or sculpture. Its nature is impermanent (the technology degrades or is outmoded over time); it is easily replicable; and it requires specific viewing spaces than most other media. But like photography, which is equally impermanent and replicable—video works are finally establishing their place on the fine-art market landscape.

There are big name video artists are commanding high prices at auction—Paik’s television sculpture, Rocketship to Virtual Venus, 1991, sold at Christie’s Honk Kong last May for $372,353, and Doug Aitken’s 2000 video installation, I Am in You, sold at Phillips de Pury New York for $176,500 last March—there is still a sense that the market needs to catch up compared to the sales of these same artists in other media for example.

Doug Aitken "I am in you" 

Even with its difficulties, many art experts believe that the future of Art History is going to be rewritten through the moving image. Video is being recognized as important because it has had an impact on many other art forms. Dance, literature and architecture were all affected by the moving image.

Today video art is an art form that many generations of artists are gravitating towards because it’s flexible; it allows them to explore and document issues of representation that they can’t in other media.

Here at CULTURADORA, we are willing to bet that if you sit through the entire playback of the video, you will understand and be inspired by it. Try our tips next time you are in that dark room.