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.