Video Spaces: Eight Installations
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
June 22-September 12, 1995


by Barbara London, curator, Video Spaces: Eight Installations

Video emerged as an art form in the mid-1960s, when the Portapak--the first portable video-recording equipment--became available in the consumer market. Until that time, the medium had been restricted to well-lit television studios, with their heavy, 2-inch videotape equipment and teams of engineers. Not that users of the early Portapak had an easy time of it. Consisting of a bulky camera, open-reel recording deck, and battery pack, it was cumbersome and hardly lightweight. Still, artists found it affordable, and its ability to record in relatively low ambient light made the medium attractive. They recognized that video, a wide-open field, was artistically promising. The novelty appealed to their pioneer spirit, and every enhancement of the camera or tape deck was an occasion for passionate debate and further discovery. Fueled by this energy, video exploded in many different directions, including single-channel videotape, video sculpture, and environmental installation.

Until the introduction of the 3/4-inch videocassette in the early 1970s, the exhibition of video was limited. Nothing was automatic. Reel-to-reel tape decks required someone to thread up, start, and rewind each tape. (Video was first presented at The Museum of Modern Art in the 1968 exhibition The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age. Mainly about kinetic art, the show included video sculpture and interactive installations.)

But just as artists were expanding the expressive possibilities of the medium, video technology was rapidly being advanced. The cobbled-together "image processors" of the late 1960s evolved into the sophisticated studio device known as the "Harry." Frame-accurate video editing became possible on 3/4-inch tape machines. The glossier work that began to appear found support from funding institutions and was frequently shown on public television. Many artists who followed this path later developed careers in advertising or in innovative broadcast television; others showed their work in museums and alternative galleries, and distributed their tapes through independent associations.

The maturity that video had attained as an art form was evident at the 1992 international survey exhibition Documenta IX, in Kassel, Germany. Unlike earlier Documentas, the numerous video installations seen here were on an equal footing with painting and sculpture throughout the many pavilions. Video works by artists from Europe, North and Latin America, and Asia were shown, and included in the main building were installations by Stan Douglas, Gary Hill, Tony Oursler, and Bill Viola.

Video installation and video sculpture have now emerged as the most fertile forms of video art. Artists have released the image from a single screen and embedded it within an environment that extends in both time and space. This direct connection to another moment and an external locale is unique to the video installation.

When the Portapak was introduced in 1965, it was impossible to predict to what extent video would be an effective means of artistic expression. Of the artists who initially explored the medium, many found it crude and did not persist. Others persevered, though they could not have foreseen the technological advances that in time would enable them to realize whatever they imagined. These artists searched for and found the forms most suited to the medium, often in combination with other disciplines. In the process, they acquired a technical skill that allowed them to deal with content in increasingly sophisticated ways. Out of this far-reaching activity emerged the distinctive visual vocabulary and style that define the current state of video.

Return to Video Spaces Home Page

[ Barry/Miskell ] [ Douglas ] [ Furuhashi ] [ Hill ]
[ Marker ] [ Odenbach ] [ Oursler ] [ Viola ]
[ London, Introduction ] [ Delany, "High Involvement" ]

Copyright 1995 The Museum of Modern Art, New York