Interview with Paul Kuranko
Cory Arcangel

Paul Kuranko is the Media Arts Specialist at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In October 2006 Melissa Dubbin asked him, via email, about his experiences and the technical challenges of installing and preserving media-based artworks.

Melissa Dubbin: When did you first start working with media based art?

Paul Kuranko: My first real exposure to video art was in college in the late 80's when Gary Hill was my professor at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington. His art and his point of view pushed me to consider the possibilities of the medium. We kept in contact after college and it resulted in my becoming his assistant for several years. He was focusing on video installations at the time and was incredibly productive. We were working all the time, building and traveling to install, and each artwork had specific fabrication, electronic or video challenges to work out. This taught me to think on my feet and I learned how important it was to talk to, and learn from, a range of experts-that's been invaluable to me.

MD: Can you describe your position at the Guggenheim and how your role has evolved over time?

PK: It’s been a struggle to come up with a title that describes what I do because my job description covers such a broad range of activities. Since I have expertise in both the technical side of video art and incorporating it into built objects, and how those elements are going to work in a space, I’m called upon to work on or consult for a lot of projects. But my primary responsibility is to work with the exhibition team to create a plan for media installations. This means working with the curators, artists and designers to determine what displays, audio, etc. are needed and how to build spaces that won’t allow artworks to interfere with each other and still maintain the space, lighting, and other requirements of the artwork.

Another important aspect of my job (which I can get into more later) is working to ensure the care and preservation of our large collection of media artworks.

MD: The Guggenheim has presented many media based artworks in its exhibitions. Can you discuss a few of the exhibitions you have been involved in while working at the Guggenheim that challenged your expertise?

PK: The most recent exhibition that I found challenging was "Marina Abramovic: Seven Easy Pieces." (2005) [1] We had to capture her performances for seven hours a day, from 5 pm to midnight, in high definition and be able to play the video for the visitors by the following morning. This was for seven consecutive days. There wasn't anything off-the-shelf that would do the job so I had to try out a number of ideas before I came up with a solution that gave us the results we wanted and fit the budget.

Before that there was Global Groove 2004 (2004) [2], by Nam June Paik. This was a commissioned artwork that was shown at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin. We were using 64 videowall cubes that incorporate CRT projectors. The problem with that is the units were no longer made or supported by Sony. And nearly every one of them needed to be re-tubed. With limited parts available from Sony we had a difficult time getting these together in time and we had to do some serious problem solving to source parts and find people familiar with this equipment to work with us. We also needed to use a videowall processor, the component that tells the wall how to display the videos, which required the user to program it by writing lines of code-which wasn't quick or intuitive. Luckily, two of the guys who work for me were able to figure out the proprietary code and go forward with it.

Once we got to Berlin the scale of the piece caused a few other problems. Like getting 200 amps of 120vac power in Germany, where they use 220vac. We had finished getting all the projectors hooked up and turned on when we noticed that quite a few of the videos were blinking in and out. It turns out that once we had a full power load on the transformers the voltage dropped low enough that the projectors couldn't show the video. No problem. Just add another transformer or two to help with the load. But the electricians had just left for the standard four-day Easter holiday, and the opening was the following Wednesday. With all our foresight, hard work, and planning you never know what unexpected problems might occur. It all worked out, of course, and Paik was very happy and it was an honor to be a part of one of the last works he made.

"Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle" (2003) [3] was a challenging install because of all the high definition video and audio throughout the galleries. But because his studio is so skilled, and the exhibition was tightly planned and had traveled to other venues prior to New York, the problems were eased considerably. What I found personally challenging, but also really exciting, was the five-channel video piece hanging in the middle of the rotunda, showing The Order from Cremaster 3. Luckily for me I was the person who installed and maintained the five projectors inside the sculpture, so I was suspended by ropes 70 feet in the air several times in the course of the exhibition.

Other shows like "Moving Pictures," (2002) [4] "Hugo Boss Prize 2002 - Pierre Huyghe," (2003) [5] "Bill Viola - Going Forth by Day" (2002) [6], or all the way back to "Premises" (1998) [7] at the Guggenheim SoHo, and others, there was a difficulty with the equipment, or budget, or schedule, like all facilities have to address. But at the uptown Guggenheim there's the special challenge of the space: the slope of the ramps, the openness of the bays in the rotunda, all the light from the oculus, and the cylindrical walls makes presenting video and audio all the more challenging-above and beyond other installation situations.

MD: What resources do you regularly look to when dealing with emerging trends in contemporary art?

PK: I look to friends and the galleries and fairs in New York for ideas. And I’ve always traveled a lot for my job, so I get to see quite a few installations I don’t get to see in New York. Also the traveling has introduced me to a number of people who have been influential to me and helped to inform a broader approach to the challenges of my job. It is also extremely important for me to keep up with the technology, so I go to tech conferences and equipment demos, and I read a lot of papers and magazines that are aimed at people in the tech industries.

MD: How many regular technical staff does the Guggenheim currently employ? Is there a department at the museum that only deals with media based works, or is it integrated?

PK: There are a more than a dozen staff in the Art Handling, Fabrication, Theater, and IT departments…but I imagine you’re asking about my department. I’m the only staff member who focuses strictly on the video/electronic/tech design of video art installations at the museum. But it’s also integrated because we all have to work with aspects of showing and collecting media based art.

