Technology-based and variable, video art poses
unique challenges for the institutional or individual collector.
Reproducible electronic art forms can often seem to defy the
very notion of collecting art, which is traditionally tied to
the acquisition of unique objects. The landscape for collecting
media art has changed dramatically in recent years, as galleries
sell limited video editions in the art market, museums apply
advanced archival practices to media works, and artists make
digital works that confound the idea of "ownership."
In this new climate, sometimes the most fundamental questions
are the most important ones to ask. Why is it important to acquire
an archival format in addition to a reference or viewing copy
for my collection? What media formats are considered archival?
What rights am I acquiring when I buy a media artwork? What
is a video "edition" and how does it differ from
an "uneditioned" video art work? How do I go about
migrating works in my collection from an earlier format? And
how can I plan for the works' future viability? These and the
other questions below might be seen as starting points for demystifying
the process of collecting single-channel video art works.
What is "single-channel video"?
The term "single-channel" refers to video or media work that involves a single information source (such as one DVD) a single playback device (such as a DVD player), and a single display mode (such as a flat-screen monitor). To cite a familiar example, when you play a DVD and view it on your television at home, you're showing a single-channel work.
The electronic information can be recorded on a range of media formats, including analog video (VHS, Betacam SP) or digital media (DVD, Digital Beta, DVCAM). Single-channel works can be presented in any number of contexts and venues, including cinematic or theatrical environments, gallery spaces within museums or other institutions, in classroom settings, or even broadcast or Webcast, to name just a few. Exhibition designs are also variable, and include freestanding monitors, wall-mounted flat screens and large-scale projections. Single-channel works range from classic early video pieces, such as Joan Jonas's Vertical Roll (1972), to recent digital works, such as Pierre Huyghe's A Journey That Wasn't (2006). Single-channel video may also be editioned or uneditioned.
What are the recommended formats for collecting single-channel works?
Institutions or individuals should acquire media art works on accepted archival formats such as Digital Betacam (also known as DigiBeta or D Beta). Beta SP is an acceptable analog archival format, although DigiBeta is preferable as the primary digital archival standard. These formats, when stored properly, will have an extended life and ensure the longevity and quality of the work. When acquiring single-channel video work it is important to obtain the work in both an archival acquisition format and a reference or exhibition format (or the rights to create such copies on formats such as DVD.) A viewing, reference, or exhibition copy should be made from source material on archival formats or uncompressed video files, and authored by a knowledgeable professional.
Please visit Equipment & Technical Issues for more detailed information.
Why is it important to acquire an archival format in addition to a reference or viewing copy for my collection?
Archival formats provide the best quality video image and sound available. For example, there is no generation loss of content when remastering from Digital Betacam because it is an exact digital clone of the original. The archival format, if stored properly, will have an extended life and ensure the longevity and quality of the work. With proper rights, archival formats can be used to create reference copies as needed in the future; the reference or viewing copy will be prone to wear and tear from frequent exhibition or other viewing. Reference or exhibition copies (such as DVD) are made on less resilient formats as they require less expensive playback equipment and can be programmed to loop in a gallery setting.
What is the difference between a gallery and a distributor as a source for acquiring video art works?
Distributors and galleries represent different economic systems for handling the sale of video works to public and private collections. These two models also reflect different historical and philosophical approaches to a reproducible medium.
Distributors of video artworks are typically nonprofit organizations and usually represent video works that have been created in unlimited editions. Distributors sell and rent uneditioned works in a range of formats at relatively affordable rates, based on the archival life of the format acquired and the rights being offered. A purchase fee is charged based on the format and specific rights being acquired. A percentage (often 50%) of every purchase fee goes directly to the artist in the form of a royalty. Because "access" is a central tenet of nonprofit distributors' missions, they invest in preservation activities that result in collectors receiving the best quality acquisition copies available and a broadening of the range of works available for acquisition.
Galleries almost exclusively represent editioned media art works—that is, video works that have a limit on the number of copies made. This limit is usually agreed upon between the artist and his or her primary gallery and is enforced through a contract signed by the buyer of an edition copy. As for-profit entities, galleries are focused on the sale of these limited editions, often to private collections. When a gallery sells a limited-edition video work, it often issues a "certificate of authenticity" that confirms the number of the edition. Since the art market is tied to notions of exclusivity, the price of a limited-edition video work reflects the size of the edition (among other factors).
What is the difference between "editioned" and "uneditioned" video?
This question and its implications are among the most important (if often confusing) for artists, curators, collectors, gallerists, and others working with contemporary media art. Video is a reproducible medium, and the difference between uneditioned and editioned works reflects different economic and distribution systems, and often a contrasting philosophical approach to the medium as well.
A video work that is "uneditioned" has no limit to the number of copies that may exist. However, there may be stringent restrictions governing who may make copies, how they are made, how they may be used, etc. These restrictions are typically outlined in an agreement when the work is sold or exhibited. Uneditioned video works reflect a different economic model from those which are editioned; artists are typically paid a royalty when the work is exhibited or sold. Thus, exhibitors pay a fee for the inclusion of a non-editioned work in an exhibition or screening. Video art distributors typically represent uneditioned media works. (For example, the single-channel video works in the EAI collection are not editioned, allowing wider access.)
