This summer MoMA’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden is home to tens of thousands of Italian honeybees, as part of a recently acquired sculpture by French artist Pierre Huyghe (b. 1962). Huyghe’s Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt) [Reclining female nude] (2012) incorporates a living bee colony that stands in for the head of a figure cast from a bronze sculpture by the Swiss artist Max Weber (1897–1982). Read more
It’s hard to believe that MoMA’s website, which celebrates its 20th anniversary today, is older than Google. It began with two relatively simple (by today’s standards) HTML exhibition sites for the Mutant Materials and Video Spaces exhibitions in 1995. Since then, over 200 exhibition sites have been created, documenting not only the Museum’s evolving curatorial interests, but also huge changes in Web coding and design. Read more
My colleagues in media conservation have spent the last few weeks providing insight into our work at MoMA. This post will give you an idea of one small part of media conservation that is aimed at improving documentation policies related to the process history of time-based media. My role in media conservation over the past eight months at MoMA is, officially, the National Digital Stewardship Resident. Read more
In my previous post we introduced MoMA’s digital art vault, and two of its components: Archivematica (aka “the packager”) and Arkivum (aka “the warehouse”). These systems meet two essential challenges: how to ensure that, far into the future, people will be able to understand the bits and bytes that constitute a digital item in our collection, and how to ensure that we can keep a bit-for-bit authentic copy of this digital item indefinitely. Read more
Recently on Inside/Out, we heard from Assistant Media Conservator Peter Oleksik about MoMA’s efforts to preserve and digitize its collection of analog video art, amassed over the course of four decades. The heroic undertaking of digitizing over 4,000 videotapes was absolutely critical for preservation and access purposes. However, when we digitize analog videotape, we have just begun a new chapter in the artwork’s life Read more
Three years after the advent of the Portapak (the first portable video recorder), MoMA showed Nam June Paik’s Lindsay Tape (1967) as part of the landmark 1968 exhibition The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, organized by K.G. Pontus Hultén. The piece consisted of two, half-inch reel-to-reel decks that were spaced 10 feet apart, with the tape (Paik’s original!), jerry-rigged together to allow it to loop continuously. After a week on view, the wear on the tape proved too much. It began to break down and was taken off view (and was almost lost to history). Despite this rather daunting introduction to the fragile and fugitive nature of video, the Museum began to formally acquire video works in the late 1970s, Read more
Media conservation is responsible for the audio, 35mm slide, performance, software, video, and film-based artworks in MoMA’s collection, caring for them in collaboration with colleagues across the Museum’s departments including Audio Visual, Curatorial, Information Technology, and Registrar. The first conservation position at MoMA was created in 1959 for a paintings conservator, and since then the Conservation Department has evolved to include specialists in sculpture, paper, photography, conservation science, and most recently media, in 2007. Read more
A menagerie of color and the enchanted siren call of classical raga greets visitors entering the carouseling silhouettes of Nalini Malani’s Gamepieces (2003/2009). Installed as part of the exhibition Scenes for a New Heritage: Contemporary Art from the Collection, the artwork was first conceived by Malani in 2003 for the 8th Annual Istanbul Biennial. MoMA’s iteration of this installation is on view for the first time since being acquired in 2007 at the recommendation of Barbara London, former Associate Curator of Media and Performance Art. In discussing the results of the re-envisioned installation, Malani commented, “the architecture of a space has a lot to do with the look [of her work],” but added that it is also the way in which the components adapt to the space that contributes to success. Since our exhibition design, curatorial, conservation, art handling, and registrar teams were presented with an installation design never before attempted by the artist and in consideration of her statement, I wondered if a work of installation art is enhanced or destroyed by the environment in which it is placed? How do you document the variable site?
Gamepieces is comprised of six motorized and painted rotating cylinders, four projectors beaming images of blue clouds, animation, found documentary film footage, and sound. In previous iterations presented at Bose Pacia in New York and Media City Seoul in 2004, the cylinders were suspended and placed in a horizontal row. Existing installation documentation established an environment of overlapping projections that crisscross the painted moving surfaces and cast shadow plays in a traditional cinematic gaze. Images of war and violence were concentrated toward the center of the room while the blue skies were pushed to the extremities. However, in the current display, our space allowed for the exploitation of the Museum’s double-height ceiling. As a result, the horizontal experience is replaced with a vertical thrust that splits the imagery into an upper and lower domain—blues skies above, earthly images below. Video projected through two rows of three rotating cylinders produce a grid-like shadow play of eight distinct quadrants. The viewer enters into the space caught in the menacing human struggle of the lower registers while the blue skies hover idealistically above, mimicking our actual relationship to the world.
When we think of the architecture of a space as being a contributor to the outcome of an installation, one might think solely of the physical aspects that distinguish a location. However, Malani’s comment emphasizes contingency. In the hierarchy of components that constitute an artwork, it seems obvious to emphasize the importance of the constant non-varying components. Yet it is the way in which these parts adapt to a new location that are equally important to document. The height of the ceiling allowed for the placement of the motorized cylinders on the ceiling and a white painted beam for a vertical presentation. The artist specified white ceilings and side walls to maximize light reflection and refraction. Four projectors beam images through the cylinders at angles that encourage a multiplicity of effects from casting an inconsistent number of shadows to cylinders, to the flowing red and blue hues of refracted light on the ceiling, floor, and the side walls that are deepened by the crimson paint on the rear wall. To achieve such effects we document projector specifications and the settings used to achieve the beam throws and angles, as well as contrast, color range, and brightness. Locations and heights of the cylinders, projectors, and speakers are documented. Colors of the painted walls, floor appearance, sound levels, and tone documentation all help guide the future installation and preservation of the artwork in the variable site.
As Archives Specialist in the MoMA Archives, I am always on the prowl for images depicting how our exhibitions were installed. Sadly, up until the 1960s only about 75% of MoMA’s exhibitions were documented with official installation photographs, usually due to budget constraints. So imagine my excitement on one dark, drab winter day earlier this year when, while working in the Photographic Archive, I came across a folder labeled, “Visitors in Galleries,” and discovered that these visitors were in galleries for an exhibition for which we had no visual record Read more
In 1969 American composer Alvin Lucier first performed his landmark work I Am Sitting in a Room, conceived for voice and electromagnetic tape. Lucier read a text into a microphone. Attempting to smooth out his stutter, he began with the lines, “I am sitting in a room, the same one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice.” As described in the text, his voice was recorded, then played back into the room. This process was repeated, and with each iteration Lucier’s recorded speech grew muddled, sounding distant, and specific sonic frequencies started to dominate the recorded sound. Read more