MD: How does working in a unique space affect exhibition design with regards to media based artworks?

PK: We have our Tower galleries for contemporary artworks and a lot of our media installations go in there. But just as often the media works are on the ramps. If we are installing flat-screen displays on the ramps then that usually doesn’t require the bay to be enclosed the way a projection usually does. But we have built elaborate environments for media art before—I’m thinking in particular of the “Moving Pictures” exhibition we installed back in 2002. For that installation Asymptote Architecture designed elaborate walls for the bays on the top ramp to exclude the daylight from the oculus and contain the audio, creating individual spaces for seven video installations on that one ramp. But what has proved to be even more difficult than the light pollution is sound pollution. The curved surfaces and the cylindrical aspect of the rotunda does strange things to sound, and if there are numerous audio works going at the same time the sound can get quite muddled

MD: Are you involved in the preservation of the media based acquisitions in the museum’s collection? Are there any works in particular that could provide a good example of frequently arising issues related to exhibition, installation, and preservation?

PK: Since I started working at the Guggenheim I’ve been working with conservation, registrars, curatorial, and legal to develop proper policy and procedures for collecting and preserving artworks. This emphasis on policy, the experience gained from the many media art installations we’ve done over the years, and the work of the Variable Media Initiative [8], which I’ll talk about in a moment, has created an awareness in all the departments of the technical considerations of media artworks. For example, the exhibition designers ask for the lens ratio of the projector, registrars recognize tape formats and standards, conservators critically review collection masters, and curators consider video and film aspect ratios. Not to mention art handlers and construction crews who are experts at installing equipment and cabling.

But the Guggenheim has also worked with outside experts and institutions to focus specifically on the preservation issue. A couple of years ago we did an exhibition called “Seeing Double: Emulation in Theory and Practice” (2004) [9] and a conference, “Echoes of Art” (2004) [10]. This was the culmination of the Variable Media Initiative. The point was to address and discuss various ways to preserve and exhibit media artworks in the future as the methods and technology for showing the works are no longer available. This was done by taking case studies and presenting them in their original, archival form side-by-side with an emulation of the artwork and discussing the success and failure of the different approaches. You can see more information about the project and the specific case studies I worked on at

MD: Considering your experience consulting for media art collections, do you have any advice for collectors acquiring media based artworks? Can you offer specific examples from your consulting work?”

PK: know a lot of people are savvy to this now but it’s worth repeating because I still see it happening—get a master copy of the artwork. Whatever tape or file format the artist holds as his or her master, you should have the same thing. If it’s an analog videotape then your copy should be made from the artist’s master or as generationally close to it as you can get. But most media artworks today are produced digitally so you should have a digital clone of the artist’s master. Consider that DVDs are not always going to be the best medium for showing the work, just as VHS tapes aren’t used anymore. And when it’s time to migrate the work onto a new exhibition format the collector will find that a DVD doesn’t hold enough information to be sufficient.

Then once the collector buys the artwork they’re faced with the often complicated setup and maintenance of the equipment . Sometimes the gallery or the artist’s studio will handle the setup and help acquire appropriate equipment. But collectors who are uncomfortable with technology or have numerous works they want to display may find installing the works daunting. So it’s important for collectors to require a setup that allows them simple access to the work. And on the subject of equipment: a collector should invest in a good video display and then be ready to have it become obsolete, seemingly at once. Projectors, flat-screen monitors and such get significantly better every year and features of last year’s better displays get added to the smaller, cheaper units of this year. You can always feel good about investing in speakers and amplifiers, as they stay pretty much the same from year to year.

MD: What recommendations would you give to institutions that may be beginning to exhibit media based artwork?

PK: If you don't have expertise in-house, develop a relationship with a local contractor who will help you find, budget, and install the proper equipment. Many of these integrators will also rent or lease you the equipment. But it's critical that the staff at an institution showing media art be interested in gaining knowledge about the issues so the right questions are asked at the right time. With so many museums and organizations focusing on media art there are plenty of people and resources available to answer complex or simple questions.


1. “Marina Abramovic: Seven Easy Pieces,” November 2005, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

2. “Nam June Paik: Global Groove 2004,” April-July 2004, Deutsche Guggenheim.

3. “Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle,” February-June 2003, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

4. “Moving Pictures: Photography and Video from the Guggenheim Museum Collection,” June 2002-January 2003, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

5. “Hugo Boss Prize 2002 – Pierre Huyghe,” January-May 2003, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

6. “Bill Viola: Going Forth By Day,” September 2002-January 2003, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

7. “Premises: invested spaces in visual arts, architecture, and design from France, 1958-1998,” October 1998-January 1999, Guggenheim SoHo.

8. The Variable Media Network is a project led by the Guggenheim Museum with the support of the Daniel Langlois Foundation. Its aim is to develop networks of exchange and cooperation in regard to works in ephemeral media.

9. “Seeing Double: Emulation in Theory and Practice,” March-May 2004, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

10. “Echoes of Art: Emulation as a Preservation Strategy” was a public symposium held at the Guggenheim in 2004 to discuss the role of emulation in the continuation of digital culture.