By contrast, an artist who wishes to create a finite number of copies of a video work for the art market creates a limited edition. This means that the number of circulating copies for sale is limited (for example to three, five, or ten, plus artist's proofs.) Beyond this edition, no further copies may be made. The price of a limited edition video work is often correlated to the size of the edition. A certificate of authenticity confirming the number of the edition accompanies the sale of a limited-edition video work. Commercial galleries typically handle limited-edition video works.
Artists creating media art today often work within different models and contexts, selling limited-edition video works through a gallery, disseminating Internet-based works online, and offering uneditioned video works through a distributor.
What is a "license agreement"?
As an electronic medium, video is distinct from traditional art forms such as painting or sculpture in that it is infinitely and easily reproducible. Typically, collectors must enter into specific agreements or licenses that outline the terms, conditions, and rights that are being extended for the acquisition of a media work. Such agreements vary depending on the source of the artwork and whether the work is a limited or unlimited edition.
If an uneditioned video work is acquired from a distributor, the collector is typically asked to sign a "license agreement." This agreement varies depending on the nature of the collection (library, museum, private collection, educational institution), the format acquired, and the specific rights granted.
Visit Agreements and Contracts for samples of these documents.
What is a "certificate of authenticity"?
A "certificate of authenticity" typically accompanies the purchase of a limited-edition single-channel video work from a gallery. The certificate, signed by the artist and gallerist, confirms the number of the edition and outlines the rights being extended to the collector. This document is necessary when considering the resale of media works in the secondary market.
What kinds of rights accompany the purchase of a video work?
The rights offered will vary widely, and are specific to each license agreement or contract. Purchase agreements, such as license agreements described above, may include in-house public performance and exhibition rights, the rights to produce reference and exhibition copies for in-house use, and in some cases secondary market resale rights. For example, when one purchases a DVD for an educational institution, one only acquires the rights to show the work in-house in a classroom setting. However, when one acquires a work on an archival format such as Digital Betacam, one may also be offered extended rights to create in-house reference and exhibition copies.
Visit Agreements and Contracts for examples of rights granted by EAI based on acquisition formats and use.
Can I make copies of the works I acquire?
Rights to reproduce media works are specific to each license agreement or contract. It is safest to assume that copying of any kind is forbidden unless you have drawn up and signed an agreement with the artist, distributor, or gallery that specifically allows for duplication. Acquisition of archival formats from a distributor may include duplication rights for additional reference copies for in-house viewing purposes. These rights will be clearly outlined in the license agreement, which will accompany your purchase. It is advisable to discuss these rights before purchasing works from a distributor or a gallery to avoid confusion on the subject after the sale has been completed.
Can I exhibit the works in my collection in public and in other exhibition spaces?
Whether the work you've purchased is part of a limited edition (purchased through a gallery) or unlimited edition (purchased from a distributor) will greatly impact how the acquired work can be exhibited. It is advisable to discuss these rights when purchasing works from a gallery. The gallery may have specific procedures regarding the loan of works from a collection to outside exhibitions. Even if this practice is approved by the gallery, there will likely be guidelines regarding notification of the loan so that the gallery and artist can maintain comprehensive exhibition records.
When single-channel video works are purchased from a distributor one typically is purchasing "in-house exhibition" rights only. This means that the acquired works may be exhibited only within the walls of the purchasing institution or private collector's home/exhibition space. Requests for exhibiting works "out of house" should be directed to the distributor as loan or rental fees will apply.
Can I tour works in my collection?
Most license agreements accompanying works acquired from a distributor provide exhibition rights for the purchasing institution only. If you wish to tour works in your collection, you must negotiate a specific advance agreement, which outlines the terms and conditions of these rights.
Can I show the works in my collection on the Internet?
The short answer is "no." Most artists, distributors, and galleries will not allow Webcasting of video artworks in order to protect the copyright interests of artists and to restrict unlicensed public presentations. A specially written contract would need to be negotiated with the copyright holder, ultimately the artist, for Webcasting to be allowed.
What kind of fees should I expect to encounter?
Fees for media works vary depending on a range of factors, including the source of the artworks (distributor or gallery), the media format (Beta SP, Digital Beta), and the terms and rights being acquired.
Fees for single-channel video works that are sold as limited editions through a gallery vary greatly. These fees are based on the size of the edition and the work's market value.
Uneditioned video works, available through a distributor, are offered for a range of fees that follow a standardized price structure typically based on duration and format. For example, archival formats such as Digital Beta, which may be offered with extended rights to migrate to other formats, cost more than a reference copy on DVD.
Visit Budget for more information on this topic.
What kind of equipment will I need to play a video work in my collection?
Single-channel video work requires the appropriate playback equipment (for example, a professional DVD player), display device (a presentation monitor, plasma or LCD flat screen, or projector and projection surface), audio equipment (amplifier, speakers, or headphones), and cables and connectors. The specific playback and display equipment you'll need to show the video works in your collection will depend on the media format (for example the DVD) you have been supplied. These decisions will also be based on a range of variables, including the exhibition space or venue, the viewing context, availability of equipment, the desired audience interaction with the work, the artist's specifications, and any agreements that accompanied the purchase.
Equipment decisions may have an impact beyond the purely technical. For example, the decision to project a work in a theatrical setting, or to show it looped on a flat-screen monitor in a gallery, should speak to the artist's intentions, as this will impact the meaning and perception of the work. Certain historical videos may be best exhibited on a monitor contemporary with the making of the tape, while a new digital work might be better suited to a flat screen or a projection. As technology continues to evolve it may become more and more difficult to obtain equipment contemporary to the work being collected. Visit Equipment & Technical Issues in the Single-channel Video Preservation section of this guide for recommendations on this subject.
Proper selection, installation, and maintenance of video and audio equipment are critical, and collectors should consult qualified technicians where possible. Visit Equipment & Technical Issues for a detailed review of equipment options for single-channel video presentation.
Do artists have specific equipment requirements?
Many artists conceive media works in which the presentation details are integral to the work. In such cases, the artist may identify very specific requirements for how the work must be presented. These requirements may range from issues of display (for example, a work must be shown on a monitor, or may only be projected) to what formats can be used for exhibition. When acquiring media works, whether from the artist, a distributor, or gallery, it is important to inquire about such requirements, so that the works can be presented as the artist intended. If guidelines are not provided, the collector should consider the intent of the work, as the decision to project it or show it on a particular monitor may alter its meaning. It is important to know any particular requirements before buying a media artwork and before purchasing equipment.
How do I register or catalog the video works in my collection?
Depending on the size and mission of your collection, you may already have a collection management database system in place. However, many of these systems do not sufficiently address the registration nuances associated with media artworks, which are reproducible and variable. The Preservation section of this Resource Guide outlines Best Practices for the inventory, cataloging, numbering and labeling of single-channel video works. IMAP (Independent Media Arts Preservation) has produced a user-friendly, customizable collection management database in Filemaker Pro that may be used for cataloging single-channel video works. Please visit www.imappreserve.org for more information.
How do I store the works in my video collection?
Proper storage conditions are essential to the longevity and viability of your collection. An ideal storage environment for videotapes is approximately 50° F at 25% relative humidity, with little fluctuation. The tapes should be stored upright in cases on metal shelving. The biggest dangers to video are dampness, rapid temperature and humidity change, mold, and dust. Tapes should be kept away from strong magnetic fields, such as computer and video monitors. Storage spaces should be cool, dry, and located away from windows (to avoid sunlight). Stability of conditions is of utmost importance.
The Preservation section of this Guide details best practices for media storage.
My collection includes 3/4" videotapes that I bought in the 1970s and 1980s. How do I migrate these works to the current archival standards? Do I have the rights to migrate them?
First find out whether you have the rights to migrate or transfer your tapes to another, more recent format. Check your license or sales agreement. If you cannot find the relevant paperwork, contact the organization or gallery from whom you purchased the video. If you cannot locate them, contact the artist or his or her representative. You must have a rights agreement in some form to have the tapes migrated. When you have this agreement you must go to a video preservation specialist or a video transfer house, depending on the condition of the tapes, to have them migrated to an accepted preservation format.
What's the difference between digital and analog formats? What about "NTSC" and "PAL"?
It is useful to understand the distinction between analog and digital (including high-definition) media formats and geographic video standards. The critical distinction between analog and digital formats is the way in which the information is stored. When examined closely, analog video appears as a series of lines, while digital video is comprised of pixels, or tiny boxes of color. High-definition (HD) is most commonly presented in a "wide screen" format. There are two resolution standards, 1080i (interlaced) and 720p (progressive). NTSC and PAL are the two main video broadcast standards or systems; they are incompatible. NTSC is the video standard used in North America and Japan. PAL is the dominant television standard in most of the world, including Europe. For a detailed discussion of these issues, please visit Equipment & Technical Issues.
How do I preserve the works in my collection?
Understanding the basics of preserving your video collection is so important that we have dedicated a comprehensive section of this Guide to the issue.
Most single-channel video art works were created using technologies that were originally designed to be ephemeral. However, basic preservation actions - and thoughtful long-term planning - can insure that video works survive for generations to come. Preservation refers to the overall process by which the content of an item is saved, and its long-term viability and accessibility ensured. The preservation of the single-channel video works in your collection may include issues such as documentation, inspection, conservation, re-mastering or migration, and quality control. If the single-channel video works in your collection are in active distribution you should contact the distributor prior to re-mastering, restoration or migration.
For a detailed discussion of preservation recommendations and guidelines, including Best Practices, Basic Questions, and Planning, see the Preservation section of this Resource Guide.